Made of carved wood with metal inlays for eyes and mouth.
Base 7.4 mm
Widest 5 mm
Narrowest at base 19.4 mm
Widest at tip 41 mm
Iron, steel, wood, copper
Scabbard: rattan, textile, wood
West Sumatra, Indonesia
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A very rare sword of a type that may be attributable to the Mandailing people of West Sumatra. The Mandailing are a people that are part of the Batak Ethnolinguistic group but have converted to Islam somewhere in the 18th or 19th century.
The blade has a straight spine with a sudden downward slope with a back bevel and considerable widening at the tip. In profile, the blade resembles the piso salanenggam of the Batak but those are generally plain while here the blade's sides are finely engraved. The engravings stand out over a deliberately blackened background.
The hilt is carved from a light-colored wood, in the shape of a heavily stylized makara. It sits on a copper washer, and has an iron ferrule and iron guard that forms a spike at the top. The guard is engraved with the same rope-like motifs as the blade.
The piece came to me in a curved Dayak scabbard, probably made by the Sea Dayak who wore curved swords like the langgai tinggang and jimpul. Its old, a remarkably good fit, up to the space for the guard's spike, but most likely later associated. Whether by a user or later a collector or dealer, I don't know, so I will keep them together. Mandailing people were known to travel quite a lot, who knows the scabbard was picked up as a souvenir.
A sword with a very similar blade is in the collection of Michael Marlow. It is described in detail in Steel and Magic, Edged Weapons of the Malay Archipelago.1 He attributes his to the Mandailing of West Sumatra, based on a piece in the Leiden Ethnographic Museum with a near-identical hilt.2
A rare and possibly unique sword from Sumatra, with a fine engraved blade of a type that is also seen on at least two swords that may be attributable to the Mandailing people.
1. Sixt Wetzler, editor; Steel and Magic, Edged Weapons of the Malay Archipelago. Catalog of the Solingen Klingenmuseum Exhibition that ran from 1-12-2019 to 30-6-2020. Deutsches Klingenmuseum, 2020. Pages 50-51.
2. It is kept under accession number RV-769-23. It was gifted to the museum on March 1st, 1890.
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