The country of Burma, now also known as Myanmar, is home to over a hundred ethnic minorities using many different languages. They produced and carried a variety of single-edged swords and daggers that are known in the Burmese majority language as da, an umbrella term for a range of single-edged implements much like the Chinese word dāo (刀) to which it is clearly related.
In coming up with glossaries of terms I much prefer to work with material produced within the period we are studying over oral traditions.1 To that end, I found a great resource in the work of Adoniram Judson (1788-1850), an American missionary who served in Burma for almost 40 years and authored the first Burmese-English dictionary which became the basis of all other subsequent dictionaries of their type.2
For cross-referencing, filling gaps, and providing accurate modern transcriptions I used the official Myanmar-English Dictionary by the Myanmar Language Commission, (MLC).3 As such, all transcriptions are done according to the MLC standard.
Dha, dah or da
In old writings, the word used are dha, dah and da. Today, English speaking the collector community has collectively embraced the transcription dha.
On this website I use da and dha interchangeably but in this article, I will adhere strictly to the transcriptions provided by the Myanmar Language Commission and keep it at da.
Notes to introduction
1. In doing fieldwork in China it was my personal experience that wherever I could check oral traditions against period texts, oral traditions were often terribly off the mark. Many things get misremembered, mistaken, or simply lost when a century goes by. This made me wary of using any sort of oral tradition in scientific writing, at least when it concerns subjects as far removed from our present time as those of the 19th century.
2. Adoniram Judson; A dictionary of the Burman language, with explanations in English, Baptist Mission Press, Calcutta, 1826. Available on archive.org. And: Adoniram Judson; Judson's Burmese-English dictionary, revised and enlarged by Robert C. Stevenson. Government Printing, Rangoon, Burma, 1893. Available on archive.org.
3. Myanmar-English Dictionary by the Myanmar Language Commission. 1993. A useful online source is the SEAlang Library Burmese Dictionary Resources. All transcriptions are thus in the MLC Transcription System.
A visual da glossary
Da (ဓား) means knife, chopper or sword. Here an overview of the sword da and its parts.
|5||Back of blade||အနှောင့်||ahnaun|
|6||Hilt / da hilt||အရိုး / ဓားရိုး||ajou / dajou|
Of the blade
Amin (အမင်း); Tang (of knife, sword, chisel, etc).
Hmjo gjaun (မျှော့ကြောင်း); Fluting in blade (fuller).
Hsei (ဆေး); 1. Wash; clean (with fluid). 2. Temper; anneal.
Kjin (ကျင်း); 1. Rinse. 2. Whet. As in da kjin (ဓား ကျင်), "whetting the da".
Mje (မြက်); Be sharp edged; be keen edged.
Mji (မြည့်); (Of blade) be razor sharp.
Da dwei gjau' (ဓားသွေးကျောက်); Hone; whetstone; honing stone.
Da tha (ဓားသ); Recondition a sword blade at the smithy.
Than ge (သံခဲတင်); Fix a steel edge.
Thein (သိမ်း); To sheath (the sword).
Thein hsi (သိမ်းဆည်း); to withdraw, put away. Sheath (the sword).
Thwei (သွေး); Grind, whet; sharpen. As in da thwei (ဓားသွေး), sharpening the da"
Dan ja (ဒဏ်ရာ); Wound, injury. As in da cut.
Hti (ထိ); Suffer. Make a point. Be hurt, be wounded, as in da hti (ဓားထိ).
Khou' (ခုတ်); Hack; chop; strike; cut (with da).
Sha (ရှ); Cut superficially. As in da sha (ဓားရှ).
Toun (တုံး); Chop, cut. Shave. Of da; be blunt.
Mje' pa (မျက်ပါး) Gold or silver foil.
Mun (မွမ်း); Embellish; adorn; decorate; overlay (with gilding , etc).
Pan kha' (ပန်းခတ်); Engrave floral design on plates of gold, silver, etc.
Za̱wa (ဇဝါ); 1. Gold or silver inlay. 2. Scroll work in gold or silver.
Types of swords and daggers
With links to the corresponding glossary articles, where present.
Da (ဓား); Knife; chopper; sword; dah.
Da̱lwe (ဓားလွယ်); Sword in scabbard slung from the shoulder.
Da̱lu' (ဓားလွတ်); A bare sword; unsheathed sword.
Da̱ma (ဓားမ); Chopper; knife with a broad blade. "The hatchet and axe of the Burmese".
Da̱mau (ဓားမောက်); Knife with a broad blade and curved point.
Da̱hmjaun (ဓားမြှောင်); Dagger. Hmjaun (မြှောင်) literally means 1. Be alongside; get alongside; stay alongside. 2. Depend on.
Dou' da (တုတ်ဓား); Sword-stick; sword-cane.
Hnge' kji daun (ငှက်ကြီးတောင်); A kind of long sword.
Shan da (ရှမ်းဓား); Shan light sword with pointed blade.
Than lje (သန်လျက်); Double edged sword. Also: Four-edged dagger which forms part of the Myanmar regalia.
Other arms related
Ahsau' (အဆောက်); Haft; handle of axe or knife.
Cha' (ချပ်); Chain mail.
Dain (ဒိုင်း); Target or round shield.
Gaun: zu' (ခေါင်းစွပ်); Stocking cap; balaclava helmet.
Hlan (လှံ); Spear; lance; javelin.
Hlan da (လှံဓ); A large spear.
Hlwa ( လွှား); Oblong shield. Also; Hurdle over, (of a flag) unfurl, (of clothing) spread over a bar line.
Ka (ကာ); Shield. Also; to obstruct, hide, shield, screen, hold, cover.
Kha̱jin gwa (ခက်ရင်းခွ); Pronged weapon such as a trident.
Khwin (ခွင်); Rhomboid shield.
Le' ne' (လက်နက်); Weapon; arms.
Mau' ru (မောက်ရူ) Helmet with a long spike; worn by soldiers in olden days.
Mau' tou (မောက်တို); A kind of helmet worn by soldiers of monarchical days in Myanmar.
Than ke' ku zu (သံကက္ကုဆူး); Instrument armed with four spikes so that one is always upright to deter an enemy; caltrop.
Than khamau (သံခမောက်); Steel helmet.
E maun (အဲမောင်); 1. A lance adorned with a long tassel used by the royal cavalry. 2. A gong used in ancient times to alert soldiers at night.