It is true that people say the best blade for any one place is the ones the locals there use. This is no exception for the Penans of Sarawak. I was fortunate there were a couple of Penan guides on a trip to the interior of Sarawak jungle. For the first time in my life, I saw how the parang used by the Penans.
This is Ngang. He is one of the Penan guides with my group into the jungle in Sarawak. Not only is he a guide, he is also a hunter, a boat maker, a boatman (obviously) and a blade smith. An incredibly shy guy, he truly is a man of the jungle.
As a blade smith at Long San and his home at Long Bekok, Ngang makes Parangs to sell and for his own use as well. A few of the Parangs carried by the Penan guides on our trip were actually made by him. When he told me that he made the few Parangs specially for this trip, I thought I’d ask if he is willing to sell them.
Now, buying Parangs used by the locals, especially those made and used by the indigenous have been frowned upon by certain quarters. This is especially true when people pay peanuts for historical artifacts and resell them for heaps of profit. I share the sentiment totally but this was a different case (my rational at least). Ngang made these few Parangs specifically for this trip and he knows people will want to buy it off him. So, he is more than happy to sell them (after the trip of course). His family Parang is still probably hanging on the wall of his house!
Ngang was proud to show me the few Parangs he made that was used by the Penan guides. Turns out that 3 of the Penan guide’s Parangs were made by him.
The Parangs used by Ngang and the other guides are unique. Ngang told me the Penans call the big blade Malat while the smaller blade is called Penat.
The Penat (small knife) is attached to a long piece of round wood and secured in a rubber hose attached to the Malat’s sheath. In the original design, the Penat would have a sheath made of palm leaf. This would probably be the ‘modernized’ version!
Unlike the Chandong, this Penan Parang is much lighter and really sharp. Ngang explained a bit how the blade (which is supposed to be leaf spring) was tempered and how the tang’s tip was skewered slightly to keep it from flying off the handle. Both blades have that ‘concave on side and flat on the other’ characteristic.
The Malat is of course for heavier work, cutting trails and making shelters. The Penat on the other hand is used for more intricate works, including preparing feather sticks and food. This is the Parang used to harvest the Umbut I recorded in my video.
The Parang is worn on the side with the edge side facing upwards. I tried this and although it needs some getting used to, its main advantage I would say is that the blade’s edge is less likely to slice thru the sheath. This is because the blunt edge of the Parang is gravitationally sliding against the sheath when it is drawn. The edge is sliding freely, facing upwards. Well, the other explanation offered by a friend is that by drawing the Parang with the edge facing upwards allows the user to make an immediate slicing swing action, especially when taking off someone else’s head. Hmmm…
So, I offered to buy the Parang Lok used to harvest the Umbut. Not too big nor too small. Ngang’s parang turns out (according to another mate) to be a pig sticker. Ngang is a hunter and I would not want to be carrying a pig sticker around!
I am proud to say that I did not bargain, not even a ringgit lesser than what Ngang wanted the Parang for. I think it is a good blade and I don’t mind paying for it. At least the money goes direct to the maker.
Later at the village of Long San, I met another of Ngang’s Penan friend. His name is Siang. He had a small bag on his bag and in it was a small Parang. A very different design. Siang told me the Parang he was carrying is known also as a Duku.
Now, the Duku too is a really nice Parang!
Continue reading other parts of this adventure below:
- First time in Miri Town, Sarawak
- Wild durian & Kolok mee at Miri.
- 5 hours on a 4WD into interior off Miri.
- Unique local houses in Sarawak interior.
- Smoked wild boar…nice!
- Loooong hike to look for an elusive waterfall.
- Sarawak river boats and a raging river.
- Jungle vines and rattan used in the jungles of Sarawak.
- Umbut or heart of palm tasting, first experience.
- Harvesting of the umbut by the Penan.
- Malat & Penat; the Penan’s blades.
- Kitchen in a traditional house.
- Video on jungle kitchen & feather stick making.
Click here to read about another rainforest adventure in Semban, Sarawak.