Tuesday, March 26

Parang Bajau: Keeping to a sharp tradition


Said continuing his family legacy in the crafting of parang Bajau.

Ebin shows a copper machete with a sheath of dragon motif. — Bernama photos

KOTA BELUD: Rarely do children grow up with the desire to carry on the work of their ancestors.

Instead, many prefer to migrate to bigger cities and find jobs that they feel is a better fit for themselves.

Said Pawel is, however, an exception.

The 35-year-old is more than happy to continue the craft of the generations before him, whose expertise was in handcrafting the parang Bajau (Bajau machete).

“It is not just I who have interest in this craft. My younger brothers, cousins and nearly 90 per cent of the youths in Kampung Siasai Jaya, here, are involved in the making of parang Bajau.

“Everyone is keen to carry on with the tradition as the craft has been part of the identity of the Bajau people since long ago,” he told Bernama.

He was met at the Craft Incubator Centre in Kampung Pirasan, some 10 minutes away from the Kota Belud Town. Said was there in conjunction with the Kota Belud KampungKu Kraf Project organised by the Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation (Kraftangan Malaysia).

The project is the second of such in Sabah and will be officially launched in October. The first was organised at Kampung Batu Lunguyan, Keningau.


Ebin uses car springs to make the blade for most of the sword and parang tembaga.

Steel is heated, forged and shaped before being sharpened and engraved on.

Parang Bajau

With so many youths in the village passionately engaging in bladesmithing, it is no wonder Kampung Siasai Jaya has become well-known for the industry.

Many have raved about the quality of woodcarving on the sheath as well as   the craftsmanship in the handle and the blade. It is the uniqueness of quality and design that distinguishes the parang Bajau from other types of machetes.

Said himself has been acknowledged for his fine craftsmanship in forging blades when he won the title of ‘Jaguh Tempa 2016’ at the 2016 Johor Crafts Festival.

The win was a long time coming as he started on the craft at age 15 and has been producing machetes for a living since 2000.

“I learned the trade from my father and grandfather and want to preserve the tradition, culture and identity of my forefathers. I find my prospects in this field to be rather promising because there is always a demand locally or internationally.

“People are now saying that a visit to Kota Belud would be incomplete without a parang Bajau purchase. This inspires to continue in my effort to preserve our heritage,” said Said, who studied metalwork at the Labuan Institute of Industrial Training.

Said comes up with innovative designs to keep the craft alive such as producing dual blades for slaughtering animals and jointing meat carcasses.

The waiting period for an order to be completed depends on the size of the blade as well as the size and motif of the designs.

Said uses ‘kayu malam’ (a type of medium hardwood) and ‘kayu akasia bawang-bawang’ (a type of acacia wood) to make the sheath for the machetes as he finds it best for woodcarving.

The father of four has been getting advice, assistance and guidance in expanding his business from Kraftangan Malaysia as well as for popularising the use of parang Bajau.

“I have previously only worked from home but now, everything is done at the incubator centre. In addition to providing a special location for craft entrepreneurs to work at, Kraftangan Malaysia has also helped in the promotion of local products to tourists,” he said.


His calling

Seventy-eight-year-old Ebin Adim, meanwhile, knew that making parang Bajau was his calling since he was 18.

Ebin, who was awarded the title ‘Tokoh Ulung-Pandai Besi’ by Kraftangan Malaysia in 2012, is more comfortable doing his metalwork at a workshop next to his home in Kampung Siasai Kumpang here.

In addition to making machetes, sickles and kerambit, he also makes parang tembaga (copper machetes) and a traditional sword called ‘gayang’, which he often gets orders for.

“I use car springs to make the blade for the sword and parang tembaga.

“After the steel is heated, it would be forged and shaped before being sharpened and engraved on. Then the handle and sheath will be made,” said Ebin, who prefers to use kayu malam and jackfruit tree wood  for the sheath.

He said the keris, gayang, sword and parang are synonymous with the Bajau culture with such weapons often included as part of the compulsory dowry for marriage.

Bladesmithing is a job that requires patience, calmness and high focus, said Ebin. He believes it is important for the younger generation to continue with the craft that is part of their heritage and as such, has employed several of them to help him with his orders while honing their skills in the craft.


Huge potential

The Sabah Director of Kraftangan Malaysia, Abdul Halim Ali said that the agency has always encouraged the youths and given them initiative to join the industry.

Among these initiatives were the setting-up of the Kota Belud Craft Incubator Centre in May 2017. The centre, which became fully operational early this year has become a platform for them to develop their skills in various crafts.

“In addition to having a teaching staff comprising award winners and former students of the National Craft Institute, participants will also receive guidance and advice on product design through product development programmes.

“We don’t want people to see our craft products as static. Instead, we want them to be fresh in terms of design and variety,” he said. — Bernama