The sword and everyday tool of the headhunters of Borneo.
Sheathed 73 cm
Sword 67.3 cm
Base 16.5 mm
Middle 30 mm
Widest 35.5 mm
8.2 cm from hilt
Iron, deer antler, wood, rattan, goat hair, palm bark, bone, buffalo horn, gutta-percha.
Borneo, Kenyah people
Late 19th to early 20th century
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The term mandau literally means "headhunter". It is one of the names applied to the common sword worn by most tribes of Borneo. Characteristic features of the mandau are mainly its blade that is hollow ground on one side, and convex on the other, and its distinctive deerhorn or wooden hilt with crosspiece.
For an elaborate introduction to the type of sword, see my glossary article; Mandau.
A nice and complete example of a Kenyah style mandau.
According to Tromp, writing in 1887, the blade is of northern origin by virtue of the curvature in the spine. Many blades produced by the Kenyah in the highlands were purchased by Kutai workmen and made into full mandau.1
It features a gently curved blade that gradually widens in profile, with a sloped tip of a style called leng or monong.2 The blade has the typical cross-section of a mandau, with a hollow ground left face and a convex right face. The right face in turn has three facets separated by clearly defined lines. Blade in good condition, save for a minor nick in the edge.
The hilt is made of a piece of deer antler, of characteristic shape and of style called so-op goanliklik, meaning it is deeply cut. It is adorned with traditional designs of aso (dog-dragon) and leeches. The grip is wrapped with very fine black and brown braided rattan, all intact.
The scabbard, made of two pieces of soft wood, is held together by rattan bands and fine rattan braids work. It features four sections of plaited rattan, a sign of higher rank. More regularly encountered are three or less, and only the Sultan could have five.
At the back of the scabbard is a bark sheath called těmpěsing, a scabbard for a long-handled utility knife. The knife is of nice quality with a long handle made of buffalo horn, with as a pommel a carved human figure. The blade is forge folded and hollow ground on one side, just like the larger mandau. The těmpěsing is further embellished with goat hair in black, orange and white, applied in tiers.
The scabbard retains its rattan carrying belt and bone toggle carved with two aso.
A very nice and complete example of a better than average quality mandau in the style of the Kenyah people. It comes with its original sheath and by knife. The craftsmanship in this piece, most notably the rattan braid work, is beautifully done.
A Kenyah man with his mandau. Testing the bore of his blowpipe.
Wellcome Collection gallery. Attributed to Charles Hose (1863-1929).
1. S.W. Tromp; Mededeelingen omtrent mandau's. Den Haag, 1887. Published in Internationales Archiv für Ethnographie, International Gesellschaft für Ethnographie; Rijksmuseum van Oudheden te Leiden, 1888. Volume 1, pages 22-26.
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