Friday, October 17, 2008

Parang Ilang Kayan from Sarawak

A month back, my friend John visited the interior of Sarawak in the region of Baram and came back with him several ‘souvenirs’ to share with. He was kind enough to give me a bag of Baram rice. Baram rice is well known as a fragrant rice, farmed organically.

The other item John brought back was the Parang Ilang Kayan. ‘Parang’ is a Malay word that has generally been used to describe a cutting tool perhaps equivalent to the machete. Kayan is one of the many ethnic group of the Dayaks living in Borneo and they are known to be fierce warriors and head hunters. I did a bit of research on the Kayans but there seems to be rather conflicting statements from one source to the other.

Anyway, this entry is about this Parang that John brought back. I can’t help it, so I bought one piece from him. First look, it looks like any ordinary Parang. But a closer examination reveals some interesting stuff.

First of all, I will have to state here that this ‘parang’ is obviously mass produced. It is either for tourist souvenirs or for mass local distribution for everyday use. After a close inspection and the fact that I paid only less than RM100 for it, I reckon it is mass produced for local use. I would expect to pay a few hundred ringgits if it was a private item belonging to a Kayan.

According to some websites, the ‘parang’ that is used by the Kayans are Parang Ilang. It seems that the Ilangs are designed and made to be easily withdrawn from the sheath and the blade itself is made sort of ‘hollow’ on one side to ease it’s sinking (slicing) through limbs or wood. Menacing isn’t it.

I am no blade experts but there were a few things that really caught my attention when I examine the blade further. The sheath was made entirely of wood and jungle produce. The splicing (& plates) and ending of the material used to tie the sheath together is nice. I would like to learn the splices/ plating for sure. Below is a close-up of some parts of the sheath.

A close up of the Parang Ilang's sheath

The other side of the sheath

Can anyone teach me how to do this

There is also the handle. Nothing fancy here. It feels nice and it gives a good grip. Some of the Ilangs I saw up for bids on ebay have heavily decorated handles. Mostly with carvings. Those of course are either very expensive or (on the extreme side) special ‘made’ for sale to the RICH & famous.

Now for the blade. This of course is the most interesting part. The blade is probably the most interesting part of the overall Parang. The total length of the blade is roughly 39.5cm with the widest part about 4cm. See pictures below:

The concave side of the blade

The 'hollow' side of the Parang Ilang

The curves on the back bone towards the end of the blade. The end of the blade is sharp and one can only guess what it is used for. But notice the difference between the surface of the blade on the left picture compared to the right picture? Well, the reason for this is actually due to the blade’s somewhat hollow characteristics on one side (in the left picture). The other side (right picture) is somewhat concave, making it polish-able. So…the view of the Ilang from the front would look something like below:

Concave on one side, hollow on the other

This design it seems helps to make ‘slicing’ easier for the user. Yikes...

If you are a right hander and facing a tree trunk, swinging the Parang Ilang into the tree from a cutting angle would definitely get you a nice deep cut as the ‘curve’ side of the blade would help angle the blade inwards towards the tree. This is perhaps the purpose of the design. However, if you are still holding the Ilang with your right hand and attempt a ‘swing’ at the tree trunk from your left side, there may be a possibility that the blade bounces off the tree. The concave side may ‘push’ your blade away from the tree. Hmm…this would be rather dangerous, especially when used in the hands of an inexperience bushman (like me!). The blade may bounce off and hit my body or any other object standing nearby. That’s a scary thought.

Overall, I (personally) think this Parang Ilang is a great piece of blade. I like the shape, the hand work and of course the blade. However, being a novice parang user, I am not all that confident if this blade is suitable for me to use in the bush.

The sharp pointy end and the concave blade is just too risky for someone who is still struggling with a 3 inch fix blade. Like what Ray Mears said in his Bushcraft book, "The Parang is the most dangerous cutting tool used in bushcraft." Can't agree more. This one good looking Parang Ilang will (at this moment) stay in my pile of knife collection.