A sword hilt




Burma (Myanmar)


Late 19th or early 20th century


Carving, inlaying


Ivory, wood


Length 236 mm

COMMENT. This item is an carved ivory hilt, which was intended for a traditional Burmese long sword called "dha lwe". Such swords were common in mainland Southeast Asia, especially in Burma (present-day Myanmar) and Thailand, which caused significant local differences in both form and decoration. Hilts carved from ivory are always smoothly curved in accordance with the natural shape of the elephant tusk. The presented hilt is carved with several demons squatting on each other’s shoulders, but only their limbs are visible among the many curls. The hilt is rather intricately, deeply and thinly carved. Such elaborate carving is characteristic of the late 19th and early 20th century. It is known that during this period, the only cities in Burma, where the making ivory hilts was still ongoing, were Pyinmana and especially Mawlamyine. The main customer for carved ivory items was the British East India Company, which supplied them to the western market as exotic souvenirs and interior adornments. Although some ivory was imported into Burma from India and Africa, most carvers preferred to work with local ivory from the Shan states, which was regarded has having a waxier consistency and was this easier to carve (see Fraser-Lu, S. Burmese Crafts: Past and Present. – Kuala Lumpur, 1994. – P. 114). Judging by the untouched lower part and good condition in general, the presented hilt was never used for its intended purpose, but immediately hit the western market.