Cover Image

Iron & Bamboo

 October 9, 2023    Asian Arms

Iron and bamboo are two materials which typify the weapons and culture of southeast Asia and are found together in this sword from Burma. While visually a quite plain and simple piece, this dha is in fact an intriguing example which exhibits the true fighting character of swords from this region. This particular example came out of an old collection in Scotland and was likely brought back during one of the Anglo-Burmese wars of the 19th century, which saw the involvement of Scottish regiments. 

This dha is notable in that the scabbard is perfectly preserved with it's original lacquer as well as the iron and bamboo mounts coupled with a blade that exhibits a rare tip form. Originally the piece was entirely covered in Victorian period lacquer, a common technique used at the time to preserve antiques. Fortunately a fellow collector was able to expertly remove this and clean the piece, revealing a near perfect state of preservation. 

The handle is made from bamboo, most likely the type known as "iron bamboo" or Dendrocalamus strictus, noteable for being solid rather than hollow like many bamboo species. The mounts of this sword are quite simple, iron ferrules of thick and heavy construction. This is in stark contrast to many dha favoured by collectors which utilise silver or bronze. This is a sword made for combat, with little decoration. 

Bamboo itself deserves far more attention than this short article can give it, but it is a material versatile unlike any other. Fast growing, with a wide variety of species, both hollow and solid, it is used for everything from construction, to a cooking vessel, cups, basketry, paper making and of course in the production of weapons, being also a common weapon for spear shafts.

The blade tip is of a type often associated by collectors with the Kachin ethnic group, but in fact can be encountered across both Burma and Thailand and is not necessarily an ethnic indicator but rather the preference of the sword's owner and its intended us. The tip in this case is sharp and can be utilised in a thrust and addition to the obvious slashing oriented nature of dha. The blade is sturdy with a flat spine typical of Burmese swords and with a deeper curve than many swords seen from across the border in Thailand or Laos.

Perhaps more intriguing than the sword itself is the scabbard. It is extremely rare to find a scabbard which preserves its original lacquer and colour. In this case even the original rattan bindings are present.

Often we are left with swords that lack the colour and vibrancy that existed during their working lives. This is a rare chance to see a sword and scabbard as it would have been during its use.

This is an example of a simple, fighting sword that is often overlooked for examples with more prestigious materials but is in fact far more representative of the weapons that were met by British troops during their Burmese campaigns. The men who were lead by Maha Bandula and dared to challenge the supremacy of the British Empire could very well have carried this very sword or simiilar examples.

At the time of writing this article modern day Mynanmar is unfortunately mired in conflict and not accessible to the outside world, while there are a great many sins of British colonialism this sword at least is a fortunate preservation of an authentic weapon of the Konbaung period.