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A jambiya, also spelled janbiya, jambya, jambia and janbia (Arabic: جنۢبيةjanbīyah), is a specific type of dagger with a short curved blade with a medial ridge that originated from Hadhramaut and Yemen.[1] It is most closely associated with the people of Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Somalia. Men typically above the age of 14 wear it as an accessory to their clothing.[2] The janbiya is commonly referred to in Oman as a khanjar, Hyderabad (India) as Jambiya, xencer in Kurdistan region.

A man wearing a Yemeni jambiya


Ottoman jambiya (hancer), walrus ivory hilt, damascus steel blade, spiral stitched velvet covered scabbard, 19th century.

The jambiya were taken by travelers to other cultures including the Ottoman empire, Persia and India,[3] where they were adopted with slight differences to the blade, hilt and scabbard.

Hilt or handleEdit

A significant part of a jambiya is its hilt (handle). The saifani hilt is made of rhinoceros horn, which can cost up to $1500 per kilogram. It is used on the daggers of wealthier citizens. Different versions of saifani hilts can be distinguished by their colour. Other janbiya hilts are made of different types of horn, wood, metal and ivory from elephants and walrus. Apart from the material used for the hilt, the design and detail is a measure of its value and the status of its owner.[4]

Blade, sheath and beltEdit

Jambiya from Yemen in its sheath

The double edged blade of the jambiya is constructed of steel which in some cases is damascus or wootz steel. The blade is stored in a sheath known as 'Asib (Arabic: العسيب‎), usually made of wood covered with metal or cloth. The sheath can be decorated with various ornaments that signify status. These include silver work, semi-precious stones, and leather. The sheath can be fixed to 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.[4] Sometimes, Jambiyas are made from shrapnel left over from missiles in a war. [5]


Despite the cultural significance of the jambiya, it is still a weapon. Although people have used it in times of dispute, there are societal norms that must be followed in order to avoid defamation. The jambiya 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.[2]

Yemeni jambiaEdit

Men dancing with janbiyas drawn
Janbiya from Yemen

A jambia is a short dagger worn by men in Yemen. The handle of a jambiya tells the status of the man who wears it.

Structure and makeEdit

The jambia was given its name because it is worn on the side of a person – the word jambia is derived from the Arabic word "jamb" which mean "side". A jambia 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 jambia is made of tanned leather, or some thick cloth. There are specialised markets and handicraft markets that decorate it with golden wires.

The jambia handle often tells of the social status of the man who wears it. Jambias were often made with ivory handles. The manufacturers most often receive this material through smugglers, due to the international ban on the substance. As ivory has only ever had ornamental merit in such an application, those that recognize the jambia as a tool and/or weapon tend to prefer a hardwood handle anyway. Many street-side charlatans will proclaim to sell ivory-handled jambias whilst actually selling poorly-made blades with white plastic handles.


The most famous sort of the jambia is that which has a "saifani" or ivory handle. It has a dim yellowish lustre. The more translucent ivory will turn a yellow colour 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 colour resembles that of a white onion.

The ivory handle jambia is often worn as a sign of high social status. They are typically used by most of the Yemeni people, except the people in Aden city where most of them have given up using it. The Jambiya hasn't been specialized for a particular person in the country, but the valuable ones can be found with a particular persons, like judges, famous merchants and businessmen.

Antique jambias that have been worn by historic persons can fetch exorbitant prices, like that of the Sheikh of the Bakils, Sheikh Al-Shaif, which goes back to Imam Yahya Muhammad Hamid ed-Din and was reported to have cost US$1,000,000 when bought in 1992.[6][7]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Gustainis, Justin (26 March 2013). Play with fire & midnight at the oasis: Morris and Chastain investigations. ISBN 9781849975001.
  2. ^ a b Gama, Vasco Da; Ames, Glenn Joseph (2009). Em Nome De Deus: The journal of the first voyage of Vasco Da Gama to India, 1497-1499. BRILL. p. 56. ISBN 978-90-04-17643-0.
  3. ^ Shackleford, Steve (January 2010). Blade's guide to knives & their values. Krause Publications. p. 405. ISBN 9781440215056.
  4. ^ a b Shackleford, Steve (5 January 2010). Blade's Guide to Knives & Their Values. Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications. p. 405. ISBN 978-1-4402-1505-6.
  5. ^ Michael, Maggie. "Yemeni smiths beat missiles into knives, not ploughshares". Associated Press. Retrieved 2021-04-12.
  6. ^ Hassan Al-Zaidi. "History of Yemeni Jambia - Yemen Times". www.yementimes.com. Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2008-06-09.
  7. ^ Richard Ellis. "Tiger Bone & Rhino Horn The Destruction of Wildlife for Traditional Chinese Medicine". Island Press. Retrieved 2021-04-09.


External linksEdit

  Media related to Jambiyas at Wikimedia Commons