Head chopper sword called Mandau
Dayak culture, Borneo island, Indonesia
First half of the 20th century
Wood, vegetable fibers, bone, antler, iron, brass, cloth and coin
Total length : 70,5 ; L. : 11 ; Blade length : 53 cm
The handle, called ulu, is made of antler carved with a stylized anthropomorphic mask and decorated with two tufts of hair. The figure shows pointed incisors, eyes in the form of globular dots, long ears sculpted with volutes, and a headdress with geometric frieze motifs. The lateral parts are carved with the leech motif and probably with stylized elephants. The antler is tied at the blade and banded with a curved skin yoke decorated with a coin dated 1941 and bearing the words "Nederl. Indie."
The blade is very richly inlaid with gilt brass, in pellets arranged in rows of three, following an incised grid pattern, covering the entire length. The blade is single-edged and has an oblique end at the tip.
The scabbard, called Kumpang, is made of two wooden blades partly covered with fabric with beige vegetal patterns on a red background. The front part of the scabbard is engraved with scroll patterns and punctuated with three rings of tied plant fibers. The back part - in contact with the body - supports a fabric band from which a braided cord ending with a wooden button is suspended, forming a suspension strap. A second scabbard is associated with it, containing a knife called Pisau raut, used to sharpen arrows. The lower end has two bone inserts.
Today, mandau are associated with headhunting ceremonies. They are both a weapon and a prestige item. They belonged to hunters and warriors, passed down from generation to generation. It is said that these weapons were endowed with supernatural powers. The spirit was planted in a hair, placed on the handle of the sword. The sacred combination of the mandau is amplified by the combination of the materials of the cloth and the antler.
Text and photos © FCP CORIDON
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