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TRADITIONAL PARANG DESIGNS AND CARVINGS IN

BORNEO

Muhyiddin Mohammed 1, Saiful Bahari Mohd Yusoff 2, and Mohamad Fairuz Ali 3

1,2
Fakulti Seni Gunaan dan Kreatif, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak
3
Fakulti Bahasa dan Komunikasi, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak

ABSTRACT

The ancient inherited art of carving skills on the traditional machete or parang (in Malay Language) has been
well preserved until today. In order to produce a high quality design and carving of a parang, it requires a
creative and highly skilled blacksmith. Patience is the utmost virtue that the blacksmith needs to possess in order
to ensure the completed engraving of the parang is accurate. Nadzarul Amir Zainal Alam (2008) said that a
thorough wood selection process is emphasized in order to produce a beautiful and high quality hilt of the
parang. Based on a research by Mohd Nurazwan Augustine (2012), the carving technique of the parang is
divided into two types namely carved carving and fine carving. The objectives of this study are to study on the
carvings design for parang in Borneo, to make a comparison of carved motifs on the hilts and sheath of parang
and to generate empirical data on the design of traditional parang. The results can also be used as guidelines to
improve the local arts and culture of the local community and hence become an important product for
commercialization.

Keywords: Parang Borneo, Parang Design, Parang Carving, Arts and Cultural

1. INTRODUCTION
Borneo is a rich and multicultural archipelago in the South East Asian region. Malaysia
consists of over 80 ethnicities that spread over Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak.
There are 32 ethnics in Sabah that consist of Kadazandusun, Murut, Bajau and so on.
Meanwhile in Sarawak, there are 28 ethnicities with the largest ethnicity is Iban, followed by
the Chinese, Malays, Bidayuh, Melanau and Orang Ulu. The Borneo region includes Sabah,
Sarawak and Kalimantan, which is rich in various types of carvings with unique elements due
to the different tribal tribes that exist in areas such as Dayak, which make their home in the
archipelago, in the deep forests, and Dayaks on the shore (Anonim, 2007) including in Brunei.
The communities in Borneo are well known for their original engraving arts which symbolize
distinct ethnic elements and identities such as the traditional Parang Ilang that is synonymous
with the Iban ethnic and Parang Pakayun for Muru tribes (Jeniri Amir, 2015). This research is
focused on the design and art of carving hilts and sheaths of the traditional parang in Borneo.
Parang; carved hilts and sheath; has its own taboo and is often included and associated with
ritual and magical element (Heidi, 1989)

Among weapons classed by Malays as parang pride of place must go to the p.ilang (or
ihlang) used by the Sea Dayaks of Sarawak. It is a heavy cutlass, in shape more like a
broadsword than a true parang, equally effective as a chopper, slashing implement or club. It
is a form of kelewang without the notch, having a straight or slightly concave cutting edge.
The parang ilang is said to have been originally made by the Kayans. It was the principal

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weapon of offence used in the internecine warfare that marked the first decades of white rule
in Borneo (A.H Hill, 1956).

The parang is a useful slashing weapon for clearing swamp and cutting down low belukar.
Skeat mentioned that an old custom among Malays of putting a parang under the cot of a
newly-born child. It is normally worn unsheathed, hooked onto the belt on the left side (Skeat,
1900). The parang is a cleaver, the cutting edge straight or slightly convex, the blade broadest
and heaviest at the tip. The reverse edge is usually straight, with a blunt ‘chin’ which brings it
to the tip of slant (Gardner 1936).

The objectives of this research are as follows:
● To study on the carvings of the traditional parang found in Borneo.
● To make comparison of carved motifs on the hilts and sheath of parang.
● To analyze the art of engraving for traditional parang.
● To generate empirical data on the design for traditional parang.

2. METHODS
The literature review for the parang in Borneo is scarce. Therefore, the researchers rely on
interviews to with three parang experts in Borneo. Samples in the form of photograph images
were also collected in order to increase the understanding of the researchers of the different
types of parang from different areas in Borneo. The samples were collected in Lawas and Sri
Aman in Sarawak and from Kota Belud located in Sabah. The study was carried out through
field research where discussion was held with the experts in parang making. Visual
observation during parang and carving making were also recorded.

