Rukai shortsword
This item has been sold.
Overall length

Sheathed 67.7 cm

Knife 65.3 cm

Blade length

49.5 cm

Blade thickness

Base 5 mm

Middle 4 mm

5 cm from tip 3 mm

Blade width

Base 32 mm (after widening)

Middle 32 mm

5 cm from tip 31 mm

Weight without scabbard

500 grams

Point of balance

13 cm from hilt

Materials

Iron, steel, wood, mother-of-pearl, brass

Origin

Southern Taiwan

Dating

19th century

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Description

A very fine Taiwanese aboriginal shortsword of a Rukai nobleman.

The blade is straight with a parallel edge and spine, and a clipped tip. It has flat sides and an edge bevel only on the right side, except for the oblique edge on the tip which has the bevel on both sides.

The profile and bevels remind of much earlier Chinese swords that were in use up until the 13th century. Where sword designs in both China and Japan since evolved in their own ways, people in more remote places like Taiwan but also various peoples of the Himalayas held on to these now archaic blade forms until recent times.

Tang dynasty sword in the Shosoin

One of the 8th-century Chinese swords preserved in the Shōsō-in (正倉院) in Japan.
Their provenance goes to before 760 A.D. when they were incorporated in the treasure house.
They formed the basis of the shape that would become the iconic Japanese katana.
From: Shōsōin no token or "Sword Blades in the Shōsō-in". Tokyo: Nihon Keizai Shimbun, 1974.

 

Hilt & scabbard

The complex hilt is of typical form, starting narrow and gradually widening towards the pommel plate. going from an oval cross-section near the blade to a flattened octagonal cross-section at the pommel. Again there is a resemblance to Himalayan swords, most notably those of Bhutan and Eastern Tibet. The hilt is decorated with a variety of strips and studs of metal and many pieces of mother-of-pearl.

The scabbard is cut from a single piece of wood, open on the right side. The blade is held by means of two metal bands and a large brass plate, reinforced with two bars. The plate is pierced with designs of human figures, and further decoration consists of punch work. 

The two upper bands both carry a Chinese talismanic character in a special kind of Daoist seal script called fú wén (符文). There are also what appear to be scenes of people and houses, deeply cut out, on the opposite side of the band. Such bands frequently appear on this kind of sword and the smaller knives in the same style, like a Rukai knife sold here previously.

 

Daoist scabbard ornaments on Taiwanese sword

Decorative bands with Daoist fú wén (符文).

 

At the very tip of the scabbard is a stylized snakehead, representing the “hundred pace pit viper” (Deinagkistrodon), which is thought of as an ancestor and guardian spirit of the Rukai and Paiwan noble bloodlines.

 

Taiwan shortsword scabbard details

Details on the scabbard.
Left: Human figure cutour on the brass plate.
Right: Stylized pit viper on the reverse.

 

Attribution

The sword probably belonged to a chief of the Rukai, who call such swords rinadrug. It would have been worn as a status symbol during official gatherings and ceremonies.

This general style with studs and mother of pearl probably originated with the Rukai, but eventually became quite popular in the region and was also worn by the Paiwan and Puyuma. The blade on this example however is more Rukai in construction, suggesting it was made for that culture.1

 

Blade cross-sections

Blade cross-sections.
Left, typical Paiwan construction with a bevel near the spine and another near the edge.
Right, typical Rukai construction with only an edge bevel.

 

 

 

Comparable examples

A rather similar example is in the Metropolitan Museum, New York under accession number 36.25.1444a, b. It was in the famous George Cameron Stone collection, who in his 1934 "A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration, and Use of Arms and Armor in All Countries and in All Times". The sword was bequeathed to the museum in 1936.

 

Metmuseum Rukai sword

Metropolitan Museum, New York under accession number 36.25.1444a, b.
Ex. George Cameron Stone collection. Acquired by the Museum in 1936.

 

Condition

Pretty good condition throughout. Some losses to the ornaments on the reverse of the scabbard, see photos. Blade in very good shape, no pitting or significant damage. The hilt is tight. No repairs or restorations whatsoever.

 

Notes
1. Alex Cheng; Preliminary Classification of Indigenous Taiwanese KnivesPublished online. Also personal communication with Alex.

Taiwanese Rukai chieftain's shortsword
Taiwanese Rukai chieftain's shortsword
Taiwanese Rukai chieftain's shortsword
Taiwanese Rukai chieftain's shortsword
Taiwanese Rukai chieftain's shortsword
Taiwanese Rukai chieftain's shortsword
Taiwanese Rukai chieftain's shortsword
Taiwanese Rukai chieftain's shortsword
Taiwanese Rukai chieftain's shortsword
Taiwanese Rukai chieftain's shortsword
Taiwanese Rukai chieftain's shortsword
Taiwanese Rukai chieftain's shortsword
Taiwanese Rukai chieftain's shortsword
Taiwanese Rukai chieftain's shortsword
Taiwanese Rukai chieftain's shortsword
Taiwanese Rukai chieftain's shortsword
Taiwanese Rukai chieftain's shortsword
Taiwanese Rukai chieftain's shortsword

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