New blade – a Burmese dha

A visit to my usual antiques shop in the perennial search for new and interesting kukris has led me in an unexpected direction.  I have mentioned before that some kukris just look right – all the proportions are visually correct; but this time, it was a long thin (16.5″) blade (clearly not a kukri!) which jumped up and down, silently shouting ‘Buy me! Buy me!‘;  and so I did.

Burmese dha

Burmese dha

I thought at first it was a Malaysian kris, but the lack of a wavy edge and the absence of the kris’ asymmetry suggested otherwise. A post on the Blades forum and an e-mail to a regular on the IKRHS forum soon identified my new acquisition as a dha from SE Asia (Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma).
Anyone old enough to remember bread before it came ready-sliced will recognise the proportions of the typical dha: it’s like a bread knife, only longer!
I’m going to stick to using the term here but, strictly speaking, dha in Burmese simply means ‘blade’ and a sword-length blade like this is an iwe dha. Typical features are:

  • a blade thin for its length
  • anything from 18″-36″
  • gently curved, with an up-or downswept tip
  • cylindrical handle
  • little or no guard (which, if present, is little wider than the handle)

Decoration is often present, and my (16.5″) blade has a mixture of tiny stamped circles and multiple incised lines on the sides and a single incised line along the spine. High status blades and presentation pieces often have handles of bone or ivory, or are wrapped in silver wire or embossed silver foil; the bamboo sheaths of these higher quality blades are also beautifully decorated. In comparison, my dha is entirely plain vanilla.

Burmese dha

Burmese dha

Ethnic blades usually have handles suited to the typical hand size of their users; kukris made for the domestic market have handles in the 4-4.5″ range, while those made specifically for the western market are larger at 6-6.5″. Even though I have relatively small hands I find my dha’s handle too narrow for full control unless I place the pad of my thumb on the spine of the blade. If this were a major issue for their intended users, it would have been sorted out by now by the dha’s makers, so it must just be me!

Burmese dha

Burmese dha

Until recently my knowledge of the dha was nil, so I must acknowledge my sources for this post: the Blades forum, my IKRHS correspondent (you know who you are!), Wikipedia and The Dha Research Index (the last-mentioned having links to more information and a library of excellent photos of some wonderfully ornate dha).

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About Nigel

Retired law firm project manager based in Jersey, British Channel Islands. When he isn't shooting clay pigeons, he's polishing his collection of kukris or digging his vegetable patch.
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