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article imageYemeni blacksmiths transform shrapnel into heirlooms

By AFP     Aug 3, 2018 in World

In his war-torn city, a Yemeni artisan is transforming shrapnel which litters the streets into the country's celebrated traditional daggers.

For 45 years, blacksmith Mohammed Haradhi has crafted swords for his clients' loved ones and built custom locks.

But after more than three years of war, he and so many other Yemenis have been left struggling to find work.

Haradhi has turned to the conflict's debris in Hajjah, his home city in western Yemen, and repurposes the metal to make traditional jambiyya daggers.

A short, curved dagger, the jambiyya is worn by Yemeni men in an ornate sheath tucked into an embroidered belt.

Shrapnel is particularly abundant in Hajjah  which has witnessed intense military operations aimed a...
Shrapnel is particularly abundant in Hajjah, which has witnessed intense military operations aimed at driving rebel fighters out
ESSA AHMED, AFP

They are often gifted to boys during a coming of age celebration that brings the whole family together.

With steel now hard to come by, Haradhi said shrapnel is a "cheap, high-quality metal" to make the daggers.

"Necessity is the mother of invention," Haradhi said at his workshop, as he hammered a blade still red from the heat of the furnace.

Shrapnel is particularly abundant in Hajjah, which has witnessed intense military operations aimed at driving rebel fighters out.

The city is controlled by the Iran-backed Huthi rebels, who since 2015 have been battling a coalition backing the Yemeni government which is led by Saudi Arabia.

- 'To remember the war' -

The war has killed nearly 10,000 Yemenis and pushed the country to the brink of famine. Port blockades have prevented humanitarian aid and other supplies, including steel, entering the country.

Jambiyyas are handed down from generation to generation
Jambiyyas are handed down from generation to generation
ESSA AHMED, AFP

But the conflict has not put an end to the craftmanship which dates back hundreds -- some historians say even thousands -- of years, which has also seen Yemen famed for its hand-embroidered shawls and skilled silversmiths.

Jambiyyas have been handed down from generation to generation, across all socio-economic backgrounds.

The daggers range from lower-end models made in China to daggers with handles carved from rhinoceros horn, tucked into diamond-encrusted sheaths, worth close to $1 million.

Finished jambiyyas made from shrapnel sell for up to 20 000 Yemeni riyals ($79  68 euros)
Finished jambiyyas made from shrapnel sell for up to 20,000 Yemeni riyals ($79, 68 euros)
ESSA AHMED, AFP

Those made from repurposed shrapnel sell for up to 20,000 Yemeni riyals ($79, 68 euros).

"We pick up the debris on the spot, or sometimes buy it by the kilogram," said Yahya Hussein, another blacksmith in Hajjah.

Despite the ongoing conflict, residents say demand for the daggers remains high.

"Some buy jambiyyas made from shrapnel and actually wear them," one Hajjah local told AFP.

"But some buy them as keepsakes, or to remember the war."

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