Janbiya, also spelled janbia, jambiya, and jambia (Arabic: جنبية janbīyah), is the Arabic term for dagger, but it is generally used to describe a specific type of dagger with a short curved blade that is worn on a belt. Although the term jambiya is also used in other Arab countries, it is mostly associated with people of Yemen. Men typically above the age of 14 wear it as an accessory to their clothing.
Like most other weapons, janbiyas come in brands. The price of a janbiya varies between 500 Yemeni rials and 20 million Yemeni rials. The brand of a janbiya is associated with the material with which it is made as well as its quality and design.
The hilt or handle
The most significant part of a janbiya is its hilt. In fact, the price of a janbiya is in most cases determined by its hilt. The saifani handle is known to be the most famous and is found on the daggers of wealthier citizens. The saifani handle is made of rhinoceros horns, which can cost up to $1500 per kilogram. Different versions of saifani handles can be distinguished by their colour. Most other janbiya handles are made of different types of horns or wood. Apart from the material used for the handle, the design and detail on the handle describe its value and the status of its owner.
Blade, sheath and belt
In the majority of cases, the double-sided blade of the janbiya is constructed of steel. The blade is stored in a sheath, usually made of wood. The sheath is commonly decorated with various ornaments that signify status. These include silver work, semi-precious stones, and leather. The sheath is fixed on a leather belt, which is normally 2–3 inches wide. The belt is usually worn around the lower abdomen. There are often other items attached to this belt, such as a silver purse for containing money and change.
Despite the significance of the janbiya, it is still a weapon. Although people have used it in times of dispute, there are societal and Islamic norms that must be followed in order to avoid defamation. The janbiya should only come out of its sheath in extreme cases of conflict. It is also commonly used in traditional events, such as dances.
Like with some other curved knives, as the blade bends towards the opponent, the user need not angle the wrist, which makes it more comfortable as a stabbing weapon than straight-bladed knives. Its heavy blade enables the user to inflict deep wounds and to cut through muscle and bone. It also makes it possible to cut and twist the blade upwards, slitting internal organs such as intestines, or to reach heart, lungs or liver more easily, making it a formidable and much feared weapon, whose use is thus restricted by societal rules.
Structure and make
The junbia was given its name because it is worn on the side of a person – the word janbia is derived from the Arabic word "janb" which mean "side". A janbia is constituted of a handle, a blade, and a sheath in which the blade is held. It is made of a certain sort of wood, to hold the blade that is fixed to the waist from underneath with an upward curved sheath. The belt that holds the janbia is made of tanned leather, or some thick cloth. There are specialized markets and handicraft markets that decorate it with golden wires.
The janbia handle often tells of the social status of the man who wears it. Janbias are made of African rhinoceros horn, ivory, and also Almoswae horn. A kilo of this often costs $1500. The manufacturers receive this through smugglers, due to the international ban on the substance. This contributed to the retreat in the manufacturing of valuable janbias. The rhinoceros horn is considered to be the most precious. The janbia's value increases as it acquires modern and old qualities.
Qualities of janbia in Yemen
The most famous sort of the janbia is that which has a "saifani" or ivory handle. It has a dim yellowish luster. The more translucent ivory will turn a yellow color with age. This is called "saifani heart". Some of the ivory handles are called "asadi", when they turn into greenish yellow. When the handle becomes whitish yellow, it is called "zaraf". There is also an albasali (onionish), kind whose color looks like that of a white onion.
The ivory handle janbia is often worn as a sign of high social status. They are typically used by the Hashimites (an Arab tribe, which claims a direct bloodline to the prophet Muhammad), judges, famous merchants and businessmen. Antique janbias that have been worn by historic persons can fetch exorbitant prices, like that of sheikh Al-Shaif, which goes back to Imam Yahia Hameed Aldeen and was reported to have cost $1,000,000 when bought in 2008.
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