Barczewski S., Vetukov V. (2016). Dve pary korotkih ritual’nyh mechej iz V’etnama [Two Pairs of the Short Ritual Swords of Vietnam]. Istoricheskoe oruzhievedenie [Weapons History Journal], № 4, pp. 5 — 21.

Barczewski S.

Vetukov V.

Abstract: The article is devoted to the description of two pairs of short swords preserved in a private collection. These swords are marked with features specific to both the Vietnamese and Chinese traditions of weapon making. Some of their details permit to qualify the weapons as ritual objects used by peoples inhabiting the mountains of Northern Vietnam. Thus the blades of all daggers were engraved with images of tendrils of different clambering plants. This decorative motive symbolizes the virility or literary struggle for the place in the sun in the Vietnamese culture. Another specifically Vietnamese blade detail is an ornately cut plate of copper alloy put on the base of the one pair blades. As for the Chinese features they are hammering of the end of tung during the mounting process and the shape of the pommel. The cross guard quillons that were bent downward and turned outward was seen by one of the authors on some ritual weapons exhibited in the Ethnography Museum in Hanoi. The exhibition theme was devoted to the shamanic practices of the peoples lived in the Northern Vietnam.

A short inscription of two hieroglyphs “than guom” on the both sides of the one pair blades forced the authors to appeal for advisory assistance to specialists from Russia and Vietnam. The first hieroglyph read in Vietnamese as “THAN” means “spirit”, “deity”. The second one is rarely used and its meaning differs from country to country in the Far East. In Vietnam it is read as “guom” and means “sword”, “saber” while in China there are three variants of its reading and consequently three meanings – “dull, lack of sharpness”, “edge, point of the blade” and “sword” – and from Korean and Japanese it is translated as “dull” only. Besides it is necessary to point here that the blades of both pairs of swords were never sharpened. The shamans of the Yao people living in Northern Vietnam and Sothern China are known to speak about their weapons as being made dull intentionally for staying death-dealing in the world of spirits not doing harm to people. The authors consider a master who made these swords to have known both Vietnamese and Chinese equally well which was delicately shown with the inscription made.

The described pairs of short swords are of considerable interest not only for the weaponologists but for the ethnologists, linguists and religion historians as well.

Keywords: Vietnam, short swords, ritual, shaman, China, the Yao people.