x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Weapons do thriving trade in RAK

Swords are easily available in the markets of the old town in Ras al Khaimah

RAS AL KHAIMAH // In the markets of the old town, swords are easily available and readily sold to mountain tribesmen.

"All Shehhi [tribesmen] should have swords," said Azziz al Shehhi, 22. "It's nice for dancing, not for fighting. These are for gifts, for celebrations."

Mr al Shehhi owns four swords, four traditional knives and two rifles that belonged to his father. But the party favourite was always the sword, an essential for any mountain celebration, he said.

Strong swordsmanship is the mark of a good wedding for mountain tribes like the Shehhu and Habus. Swords are not raised in combat, but thrown metres in the air and then caught.

The swords are forged in the workshops of the old RAK market, many of which have operated for more than three decades.

Shopkeepers must be licensed to sell swords, but are not required to keep records of how many they sell or to whom.

They make them according to demand. Some months they may sell only one or two, and other months they will sell dozens, especially in the summer wedding season.

Swords can be bought in glass cases as gifts and are a traditional reward at sporting events such as camel races. More often they are sold as an accessory for weddings, along with the canes and the yerz, a tribal axe.

Swords are sold blunt so men can catch them while dancing, but can be easily sharpened. Honing usually comes at the behest of elders, who want swords sharpened to a fine edge to honour their forefathers.

Zahee Ahmed, 28, of Pakistan, sells to tribesmen, sheikhs and tourists, as well as to shops in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. He said he had yet to hear of any case of swords being used as a weapon. "It's not dangerous," said Mr Ahmed. "We make them for celebration, not for killing. This is not for fighting, it is only for culture. The man is crazy if he will fight."

There is no age requirement on who can buy a sword, but some stores will only sell to Emiratis.

For many years, bargain hunters would often skip the markets of old RAK and buy from the family of Charchambi Daad Mohammed, a Baluchi axe and sword maker who crafted the weapons in his house.

Until last year, he roamed the streets of the Nakheel market with a bundle of swords and axes under his arm to be sold to whoever had the cash.

The swords business got a boost last December after Fujairah's first annual Al Saif Traditional Sword Competition, in which TV viewers and audience members voted by SMS for their favourite sword dancer.

RAK swordsmiths reported a sharp rise in demand for a month afterwards.