Symbol of manhood

Culture

The curved dagger, called the khanjar, is a striking component of Omani dress. The symbol of the khanjar has become ubiquitous in the Sultanate.

It is the national emblem, with a place on the country’s flag; it is an integral part of the Oman Air logo; it can be found on stamps, as models on Government buildings, at roundabouts etc.

The dagger is not just a piece of silversmith and craftsmanship but also the embodiment of an inspiring culture, the pride of all Omanis and an insignia of valour.

Dutchman Robert Padbrugge, who visited Muscat in June 1672, recounted an audience with the Imam Sultan bin Saif Al Ya’ruba as follows: “His Highness’s robe was not very different from that worn by the commoners…he had a belt around his middle, in which he wore a dagger, which was crosswise covered with silk yarns.”

The khanjar in Oman symbolises manhood, courage and social standing of its wearer. Crafting the khanjar is an intricate work of art, which requires training, one that has been passed down through the ages. Khanjar makers spend weeks or months crafting a single dagger. The intricate patterns found on the hilt and scabbard are made with meticulous precision and the mastery leaves one astounded.

Oman has many khanjarsmiths who may be found in Muscat, Sur, Nizwa, Khabura, Saham, Bilad etc. In Sur, traditional daggers tend to be slim and more compact than those found elsewhere and often feature silver and gold embellishments.

In the past, men used to wear a khanjar over the dishdasha as a routine, and sometimes for protection. Today, the practice of wearing a khanjar is followed at formal gatherings, weddings or important civic or military events.

The khanjar is worn in a leather sheath, at the front of the body, in a special belt, in a tradition unique to Oman. The khanjar has played an important role in Oman’s history and this fact is reflected in the incorporation of its image into the Omani National Flag.

The khanjar consists of the hilt, which is made of silver, or ivory in the case of ancient weapons; the shaft, which is decorated with bands of silver or gold wire; and the blade. The leather sheath is often intricately embellished with floral or scrolled leaf filigree work.

It can take three weeks to several months to craft a single khanjar. Prices of good quality khanjars can range from OR200-800. The Saidi dagger, which is generally of pure silver, and gold-plated, is the largest of the khanjars, can cost much more.

The khanjar is not only an essential part of ceremonial attire, it also encapsulates important values of Omani heritage. It is the icon of a land known for its friendly people and legendary hospitality. The khanjar is customarily commissioned at the time a boy becomes sexually mature. It is traditionally crafted to its owner’s specifications, including body proportions and personal preferences in terms of style.

Although the hilt used to be made of priceless rhinoceros horn or ivory, nowadays, camel bone, wood and synthetic handles are also available. The horns range in colour from white and pink to black with the former being more expensive and much sought after. Tourists to Oman often take back a khanjar as a memento of a rich culture.

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