The Iron and The Style of NAMBAN
by Henri L. Joly (1913), Edited and Annotated by Elliott Long (2012)

Some years ago Joly suggested that Namban iron originated in the Malayan Archipelago and that imitations reproduced the style of forging there in making kris (or keris are asymmetrical daggers or swords most strongly associated with the culture of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Southern Thailand). Shortly afterwards, the publication of a study on kris by Dr. Gronemann tended further to confirm Joly's opinion. The researches of Prof. Tawara Kuniichi, on samples of Namban iron preserved in Japan, have proven it to be of the same properties as the Wootz (a steel characterized by a pattern of bands or sheets of carbides within a tempered martensite or pearlite matrix) of southern India, but in correspondence Mr. Tawara had told Joly that he has not studied the iron of Java, which leaves the question open. It would be interesting to know whether the smiths of Malaysia learned from India the method of preparing the steel called 'Wootz' and to forge it with pamor (pamor means in Malay, mixture of alloys, and in fact the pamor pattern is obtained by welding together wrought iron and nickel, and then acid etching it) in making kris blades.

The most important point of this research is the determination that in this iron the weight of phosphorous varies from 4 - 10 times as much in Japanese iron, and proves its foreign origin. Namban iron is a distinct material, with nothing to do with the style of the same name, or rather the several styles that were classed as Namban.

Some guards of Chinese origin or, to be more accurate, of Chinese make, were imported at Nagasaki either as curiosities or as merchandise, the fact being certain from a customs document mentioned on page 90 of Soken Kinko Ryakushi of Professor Wada. It follows that the guards decorated with nunome and very similar to Chinese work, attributed to the Nagasaki inlayers, may be grouped under Namban, thoughcoming from the northwest the name is not logical. Guards called KANTON (Kanto) and KAGONAMI (Kannon) of which the first have a purely Chinese design of symmetrical form, though the others belong to two asymmetrical types: fish-dragon and pagoda; stags, monkeys, wasp, etc., and to which the Namban type seems to apply best are those dealt with in the present note.

The style of guard perforated with interwoven tendrils, etc., in careful and intricate detail, sometimes with the addition of animal figures, fixed or movable, capable of numerous variations, seems to have arrived by way of China, as the names Kanton and Kagonami indicate. The tendril style existed in bronze artwork long before the Portuguese had anything to do with Japan. Ancient Chinese bronzes show sufficient proof in the handles, ears, feet and open-work treatment of dragons and borders. The question is, where did this style come from? From India and Persia to China, or vice versa? This note is not dogmatic, but just points out several points upon the question.

Upon the death of Mr. A.W. Paul his family decided to sell the objects he had collected in Nepal, Sikkin, and other Indian provinces, comprising Tibetan and Sino-Tibetan work, which Joly was asked to classify before the sale. One of the most interesting pieces was a set of saddle mounts in "Namban" style, with moveable dragons, finished in nunome, but was unable to learn whether it came from Nepal or Bhutan. Another interesting piece was a large horn (shell) from central Tibet decorated in copper, partially gilded, with a dragon.

There is a great similarity between the scabbard mounts of the two-edged Bhutanese daggers, the saddle mounts, etc., and the guards with large tendrils and those with smaller piercings enhanced with enamel and stones. One can also see the resemblance between certain daggers of the Shosoin zukuri type and between some tachi mounted with cabochons (Cabochon, from the Middle French caboche (head), is a gemstone which has been shaped and polished as opposed to faceted) and the Tibetan arms made at Derge mounted in a similar manner. One notes on the pommel two ornaments which repeat themselves in Namban guards, the same dragons facing each other or intertwined are present in the Chinese guards and in the 'pan' boxes of Nepal. I should add that the monogram oVo of the old India Company, that you find on its tokens and on some buildings, in Ceylon for example, is also rather commonplace on the so-called Namban guards of the 18th and 19th centuries made in Hirado or in copies of Hirado work. At that time this symbol was well-known in Japan and its introduction in the foreign style guards does not appear astonishing.

This said, we should ask the questions that this paper suggests. "Is the Namban style derived from the weapons of North India or Southern Tibet? Didn't the influence of this art which flourishes at the foot of Kanchenjunga (the third highest mountain in the world, with an elevation of 8,586 m (28,169 ft) and located along the India-Nepal border in the Himalayas) follow the Buddhist caravans and couldn't it have been several centuries before the 16th century? But didn't it remain dormant until it was awakened by new relations with India by way of sea or through the numerous exchanges with China at the time of the Mings? Among the numerous scholars and documented collectors, some should be able to enlighten us on the question.

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