Olive wood-handled Khanjars: “Because you’re worth it!”

The wood of the olive tree, known by its botanical name of Olea Europaea, has become the latest ‘must have’ men’s fashion accessory according to Nizwa silver craftsman, and businessman, Daoud Al Tiwani. Due to restricted supplies of ivory and horn, in particular, Tiwani was drawn to using olive wood in the manufacture of his business’s amazing traditional khanjars quite by accident. He was using some windfall olive wood for traditional canes when he discovered tone of the polishing processes offered an astounding depth of color and emphasized the grain, which is the natural pattern and direction of the wood, to an amazingly appealing degree.
He, and his craftsman team, also discovered that it was extremely responsive to the inlay of precious metals and jewelry, thus creating the opportunity for intricate, and incredibly beautiful handles for the khanjars he and his family have become so renowned for across the Sultanate. For now, said Tiwani, “As far as I know, we are the only craftsmen using this wood, certainly the only ones in Dakhilyah.”
He indicates some of their canes or sticks and comments that “these have always been a protective influence in our culture, not as often a genuine physical protection, but as a mystical protection against the jinns, genies and evil spirits of our culture.” The ‘assaya’ has been used since the time of the Pharoahs, and the examples he has produced from the olive wood, which will sell for between 20 and 150 rials, are simply stunning.
The Olive tree is believed to be the world’s oldest tree, with some in the Mediterranean region dated to 2000 years old. That oldest tree, in fact, still bears fruit! It’s certainly no beauty, with its twisted, knotted trunk, a great medium for light and shadow, in fact, the greatest of all landscape painters, Vincent Van Gogh, painted olive trees an incredible 18 times, and wrote of them as, “venerable, gnarled, olive trees, pervasive throughout Southern France, a tangible link between nature, man, and the divinity.”
The olive is also freely noted throughout both legend and history. Olympians are decorated with a crown, or wreath of olive leaves. The dove, in the story of Noah’s Ark, signaled to end of the flood with an olive leaf in his beak. The anointing of deities, kings, queens, gods and goddesses, around the Mediterranean rim throughout history, eternal flames, and religious offerings have always featured olive oil.
Though the fruit of the olive tree is synonymous with the Mediterranean, Middle East, and North African regions, it’s not a tree that matures quickly, and will not produce olives until its eighth year, and consistent, superior olives, from its 20th until its 80th year. It burns with more than twice the intensity and heat of other woods.
Its leaves are often used in medicines and extracts, as they are said to have calming effects, be beneficial to the cardiovascular system, reduce cholesterol levels, and boost the immune systems. The olive leaf also features in the flags of seven different nations, four states in the USA, and of course, the emblem and flag of the United Nations, and of course, is the Palestinian national tree.
The Tiwani family have manufactured khanjars for three generations and are acknowledged as among the best at their craft. Now, with a new resource to work with, the Nizwa craftsman is confident, “because of the quality of the end product as can be seen,” rivals and exceeds that of the other most decorative woods in the world, New Zealand Totara and Kauri, the English Oak and Walnut, the Asian hardwoods such as Teak and Padauk, the Cedar and Maple of the Americas, and the Eucalyptii of Australia.
The Khanjar, being inextricably linked to the Sultanate as a national icon, and being crafted in the Saidi style, is something of huge significance to every Omani male, along with the haute couture of the dishdasha. Daoud Al Tiwani is emphatic that though their olive handled, inlaid and individually crafted khanjars may be expensive, in the words of Loreal’s iconic advertising phrase, you gentlemen should get one, “because you’re worth it!”

Ray Petersen