The difference and origin of Indonesian sword hilts
Author: Peter Andeweg
When it comes to collecting, identifying and studying swords from the Indonesian archipel, mistakes and mis-interpretations are easily made. Sword hilts are often described in Western collector terms and are therefor often wrong or misplaced. Some are due to wrong translation or pronunciation in native tongue, some due to wrong interpreted historical context.
In this article I try to clear out the differences of two types of hilts mounted on the ‘pedang‘, a sword often found in the Indonesian Archipel. More specific: the differences between the ‘Makara‘ and ‘Si-Tumang‘ hilt. Due to the fact that there is a lot of confusion among collectors of edged weapons on this topic, I decided to try to elaborate a little in this article.
About the ‘Pedang‘ in general:
According to most literature, the determination is often referred to older literature or local pronunciation which can vary in dialect in every region, but with the Malay language considered as leading.
For example, the word ‘pedang‘ literally means both ‘sword‘ as ‘sabre‘ in Malay, but is generally accepted among collectors as a sword with a single edge and slender curved blade and often clarified with an additional name. For example: Pedang Lurus, Pedang Sasak or Pedang Bentok.
George Cameron Stone’s quotation on the term ‘pedang‘: ”A variety of Javan knife. The edge is shaped much like that of a flyssa (North African), the back is straight next the hilt and curves in to the meet of the point. The hilt is usually straighter than that of the Javan golok”. He refers to Raffles plate 296/297 and Fig. 628 in ‘A glossary of the construction and use of arms and armour in all counties and in all times.
While on the other hand a more recent study and publication tells us the following: Pedang (bentok) ”A sword with slightly curved blade with various forms. The hilt of this type of pedang does not have a hand protection” According to van Zonneveld’s ‘Traditional weapons of the Indonesian Archipelago”.
However, most collectors are familiar with the term ‘pedang‘, but conveniently use the word ‘golok‘. The term ‘golok‘ refers more to Java’s Sunda region and therefor the general term ‘pedang‘ seems most suitable.
The origin and comparison of the hilts:
The Makara hilts:
Originating from ancient Hinduism, the ‘Makara‘ is a sea- creature which is a mostly depicted a half-crocodile half fish. ‘Makara‘ is the vehicle of the goddess ‘Ganga‘ and sea god ‘Varuna‘. Besides functioning as a vessel, the ‘Makara‘ also functions as a guardian in doorsteps and temple-entrances. Due to trade and invasion, the symbolistic architectural influences were widely adopted in Indonesia. For over centuries styles mingled with ancient symbolism and local artwork which often presents itself by stylized ‘Makara‘ figures depicting out of foliage and floral motifs.
Its presence on a sword hilt can be related with its function as guardian, which symbolizes the protection of the owner. The ‘Makara‘ can be distinguished by his long stretched snout and sea dragon- like appearance.
The Si-Tumang hilts:
‘Si-Tumang‘ is similar to ‘Makara‘, a mythical creature, but has its origin in Sundanese mythology. It is therefor almost strictly seen on Javanese swords and occasionally in Sumatra. The ‘Si-Tumang‘ is a divine dog-god which shows loyalty till death. The story goes that Tumang married Dayang Sumbi and they had a child named Sangkurian. This conception happened due to Tumangs appearance in human form. One day Sangkurian went out for a hunt accompanied by Tumang to find some deer liver, not knowing Tumang was actually his father. While they couldn’t find any deer, Sangkurian’s attention felt on a wild boar. Yet this wild boar was actually Sangkurians grandmother Celeng Wayungyang, Si Tumang prevented Sangkurian killing his grandmother. Sangkurian got in a rage and hurt Tumang, accidentally killing him. He killed him without knowing Tumang was his father.
The saga was widely adopted in Western Java among locals. Warriors of great reputation were often awarded with a Si-Tumang hilt on their sword resembling their code of honor, being loyal till death.
In some cases the hilts are hard to distinguish, this happens due to local craftsmanship, region and district style or its condition. In some cases the trunk of the ‘Makara‘ has broken off making it look like a ‘Si Tumang‘.
These guidelines are meant for fellow dealers, researchers and collectors, to compare examples from their collections and at todays art market.
– Albert van Zonneveld’s ‘Traditional Weapons of the Indonesian Archipelago‘
– George Cameron Stone’s ‘A glossary of the construction and use of arms and armour in all countries and all times‘
– Koesoemadinata, R. The Origin and Pre-history of the Sundanese. Institute of Technology Bandung.
To give everybody a fair chance to be the first on new arrivals, hit the subscribe button below.