A large Kachin style square-ended dha in Shan style mountings.
Base 7.5 mm
Middle 5 mm
Near tip 3 mm
Base 27 mm
Middle 31 mm
Widest near tip 33 mm
12.8 cm from hilt
Iron, steel, silver, wood, resin
September / October 1898
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There is a group of well-made Burmese dha with good, heavy and functional blades that have silver-clad, iron reinforced hilts, and often richly decorated blades with silver overlay. Such swords are also known as dha-lhwe.
According to Bell, silver overlay work on iron was done mainly in Mindan Village in the Mandalay region of Burma. He describes:
"Another artistic development has its home in Mindan Village, Yamethin District, where every household depends mote or less on its smithy, though there are only a few professors of the particular art to be described, which consists of an inlay of silver wire upon an iron surface.
Supposing that a dalwè is to be made, a sufficient supply of raw metal is first forged into a blade: then the central space which is to be ornamented is into a minute criss-cross with a small cold chisel, sut: this cold chisel is of superior metal, preferably an English file cut up. The left hand holds and pushes this forward, the right hand wields a small hammer.
When the blade is sufficiently scored, the worker with a small pair of pincers, nan-zwè-hnyat, holds down the silver wire in position: a few smart taps and this is hammered into the cold iron and becomes one flesh with it, atha-ta-thade-pyit-thwa-dè; the design grows rapidly, though no pattern is traced out beforehand, and the hand moves on unerringly.
When both sides of the blade are completed it is heated gently and all the design gone over with the hammer: then with the cold chisel the outlines are defined, and the features brought into slight relief: roughnesses are smoothed down with the hammer, a bath of cold water and a polish with a cloth, and the blade is complete.
The silver pattern being so firmly incorporated with the blade that it is almost impossible to detach it, even with chisel and hammer. But save for the forging the metal is never brought to a red-heat."
A fine example of a large dha-lhwe. It is made around a heavy blade crafter with considerable precision, with nice and even curves and surfaces. Typical for the type, it has a long false backedge that reminds of the Japanese naginata. The entire backedge is outlined and decorated with lines in silver overlay. The same treatment is given to the back of the blade until the backedge. The blade has a shallow hollow section which is entirely crosshatched and blackened, forming a canvas for Burmese designs in fine silver overlay.
The hilt consists of a silver-plated, wooden grip with iron reinforcement. The middle section is blackened iron, cross-hatched and overlaid with designs in silver. They are probably figures from Burmese mythology or folk stories. Several figures can be seen, one on a horse. Two seem to be demons or nat, armed with clubs or swords, and four more figures and a bird surround them among vegetation. The pommel is shaped like a flower bud, worked in repousse with designs of leaves.
Designs & markings
The designs on the blade consist of Burmese floral patterns with animals. On each side there is a pair of tiger, a pair of birds, a pair of tiger with one bird, and finally a tiger facing an elephant.
The base of the blade has two markings:
A Burmese date, year 1381
(Corresponding to late September to early October 1898.)
Various mentions are made of a C.S. Rundle in Burma:
1881 - Taungoo: "Surgeon-Major R. V. Power was in charge from the 1st to 28th January, when Surgeon C. S. Rundle took over charge for the remainder of the year.” 2
1887-89 - Rangoon: The National Army Museum has an India General Service Medal 1854-95 with clasp: Burma 1887-89, awarded to a "Hon. Sgn C. S. Rundle, Rangoon Volunteer Rifle Corps." This corps existed between November 1877 and November 1883.3
1885 - Taungoo: "Surgeon M. Smith held charge of the lock-hospital from the 1st January to the 10th November; second grade Apothecary G. B. Fonseca from the 11th November to the 9th December ; and Surgeon C. S. Rundle, M. B., during the remainder of the year.” 4
1907: "Lieutenant-Colonel C. S. Rundle, m.b., i.m.s., has been permitted to retire from 5th May 1907. He entered the service in March 1880 and has been in Civil Employ, Burma, for many years. He took leave out of India for two years on 5th May, 1905." 5
1908: “The King has approved of the retirements of (...) Lieut.-Colonel C. S. Rundle, I.M.S., from 5th May 1907 and (...)" 6
In near-mint condition. Only minor denting on the silver sheet of the hilt. No losses whatsoever to the silver on the blade. Blade itself in excellent condition, some light staining but no rust, pitting, nicks, or other distortions. No signs of (over-)sharpening. No scabbard.
A very nice example of a Burmese dha-lwe with lavish silver decoration. It was probably ordered by, or presented to British officer and surgeon C.S. Rundle who was among others active in Taungoo. Mindan Village, where these swords were made according to Bell, is about 180 km north of Taungoo.
It is rather unique in that it has the name of a British officer on the blade, and in addition, it is the only dha-lwe of its type known to me that has a date inscribed into it. As such it can help researchers date and attribute other, unmarked but similar examples.
1. E.N. Bell I.C.S.; A Monograph on Iron and Steel Work in Burma. Rangoon, Superintendent, Government Printing Burma, 1907.
2. Report on the lock-hospitals, British Burma, for the year 1881.
3. The National Army Museum accession number 1991-02-70.
4. Report on the lock-hospitals, British Burma, for the year 1885.
5. The Indian Medical Gazette, July 1907.
6. The Indian Medical Gazette, July 1908.
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Presented by the local Dai nobility to a British customs officer in 1936.
An earlier example with an iconographic hilt.
A rare set of twin knives in a single scabbard.
With intricately carved ivory hilt depicting a demon on a horse.
With broad silver-clad scabbard, worked entirely in repousse.