Friday, August 23, 2013

Bajau Parang

Malaysia is a fascinating country, home to various different ethnic groups and their many cultures and traditions. One such ethnic group is the Bajau people of Sabah. The Bajau are the second largest ethnic group in Sabah.  Actually, the Bajau is a collective term used for various different indigenous people resident not only in Malaysia, but also in neighboring countries like the Philippines and Indonesia.  

These indigenous peoples of Malaysia try and preserve their diverse traditional skills for future generations. One such preserved skill is parang-making by the Bajau people. A parang is a tool, often considered to be indispensable for the Bajau. The parang is a long blade or a machete, which is handmade. It fulfills various different roles for not only is it used as a weapon, but it is also used for clearing land, cutting meat and even as a decorative element in Bajau homes.  

A typical parang has a blade that measures between 10–24 inches (25–61 cm), while it weighs approximately 1 kg or two lbs.  The parang is quite similar in function and size to the Indian or Nepalese knife, known as the Kukri, though the Kukri has a curved blade. Handcrafted parangs are often sold at local markets in Sabah and elsewhere in Malaysia, and are usually priced upwards of 100 MYR. The world may have evolved and modernization may have introduced much new equipment and implements, but for the Bajau, the parang remains all-important.

If you would like to learn how this extremely useful but deadly tool is made, you to need to head to Kampung Siasai in Kota Belud located on the outskirts of Kota Kinabalu. The Bajau resident in Kampung Siasai, have been handcrafting parangs for generations and they continue to do so until today.

 The making of a Bajau Parang as related by the expert parang-makers of Kampung Siasai

 Essentials required

1.      A piece of scrap iron

2.      An anvil and a burner

3.      Various sized hammers

4.      A grip tool

5.      Bucket loads of  determination, patience and skill

6.      A willingness to preform much practice for only practice makes perfect in the art of parang-making


1.      Heat the scrap of iron on the burner until it glows red and is ready to be shaped.

2.      Take it off the burner and place it on the anvil.  Now use a sledge hammer to hammer it into the desired shape (this is in fact the most time-consuming step of parang-making for it requires much patience and skill to get the shape right).

3.      Once you have got the shape you want, allow the piece to cool before heating it once again. You are expected to repeat this step until the desired shape is achieved.

4.      The blade and the handle of the parang, has to be sharpened and shaped by striking the piece of iron with a sharp tool continually.

5.      Once that is done use sandpaper to smoothen the edges of the parang.

6.      Now carve the handle of the parang using sturdy wood and enclose it in a decorative sheath. The wooden handle of the parang is often embellished and carved to improve its appearance .

7.      The parang needs to be given a final polish to make it shine.

8.      It takes a day or two to make a parang, though if special shapes are requisitioned they may need more time.

9.      The parang-makers of Kampung Siasai are happy to custom-make a parang for visitors.

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