LOVE at first sight would best describe how ‘Abong’ felt when he saw the exquisite and distinctive design of a ‘parang’ (machete) handle and sheath, which had prompted him to make a living out of it for the past 23 years.
The 53-year-old, whose real name is Anizam Mohd Deris, said he was working as a lorry driver at the time and became interested in delving into the field after seeing the collections belonging to an experienced parang maker known as ‘Haji Razal’ near his house in Rumah Rakyat Ampang Tinggi, Kuala Pilah in Negri Sembilan.
‘How it began’
“Every time I got home from work, I would go to his workshop to see how each parang was made.
“From thereon, I had been learning from him (Haji Razal) until I could make parang on my own. At that time, I also thought about starting my own business and becoming a parang maker.
“Perhaps it’s in my blood because my late father also had a deep interest in parang. I decided to do it full-time in 2006, as I was getting tired of working as a lorry driver during the day and making parang at night,” he told Bernama at his workshop in Kuala Pilah.
‘Only the best materials’
Abong said his commitment to the industry was also motivated by a desire to elevate the art of traditional parang-making, fearing that if not preserved, it could disappear over time.
To maintain the quality, the father of two said he only used high-grade hardwood, such as ‘kemuning’, ‘rengas’, ‘arang bunga’, ‘tanduk kerbau’ and ‘kedondong hutan’, which he obtained from the Orang Asli community in Tasik Chini, Pahang.
He said the wood for a parang must be dried for two to three months before it could be fashioned into a handle or a sheath.
The engraving on the sheath would be done carefully to maintain the fidelity of the intricate Malay woodcarving motifs and features, like flowers, he added.
On the process of making the blade, Abong said it would begin with sourcing good-quality and durable steel, as the parang would be put to many different uses, including butchering and chopping wood.
“To make the blade, a steel piece will be heated until it becomes red-hot, then quenched and tempered to get the desired thickness before being built right into the handle,” he said.
‘Quality above all else’
The Kuala Pilah native said he would only produce three to four blades per day, depending on the size requested by the customers, due to the great precision and the patience required.
According to Abong, the process of making decorative parang is more demanding, as it requires high creativity and takes at least a day to produce, depending on the carving designs desired by the customer.
“In addition to daily use, collectors use parang as a decorative home item and gift,” he said, adding that it would be in high demand during Hari Raya Aidiladha.
Abong said so far, he had made over 10,000 parang, with prices ranging from RM180 to RM300 depending on size and design.
“I also get orders for ‘keris’ (traditional Malay dagger), and since the movie ‘Mat Kilau’ became popular, the demand has been fairly high, and I have made about 100 blades so far,” he said.
Meanwhile, Abong said he was always willing to teach those really interested in learning the technique of parang-making, as there were not many parang-makers in Negeri Sembilan.
“I hope that the art and skills would be passed down and preserved.
“The relevant parties, including the state government, must continue to uphold this heritage not only for the sake of the state’s economy but also for future generations,” he said. — Bernama