DAP (Scabbard) from history to the present day!!
7th January, 2022
Everything you need to know about the DAP (khukuri scabbard/sheath)
- prepared by Saroj Lama Tamang (SLT), founder and MD of KHHI nepal
DAP as we know ... this subject may be of basic knowledge to the experts but would certainly come handy to the newbies. DAP or the scabbard/sheath/cover of the khukuri; is probably the most underrated thing in a khukuri set. A subject that has always been in the shadow of the khukuri and its dominant image. Here, we are trying to bring out the key topics of the Dap like its probable history, development, people behind it, various types, usage, and making, etc in brief. It also includes related daps you can purchase from us presently. We hope you’d enjoy and get to learn something about Dap, its importance, and its existence. Thank you for your time.
What is a DAP?
DAP is a typical local Nepalese term used particularly for a khukuri scabbard or sheath. Obviously, the word came along after the khukuri. It is pronounced as “da-ap” and is a noun. Many people also call it “DAB” or simply “KHOL”, the later being a general term for a cover of any sharp edged knife.
DAP Makers: (PEOPLE behind the scene ) … the people who make the scabbard are called “Sarkis” but it is also a general speaking term for people who does leather works. There is no specific term used for Khukuri dap maker like we have for the khukuri as “Kami”. These people are mostly Hindus and are minority, and fall under the so-called low caste system of the social caste division. They are believed to have come from the Northern part of India dating back to as far as the ancient civilization.
Brief history, background, development, and carriage...
Sadly, just like the origin of khukuri, there is no documentation or hard evidence found on the origin or existence of DAP. We can trace back its history to as far as the Bronze Age basing at the archaeological and scientific facts but it's purely hypothetical and just a vague assumption. Nonetheless, there is no second opinion that it came into existence out of necessity and the desire to deliver more. In the khukuri dap’s case, initially, the khukuri maker himself made a make-shift scabbard just for the sake of carrying and housing it so that the sharp edge does not hurt him. It was just a mere housing to tuck in and tuck out the knife. It was only after some decent production started to take place and there was a need for some specialized people to handle this depart and then Dap really took its full shape and flow. This was when the Sarki people came forward to organize, manage and give better looks to the scabbard which soon became a vital part of the khukuri. Some historical documents, images, and scriptures have been found that show that along with the human civilization daps also changed over the course of history through the centuries. Initially, Khukuris were naked (scabbard-less) and mainly carried by wrapping in any fabric or some natural straws. Then basic scabbards, more like a box (frame), were made for easier carriage and safety. Then Daps started coming up in a more managed and better version in various types. Gradually this took the form of classy and elegant dap that demanded its own status and worth. The Khukuri’s inclusion in the military also brought about a big leap in the standard and style of dap. It was more organized to facilitate a user for easy and swift carriage so the khukuri can be used to its full capacity.
Thus by now, we can say that the Dap’s gradual development happened with time, circumstances, and knowledge. You know how a simple carrier turned into an organized presentation and slowly worked its way up to becoming a thing of ceremonial and cultural must-have, a worthy displayer to adorn a space and a symbol of power and status in the society. Peoples’ desire to do more and deliver more also played a significant role in the development and evolution of dap. Modern age craftsmen started making different types of daps based on purpose, demand, and skill. Slowly but surely dap started taking the form of showmanship of craftsmanship and recognition of social status. It was taken more as materialistic rather than a requirement.
We have collected some of the various Daps from different eras for your general knowledge >>
No dap of any sort was made. Khukuri was just carried or transported in a bag, box, fabric, or any kind of wrapper that the maker had access to.
As discussed above when khukuri was first made there was no plan for any dap. The khukuri maker himself made a make-shift dap or rather cover out of any wood or similar stuffs he could find in his surroundings. Here, the only intention was to protect the user from its sharp edge and be able to carry the knife. This would also save the blade from getting damaged or deteriorate. Kami also made a simple rounded wooden piece with a see through hole in the center for the khukuri to go inside as a carrying device. Some of these are still used today in remote villages in Nepal.
Leather over Wood (traditional version) >> (most popular)
After there was a need for a proper khukuri dap to not only protect the user from his khukuri’s sharp edge and be able to carry it easily but also to give a good look, we can say that the second phase of dap came into a beginning. The Sarkis took over this job and started making daps that the khukuri truly deserved. They developed a certain technique to accomplish the same and by using domestic animals’ hide over selected wood the leather dap came into existence. Later as knowledge, skills and demands started to flourish it got better and better to a point where dap got its own recognition. Makers developed wonderful ways of making and started to play with various patterns, colors, add-ons, etc to fine tune. This grabbed the attention of the public and there was no looking back from this point onwards. It also housed the two small knives, Karda and Chakmak.
Here the Leather Dap can be roughly categorized into two parts; 1. Classic 2. Modern
1. CLASSIC is where the natural hide of a domestic animal is used. It is the original form of the leather sheath when khukuri daps 1st came into existence. In later years Sarkis developed better looking sheath with lines and embosses through better technics and skills that we see even today.
2. MODERN; this is also type of leather dap but it came much later in around in 1950-60’s with the development of modern facilities and growth in trade and commerce. Ready-made leather produced by factories were massively used to ease financial burden and work load to the makers and also generate mass production. The British influence and high shortage of natural materials also heavily contributed to these modern leather daps which continues till date.
