The symbols and art of Jambya
Many are the foreigners who always notice and wonder about what is the “big knife” that Yemeni men wear on their belt and called “Jambya”. Here you will learn more about it.
The jambya is more than a cultural symbol. It represents dignity, honor, and reputation of the Yemeni men. Through the lens of my camera, I made series of photos that document the traditional jambya making process and its role and values in the Sana’ani culture. This photographs have won a first photo-essay prize from the french francophonie competition in photojournalism and photo-essay.
Jambya is a dagger with a short curved blade that is worn on a belt, characteristic of Yemeni people. It is worth mentioning here that jambya is not common all over Yemen, it is more in the northern parts of Yemen including the capital Sana’a.
The hilt or handle, is the most significant part. In fact, the price of a jambya is in most cases determined by its hilt. The saifani is the most expensive type. It is made of rhinoceros’s horns ; other types of hilts are made of different types of horns or wood.
After shaping of the hilt, multiple holes are made using a drill, and filled with gold, silver or copper.
The blade is double sided, with a protrusion in the middle part that allows it to fit in its sheath. Hilt and blade are attached together using liquefied olibanum as an adhesive.
Jambya’s Sooq, is the market where you can buy jambyas. So many shops show numerous jambyas of different shapes, qualities and prices.
The sheath of the blade is made of wood and animal’s leather. It then attached to the belt.
Women also have a role to play in the process of making jambya. The sewing of belts of jambyas is usually a job for women in their homes. There are many shapes and decorations, and it takes about four weeks to finish one belt. Unfortunately a very serious problem has appeared, the importation of already made belts, leaving those women jobless. [Behind the Scene: Her father owns a jambya shop in Old Sana’a. She sews it and her father sells them. When I was shooting him, I asked him about jambya and he was very kind. I took a little infomation from here and there. I asked him about the sewing. I want to shoot a photo of it. He was like what! Are you serious? I told him that I have this photo essay project… He gave me one condition: he didn’t want her eyes to be shown in the photo. I promised that I would not do that. It was difficult to get the concept right without shooting the eyes. I tried different angles and was tough for me. I created the studios there. It took me half an hour to get the one I satisfied.]
Final touches are made to make the jambya shinier.
Inside the sooq, shops are open daily from the early morning till the late evening, in a continuous process where everyone enjoys what they are doing. [Behind the Scene: I was sitting in this man’s shop to wait for the perfect moment to shoot. The owner was annoyed by me and he was like whatever if you want to sit here. I have been sitting in the shop for half an hour. The perfect moment came when two men passing by. It took me less than five minuets to shoot it but half an hour to wait for it. I think it is worth. 🙂 ]
As jambya represents dignity of Yemeni men, if someone did anything shameful to someone else, it is common that he will hand over his own jambya to that person to ask for forgiveness. This is known as “Jah”.
Bara’a dance was used in ancient times to scare enemy tribes, by waving the blades of jambya, as it is a symbol of courage and dignity of its holders. Nowadays the same dance is performed in events, such as marriage ceremonies.
In some tribes it is a tradition that when a bride leaves her house, to move with her husband, she holds her father’s or brothers’ jambya, to show her belonging to the family, as well as the pride and dignity her family name represents. Others think that this may also save her from envy or bad souls.