Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Times They Are A-Changin'

Another traditional handicraft is threatened with displacement.

Taylor Luck reports on the plight of Amman dagger makers for The Jordan Times. These craftsmen forge a dagger called a shibriya -- a traditional Bedouin dagger, double-edged with a curved blade.

AMMAN - As he finished design work on his last shibriya, Zaid Abu Mohaisen said he could not help but feel that this was the end of an era.

“I really hope I can do this again one day,” he said.

For over 20 years, he and his brothers have crafted shibriyas, traditional Hashemite and bedouin daggers, a Jordanian symbol of nobility and a family business that dates back generations.

Their work came to an end when their business, along with others located across from the Roman Amphitheatre, was evicted by the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) in order to carry out a project to renovate the area and upgrade tourist services.

While there have been offers forthcoming to move the shop, the brothers are apprehensive about their prospects and lukewarm to change. Yet, they remain defiant in the face of seemingly long odds. Tradition can be a heavy burden.

“It took 200 years to build our reputation. Now we have to build it from scratch, but we will do it again,” he vowed, noting that his family faces yet another obstacle.

The proposed space will not be ready until February 2010, forcing the Abu Mohaisens to put their lives on hold, hoping that their new venture will succeed.

I have only taken three days off from work in my life. My wedding, my brother’s wedding and the death of my father. I cannot imagine a year,” he said, noting that there is little room for a workshop in his family’s apartment, which he, his brothers and their families all call home.

The brothers said they will do everything in their power to keep their craft alive, but admitted that their future, along with the future of the Jordanian shibriya, is rife with uncertainty.

So, how far back in time does this family tradition date?

The family tradition dates back to his grandfather's grandfather, Mohammad Mohaisen, who was conscripted into the Ottoman army in the mid-19th century and learned the arts of metalwork in modern-day Turkey.

He crafted decorative knives for nomadic residents of Transjordan and historic Palestine to assist in their rugged daily lives, daggers which soon became symbols of nobility among the bedouin community.

From Oriental Arms:

A typical good example of the Bedouin side dagger locally known as Shibriya. All men carry it and it is very popular between the Bedouin tribes residing in Israel and in Jordan. The blade is short, 6 inches, re-curving and double edged with an acute tip. The blade is engraved in Arabic inscription and dated to 1947.

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