Decorative Dap (High-end Scabbards) >>
With time, knowledge and experience skill develops too… gradually the dap making skill developed to such a new higher level that now makers were really playing with dap. Ornamental sheaths from precious metals like silver, copper, brass, stones and sometimes even from gold having various artistic designs and exquisite craftsmanship started to surface. The main objective here was to target the upper class, dignitaries and high ranking officers with high social status. In no time khukuris with such daps became an integral part of the Nepali culture to show one’s social authority, gratitude and an item of ritual. It became a vital part of the khukuri culture. Britishers also became much fond of it in the later years and started buying for recreation. This further popularized the dap and the people behind it. Goldsmith started to take over this job and the outcome in the class and variety of dap climbed to a whole new level. Amongst the various type made, the Kothimoda (Kothimora in later years) type became the most famous and got such a recognition that it soon became a household name, a proud heritage of Nepal. Here “Kothi” means the chape or the tip of the scabbard that is covered by precious metal and “Moda” means the face. Hence in general term a silver faced khukuri. The earliest Kothimoda dap that we know of surfaced sometime in early 17th century and since have been a prized possession for a commoner to aristocrats. Kothimodas were equally used in marriage ceremony and army ceremony which still continues today.
Military version >>
The military version is basically the same as the Classic dap with the only extra and unique feature being the frog or belt holder (farus). The development of this type of dap can be credited to British when they started to recruit Gorkhas under their flagship and modernize the traditional Nepalese Army. Recruits were issued with standard uniforms, armors and with it came the frog to hang the khukuri from waist rather than to put it in sash or patuka in the stomach area. Such daps can be seen wearing by soldiers in early 1800’s after the “Treaty of Sugauli”. Similar with time and development, military dap also evolved from plain simple types to having metal fixtures to camouflage wrapping to danglers etc. These days all army daps come with the standard frog mainly having two strips in which the belt goes thru. These are traditional sheath having wooden frame inside covered by either animal hide or treated leather.
Decorated Wooden/Horn Dap >>
Surprisingly it appears very late considering the favorable circumstances to source the dap when we look deep into the history, making and development of Dap. This is a modern version and the earliest ones are first seen only in 1950-60’s. A special type of local wood is used to make the scabbard displaying various traditional, religious and national carving/figures. We can assume that the objective here was for dual purpose; to carry and to display. Likewise it was targeted to various class of the society despite of different financial conditions and social hierarchy. Hence now with the creation of the decorated dap, khukuri had twin status; wood is stronger than leather so its durable and the wood is well decorated so the user can proudly display at the same time. Later in the same spirit in around 1970-80s, makers from Dhankuta and Chainpur villages did their own types that depicted various national symbols and artistic carvings famously known as the “Dhankute” and “Chainpure” khukuris. These are still sold today and have high demand in the current market.
Fancy Dap (Touristic)
1960’s and 70’s witnessed hordes of hippies coming to Nepal in search of Shangri-La who came in thousands pursuing enlightenment, peace and redemption. Nepal was gearing up for tourism and was opening its national treasures for the world to come and see. This brought in millions of tourists in the country and in it’s shadow emerged the Fancy Dap that was largely targeted for the visitors. Makers especially in town and central areas created really fancy dap having all sorts of decorations from coins to figures to fake stones to all sort of flashy metal works. These were and still are mostly inferior khukuris with cheap imitations having substandard materials and made by amateurs. Nonetheless they sold in thousands as they were cheap and had easy access to tourists. Hence this modern twist of dap need be included in the evolution of the Khukuri’s Dap. Here is would not be unjust to say that these khukuris actually helped to defame the real khukuri and the makers.
Till date KHHI doesn’t make/sell this type of scabbards.
Ultra-Modern (western style) >>
The development of internet in 1980’s brought about major changes in the life of people. When it entered Nepal in the end of 20th century it had huge impact and influence in the livelihood of citizens and business of Nepal as a whole. The digital era injected huge boost and furnished major changes in the state of all products which also influenced the development of Khukuri Dap. The advancement in transport industry (foreigners coming in), introduction of the internet and local people getting inspired heavily influenced the khukuri culture and soon maker were seen doing contemporary versions like Western leather sheath, kydex sheath and Cordura etc. This new dap not only facilitated the easy carriage but also were durable suited for all weather conditions. In no time it got famous and made up for any weakness a traditional dap had. Today almost all khukuri manufacturers make this dap and satisfy the modern need.
You can buy these scabbards from add-ons section for almost every khukuri/knife sold by KHHI.
How DAP is made ... a glimpse
The Dap Making is probably one of the only local products that has not seen any transformation or modernization since generations. We are very proud and honored to see the same old making methods and skills continued till this date. It's completely handmade, bare hands and feet, all the way. The Sarkis have successfully passed down their expertise from a generation to a newer one.
Below are some photos and a video from our production place.
But the question remains .... has the DAP ever been seen as CRAFT? Are the makers really praised for their skill? Yes or No, remains unanswered.
P.s. Images copyrighted to the respective owners. We have used an informative purpose. please let us know if u want them removed.