The difference and origin of Indonesian sword hilts

Author: Peter Andeweg

Date: 17-11-2021


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.

A Si Tumang hilted pedang, 19th century
A Sumatran ‘Pedang’ with ‘Si Tumang’ hilt and slightly curved,single edged blade. Inventory Antiques by the Sea
A Chinese influenced Pedang from Sumatra, 19th century
A Sumatran ‘Pedang’ with ‘Makara’ hilt stylized in floral motives and slightly curved, single edged blade. Inventory Antiques by the Sea
A Javanese 'Pedang' with 'Makara' hilt and slightly curved, single edgesd blade
A Javanese ‘Pedang’ with ‘Makara’ hilt and slightly curved, single edged blade. Antiques by the Sea sold archive

The origin and comparison of the hilts:

The Makara hilts:

A temple ornament in stone. Collection Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, ca.800-900 A.D.
A ‘Makara‘ temple ornament in stone. Collection Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Central-Java ca.800-900 A.D.

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.

A fine Javanese silver makara pedang.
A Javanese ‘Pedang‘ with silver ‘Makara‘ hilt of most classic form. Notice the typical trunk which is often seen on temple guardian statues. 19th century – Antiques by the Sea sold archive.
A Chinese influenced Pedang from Sumatra, 19th century
A Sumatran ‘Pedang‘. The horn hilt is a stylized ‘Makara‘ head with its pronounced trunk and jaws. It is carved in floral motifs and foliage and clad in silver. 19th century – Antiques by the Sea inventory
A Fine Antique Sumatran Pedang
A Sumatran ‘Pedang’ with ‘Makara’ hilt carved in buffalo horn, the eyes are inlayed with bone. The hilt features similarities in the way it was carved compared to Si-Tumang hilts, but here we also notice the typical ‘Makara’ snout. 19th century – Antiques by the Sea sold archive.

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.

A Fine Javanese Preanger Sword, Dated 1825
Hilt of a West-Javanese sword (Gobang). Horn carved hilt of ‘Si Tumang‘, in his appearance as a dog with bone inlayed eyes. Dated 1825 – Antiques by the Sea sold archive.
A Si Tumang hilted pedang, 19th century
A Sumatran ‘Pedang’ with ‘Si-Tumang’ head, carved in wood with a tuft of human hair. Stylistically more influenced in Sumatran style, but clearly depicted as a dog and not as ‘Makara‘ due to the absence of a pronounced snout.

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.



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