Figure 1.Map of Sarawak and Sabah
(Source: http://fafbaby.com/gheeyong/images/dealer_map.jpg )

3. DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS
Throughout the fieldwork research, the acquisition of the parang images and detailed
information from the interviewees were recorded.

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Figure 2.Mr. Bahar Bin Saringan demonstrating the making of a parang in his workshop

Mr. Bahar Bin Saringan, 56, from Kampung Belimbing, Jalan Punang, is a traditional parang expert in
Lawas. He has been serious in the field of machete manufacturing since the last 8 years and was
previously doing it as a part-time job. He said that he is the third generation in his family that inherits
that this parang making art. Initially the production of this traditional parang started as a hobby and
interest but now he is also actively involved in providing guidance to local communities especially in
Kampung Sejair in Samarahan and also near Betong. He is also regularly invited by handicraft centers
in Kuching, Sarawak to demonstrate and produce parang exhibits using his carving skills.

Figure 3.Mr. Bahar Bin Saringan Parang Workshop

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Figure 4.Mr. Bahar Bin Saringan Workshop and Raw Materials

He often spends a lot of time in his workshop generating new ideas in making parang. Normally, his
new ideas come best at night. Every idea that emerges becomes the starting base of the product with its
own identity. From the original idea to the last finished product of the parang, it is all done in this
workshop. He is aware of the current demands and developments in technology. However, he is
pushing hard to try to make a difference in creating and carving the traditional parang.

Figure 5.Example Of Kayu Malam Veins And Structure

Among the types of parang that he produced are parang sembelih, heavy-duty parang, corporate gift
parang and local parang. Therefore, in order to ensure the quality of the end product, wood selection
is very important before the parang is produced. The selection of the vein from the woods should be
correct and parallel according to him to produce a beautiful natural pattern. The type of wood
commonly used for parang production are Paruk wood, Sepitir wood, Night Wood or Kayu Malam
(Night Wood), Merbuyut wood, Batu wood, Rangok wood, Rengas wood and Serpong wood. Usually,
these woods are bought from locals or from timber traders. He also said that it was difficult to get the
Malam wood in Lawas. On average the price for one foot of the Malam wood is RM50. The basic
tools used in the manufacturing of parang include drilling machines, crab machines, grinders, base
grinders, jigs, and table-saws and for creating the blades using A-Hemmer machines. A wood with a
measurement of 2 feet up to 19 inches with 2-inch wide and 19-inch sheath can be produced within
one day.

Talking about the peculiarities of each of his parang products, he said the ferns, fish tails and cross-
stitch techniques are the main motifs that are indirectly being characterized his parang. However, the
resulting pattern is the result of the inspiration and the creativity and process of making the parang
itself. Basically, he only makes the parang and carve it all by himself. Most of the engraved carvings
have been modernized and the traditional carvings have slowly eroded. The traditional carvings are
smoother and the motifs are always used more thoroughly. For the parang used for competitions or the
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exhibitions, its production will takes a week with exterior and internal carvings and sold at different
prices.

In Kota Belud, Sabah Mr. Jumail has the expert in producing parang inherited his
knowledge from his father and uncle. The father of Mr. Jamil comes from a Bugis descent while his
mother comes from a Baju tribe. Normally, he will produce carvings on the parang together with his
colleagues or friends at night and the carving sculpture will be produced only on one side of the
parang’s surface.

The pakis pattern of ferns like the crab pattern can be completed between 3 to 4 days, the
pattern produced is the result of the inspiration and the creativity of the parang maker and sold for
around RM700 depending on the quality of wood and iron. Timber used to make sheath include
Serunai wood, Akasia Biasa wood and Akasia Bawang wood. The price of one foot for the Malam
wood in Kota Belud is around RM50. Depending on the types of pattern requested by customer it can
reach 3 to 7 days to be completed. They also use Tunjuk Langit wood and a selection of wood
imported from the Philippines such as Arang Bunga wood.

Figure 6.The use of engraving knives to remove inner part of wood to produce a sheath

The tools used are engraving knives and do not require certain rituals and customs.
The resulting figures have undergone modernization and caused traditional carvings to be
eroded. The traditional carvings are smoother and the motif always used is pakis and string to
be carved on the parang hilts and sheath. Among the new patterns in the production is the
Gurkah Teeth and the process of making it is assisted by his brother in producing the new
patterns. Improvement will be made if new ideas come from his elder brother and father. In
generating an idea, it is also not limited to the environment but is also inspired by the
surrounding objects such as batik patterns. Producing parang like slaughter parang, heavy-
duty parang and gift parang as well as custom parang. Selecting the vein must be carefully
done according to him to produce a beautiful natural 3-Dimension like pattern.

