June 23, 2010

The Parang and the Iban Woman

The parang is a knife that is homemade by the local people of Sarawak and especially the Ibans who have their own style of blacksmithing. It is more than an implement to a Sarawak person who is a proud owner of a wll made parang.

Traditionally an Iban blacksmith does not make parangs in bulk. So you cannot find one actually and buy several from him at any one time without prior arrangements. In the past a parang maker could only make a one after he had a good dream. And that parang could even have some mystical powers. This was particularly important during the days when the Iban warriors went to war for heads and other ceremonial purposes. In every longhouse you may find only a few men who can make parangs nowadays. So you can actually approach an Iban parang maker and have one custom made to your specification. Perhaps you may grow to love that parang so much that you take it every where you go. Some men are even identified by their parang!! Store bought parangs are not good at all.

Normal hunting knives made in the European or American style can not be used in the jungles of Sarawak as the vegetation is hardier and requires strong chopping action. The thick undergrowth would also require a longer blade. Imagine going through a thorny rattan thicket a person would really need a parang that is both a protecting weapon and a sharp chopper.

There is also a difference between a parang made for womeonfolk and menfolk amongst the Ibans. For men the parang is heavier and meant for outside work especially in cutting down bigger bushes. For women the parang is slightly smaller and is used for household chores like cutting up a chicken or some bamboo. The parang is thus a complete kitchen utility or even a food processor for her. Iban men used to carry a parang as a customary identity in the past similar to a Sikh who has his special knife. Slaughtering of larger animals like wild boar would require a fairly larger parang with a strong blade.  For this a man is needed to do some good work.

The parang is usually less than 2 kg. but some can be 3 kg for special purposes. The blade is usually curved slightly. Sometimes the Ibans do make straight blades.

Usually the Ibans admire the suspension (metal) of cars and would hoard up a number to be made into parangs as and when they need. Workshops used to give away the recycleable metal to the Ibans in the past.

I wonder if today car workshops still generously give away the unwanted metal( to an Iban man who requests for a good piece of metal for his parang)with scrap metal being a pricey commodity.

In this photo my good sister-in-law squats nimbly in the backyard  peeling off the bamboo to make lemang for the Gawai recently. She wakes up early in the morning just as the sun first break its rays on the hills behind the longhouse. I love the shadows mottling the lovely backyard scene.

Life is not all work for her although she is one of most hardworking women I have ever met in my life. When the Japanese generator is on in the evenings she can watch Indonesian channels. As her longhouse is quite near the Indonesian border and Astro cannot beam to this remote area TV is only TVI (TV Indonesia). She is amazed by Astro channels in my house in Miri. I am impressed by some of the Indonesian programmes too. Getting a newspaper to read means having to drive one hour over timber road to Limbang. She has recently purchased a freezer which is on in the evenings only to make ice and stay cool. For the whole day the next day without electricity she can have ice for her drinking water. That's a luxury. Sometimes when I am around I get manufactured ice for her.

She plants glutinous and ordinary rice. Some of these she still pounds (de husk) herself. But a neighbouring mill with "engin" for her. Barley and lots of pumpkins are also grown by her. Each year she sells her rambutans and durians in Limbang. In fact she is very much a subsistence farmer like  all the Iban women who lived before her.

There is a new difference though now. Her son has started planting oil palm in their NCR land which has been handed down for three generations. She has two sons working in Kuala Lumpur. But she is not resting as yet.

When you hear the slow tempo of a parang chopping away some wood or a parang slicing some bamboo mingling with the bird song you feel that life is good and gentle and the earth is ready for you to enjoy another good day .


wenn said...

but the look of the parang could be scary.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

For those growing up with the parang its look is not so formidable. We look at it from the functional point of view.

May be it is scary to those who have never seen it.

Ann said...

Indo TV??? The West Malaysia Givt better watch out. The natives watch too much Indo TV,

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ann
Indon TV is ok because lots of good singing and drama ...all for you know...escapism like Bollywood...opiate for the masses....Hope no one is reading this. :) :)

Ah Ngao said...

when i think about parang or knifes,i think about our Malaysian 's law on weapons or the offensive weapon Act 1958.i can recalled how the Dayaks or Ibans people at country side with a parang dangling from their waist and walking along the side of the road freely.if anybody is to do that at cities or towns,...what will happen ? ha-ha !

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ah Ngao
Yah....nowadays it's hard to picture an Iban man wearing a parang (dangling from the waist)...so what they do is put the parang in a good Adidas bag!!
The law must take into consideration what is traditional costume boh!! Let's say a Malay from X state wears his Malay costume complete with KRIS at the waist and walking towards an office....and compare it with a Chinese (Jacky Chan) with a real kungtow sword...and full costume...what would be the reaction of a policeman who is keeping the peace?

I think we will have to find a point in the law to defend all these men.

Ah Ngao said...

hehehe... yeah,it's quite debatable when come to such case.a garderner or garden contractors can have maachete or parangs inside his car/truck without rousing any suspicion but an ordinary fella with this stuffs inside his car..??ya lah,we have to find the points to defend different situations.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Yeah...Ah Ngao...many things are left to the Police now to decide....need good lawyers too on our side...

Johnny Ak Barangan said...

Who want to see the design of Parang Ilang , iban's sword...please visit parangjohnny.blogspot.com.... you can buy parang ilang, nyabor and sarawak knives from us




Who want to see the design of Parang Ilang , iban's sword...please visit parangjohnny.blogspot.com.... you can buy parang ilang, nyabor and sarawak knives from us

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