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A Working Knife

 October 9, 2023    Asian Arms

I have a fascination with working knives from all cultures but particularly those from south east Asia. One of the reasons for this is that you occasionally find examples like this one that are of a design which is completely practical, but also show a degree of workmanship and decoration that tells us something of the status of the owner. 

This particular example is almost certainly Cambodia and features a lotus bud style pommel carved from hardwood. Knife in Khmer is 'kambet' and knives of particular forms receive their own specialist names. This particular example seems close to what is known as a 'kambet thnot' which are used by sugar palm harvesters. Sugar palm has a long history in Cambodia dating back to the Angkorian period and is perhaps the most emblematic tree that can be seen in the country. It's products and uses are varied but include sugar, wine, vinegar, the fruit itself and of course utilising the leaves and wood in traditional construction. Workers must climb the trees and make cuts to the inflorescences and hang containers to collect the resulting liquid.

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This task is carried out twice a day during the harvest season and a quality knife is the essential tool in this process. Knives of this kind of course can be used for other purposes including daily tasks such as cutting brush, splitting rattan, and of course self defense if required. 

This particular knife though is no humble harvesting tool but a highly decorated piece that would seem to indicate its owner was someone of some little wealth and status. The blade is thick at 1.4cm at the base and fitted with a small brass or bronze collar. The handle has alternating strips of the same material coupled with copper ending in an elegantly decorated bronze ferrule to hold the lotus bud pommel.

The level of workmanship is excellent with an extremely good balance in the hand. The blade is sharpened for the last 1/3rd of the blade, giving a clear indication that it's use was tip focused.

We can only speculate as to the exact position of the owner of this knife, but it is an interesting window into traditional Cambodian knives and also an industry intrinsically connected to the Khmer people.