Object: Thai Sword

E-75-1-13

Figure 1: Siamese Sword from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

 

E/75/1/13
Thailand
Materials: Metal, Wood

This sword is more then likely an example of a Thai daab which have circular cross-sectioned hilts, single edged blades and no cross guards. The blade is 13 inches long with a cutting edge that leaves the handle in a straight line curving upward near the tip. The spine of the blade curves upward until the halfway point where it turns abruptly and continues in a straight line to the tip. On both sides of the blade is a series of designs made of half circles. One side of the blade has a symbol that looks similar to a thin arrow head near the forte, the stronger part of the blade from the hilt to the middle. The wooden handle is 11 inches long and has two metal ferrules, which serve to strengthen the wood, at either end.

Thailand once known as Siam experienced a time of relative peace during the Bronze Age unlike the surrounding areas of Southeast Asia, such as Vietnam and Southern China. This is suggested by the by the lack of weapons found in grave sites in Thailand from this period. During the Iron Age, however, a different story begins to emerge. Archeological research suggests that a hierarchical social system began to develop during this time period. The appearance of Iron sparked a series of complex changes on the social, political and economic levels of society. Early mining and casting of metals like copper and bronze in Thailand was characterized by independent specialists with a level of expertise operating on a small-scale and producing at a seasonal rate.

Some of these independent specialists, the best ones, worked under the patronage of kings who began to appear as the society became more hierarchal. The blacksmiths would often purchase iron that had been mined and smelted locally from bazars until the middle of the 19th century when European iron and steel began to replace the local sources. The traditional forges used in Thailand consisted of a cylindrical bamboo bellows, a small anvil, and a trough of water used for quenching the hot metal. The swords that these blacksmiths created were made for several reasons. One was that during the Iron Age Siam was often engaged in war with neighboring states, so creating weaponry was essential to their survival. A second reason for creating weaponry was for ceremonial use and as gifts to kings. These swords were never used in combat, but were beautifully decorated with precious metals and gems.

The exact purpose that this sword was created for is unknown, though it is possible it was produced for cultural tourism. Cultural tourism focuses on the specific culture of an area and works to promote it to outsiders who come to visit. In Thailand this is centered around the Chao/Khao or hill tribes. Tourists are encouraged to seek out authentic experiences and to visit the different groups to learn their distinct ways of life. This form of tourism creates jobs, tax revenues, promotes economic diversity and can help improve the overall quality of life of those who live in the areas frequented by tourists. It can also cause people to shift their ways of life from more traditional methods as tourists want souvenirs that are not normally produced. An example of this is the contemporary blacksmiths often nowadays create dinnerware that the tourists can take home and use, whereas a sword for battle is not in high demand. Check out this cool video to see an example of Thai martial arts using swords.

Work Cited

Greaves, I.A., Bowditch, M.I., & Winston, A.Y. (n.d.). The Swords of Continental Southeast Asia. Macao Museum of Art: History of Steel in Eastern Asia. http://www.arscives.com/historysteel/continentalsea.article.htm.

Johnson, A.A. (2007). Authenticity, Tourism, and Self-Discovery in Thailand: Self-Creation and the Discerning Gaze of Trekkers and Old Hands. SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia. 22(2):153-178.

O’Reilly, D.J.W. (2000). From the Bronze Age to the Iron Age in Thailand: Applying the Hierarchical Approach. Asian Prspectives. 39(1/2):1-19.

Blog post based off of research from:

Long, J. (2014). From Siam to Oklahoma: An Examination and Investigation of Five Siamese Swords Curated by the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Unpublished Term paper. Oklahoma State University.

[Jessica Long and Dakota Stevens]

 

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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