If the parang symbolizes the town of Kota Belud, the Rebung shoots, the price would
reach RM1500 per unit with the addition of modern patterns such as strings. The engraving is
usually made using one type of engraving knife unless the carving on the iron uses a chisel.
Engraving should be focused on one parang at one time to maintain the quality and standard.

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The type of oil used for parang coating is hydrating oil replacing the old method which
normally used cooking oil.

4. COMPARISON
Table 1.Comparison of parang
Parang from Lawas Parang from Kota Belud Parang from Sri Aman

Image 1a Image 1b Image 1c

The images in Table 1 show the comparison of popular parang produced from three different
places in Borneo. The total length of Parang made from Kota Belud Sabah (image 1b) is
much longer compared to Parang produce from Lawas (image 1a) and Sri Aman (image 1c).
Kayu Malam is normally used in producing hilts and sheath of parang in Lawas (image 1a)
and Sri Aman (image 1c). While parang from Kota Belud (image 1b) use Tunjuk Langit wood
to produce a clean white finishing. In terms of producing this parang , parang from Lawas
(image 1a) and parang from Kota Belud(image 1b) takes one week to be completed while
parang from Sri Aman (image 1c) takes almost two weeks to produce. All this parang are
produced for daily usage use and are not made for parang competition.

Table 2.Comparison of parang sheath
Parang from Lawas Parang from Kota Belud Parang from Sri Aman

Image 2a Image 2b Image 2c

The pictures shown in Table 2 are comparison between the sheaths from the three locations.
Parang from Lawas (Image 2a) and parang from Sri Aman (Image 2c) reflects the
modernization motifs of art carving produced by parang maker. They use imaginative and
creative idea to construct the carving. Meanwhile, for the parang from Kota Belud (image 2b)
the inspirations clearly indicated the flora and fauna motif applied on the sheath. The
characteristic motif of flora and fauna for parang from Kota Belud (image 2b) suggests that
the parang craftsmanship is very intricate. The outline shape of sheath for parang from Kota
Belud (Image 2b) design is more concave comparing to the shape of sheath for parang from

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Lawas (image 2a) and parang from Sri Aman (Image 2c) This type of parang sheath is
measured around 30cm and this parang are easy to carry around since it is lightweight.
Basically, the motifs on each parang sheath are only carved on one side only.

Table 3. Comparison of parang hilts
Parang from Lawas Parang from Kota Belud Parang from Sri Aman

Image 3a
Image 3b Image 3c

The handle or the hilts are carved with fantastical decorations. It is valued as a work of
craftsmanship for most of the parang experts. Parang from Lawas (Image 3a) hilts were
inspired using a fish tail motif. The techniques used to produce this hilt are very complex
since it has a few layer of shape to carve. Meanwhile, for Parang from Kota Belud (Image 3b)
hilts using flora and fauna as their inspiration motif and to produce this kind of complicated
carved will take around 2 to 3 days to complete. For hilts from parang Sri Aman (Image 3c)
were fitted with almost the same idea as the hilts for parang from Lawas which is fish tail as
their motif. These hilts were fabricated to fit an adult’s palm measurement so that the user can
place their hand comfortably at the hilts area while using the parang.

5. CONCLUSION
This study aimed to develop an empirical data for parang design and carving across Borneo.
As a conclusion, most of the engraved carvings apply on the parang hilts and sheath has been
modernized, compared to the traditional carving that has been gradually forgotten. There are
somehow similar motifs for parang maker across Borneo that uses flora and fauna as their
inspiration to carve. Most of the parang producers still prefer using engraving knife as tools to
produce high quality carvings. Apart from that, majority of the main source of income of
parang makers is making parang. The researchers hope that the future research in this
category will cover Kalimantan, Indonesia zone and Brunei.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
The researcher would like to thank to the anonymous referee for their suggestions.
Appreciation to the expertise in parang making, that spends times for the interview and
parang making demonstrations. This work is supported under the Institute of Borneo Studies,
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.

REFERENCES
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