‘Parang Ilang’ tradition lives on

Johnny shows his 'Parang Ilang' during the recent Sarawak Timber Industry Development Exhibition at Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK).

Kenyalang Portraits

By Wilfred Pilo

KUCHING: The ‘Parang Ilang’ or ‘Mandaw’ was an effective lethal weapon used during ancient days and in tribal wars by the Iban or Dayaks of Borneo.

These days it is mostly used in traditional ceremonies or for home decoration purposes, found mostly in the homes of the Iban community and in the homes of tribal and antique weapon collectors.

DayakDaily recently met and spoke with craftsman and traditional Parang Ilang maker and seller, Johnny Barangan, 45, from Sibu.

Johnny who also owns a workshop next to his home at Mile 16 of the Sibu-Bintulu Road revealed that he learned the craft of making this traditional and scared Iban weapon from his father and elders.

‘Parang Ilang’ being forged at Johnny’s workshop at Mile 16 of the Sibu-Bintulu Road.

He has been in the trade for 27 years since 1992 where he started as a teenager under the watchful eyes of his father and elders.

Since taking up the craft, he had worked hard to ensure that the end products get into the hands of worthy owners who are proud to possess and will value these scared weapons.

“Before forging and tempering the traditional blade, I try my best to find quality metal to use in all my blades. This is to ensure that the blades are always of high quality, and at times to meet the clients’ request as they want a good, strong and durable blade,” he explained.

Johnny said most of the time he will buy the metal from metal merchants and occasionally from motor garage owners who are his friends in Sibu or else where.

“The used suspension metal from these motor vehicles made good blades as the metal is strong and once sharpened, they make very sharp blades,” he revealed.

Johnny said to create the hilt, he would usually use wood but at times he will use animal horns. For sheaths or scabbards, he often uses wood such as “Belian”, “Geruggang” or acacia timber

“Both the hilt and sheath have the appeal of ancient blades if carved (“Ukir’) and plumed but these days even a plain one also looks good. It all relates to how you want to commercialise it. Of course, in the ancient days, it reflected the status of the person and the blade the person possessed. If it is carved, then it makes the sheath more ornate and very noticeable with higher higher commercial value,” he explained.

“The details of the carving on the sheath takes very much after the Iban motifs and designs depicting animals and nature. I believe in the old days, it was influenced by where the Iban community came from as it reflected their ancestry identity and origins too,” he added.

Johnny also explained that “Parang Ilang” is often accompanied with a whittling knife which is generally referred to as “Pisau Raut” or “Pisu Raut” in Iban.

He explained that Pisau Raut has an elongated hilt (handle) made of wood or animal horn.

Close-up and intricate design by Johnny’s on Parang Ilang hilt.

“The Iban people like to used this small knife when processing rattan and as a tool to cut small string, vegetables, for gutting and to carve wood. It is often placed in the same sheath as the Parang Ilang blade,” he said.

Johnny disclosed that he can make a standard 20-inch blade in three to four days and at the same time, attend to customer inquiries, booking and purchases.

“I can divert my attention to my customer while at work as I have my family members assisting me in forging the blades. It’s good for the business and my profession,” he shared.

“These days, blade-making, forging and tempering is much easier and the quality of the end product is much, much better as compared to those days when everything was done using manual labour and the metal was of lesser quality.

“Now we have machines and better metal products, and so our work as blade makers is made easier, and adding our craftsmanship, it all adds value to our end product and makes the profession lucrative.”

Johnny said these days, after his father’s generation, rituals are not used in the making of the ‘Parang Ilang’, unlike before when offerings had to made to appease the mythic gods of the Iban.

Some of Johnny’s ‘Parang Ilang’ for sale at the Sarawak Timber Industry Development Exhibition at Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK) recently.

He said he only performs rituals when he repairs old, scared ‘Parang Ilang’, ‘Nyabor’ (sword), machetes, or cleavers.

“Sometimes people ask me to redo and remake the sheath and the hilt but with the old blade that had been used for tribal war and headhunting, I will never forge or temper it.

“These days, the design of the carving on the sheath and hilt is up to my own desire and it is not strictly following traditional motifs,” he said.

Johnny said he takes part in exhibitions by government agencies or by the private sector statewide to sell his blades and promote his products, profession and business.

He usually brings with him 20 or more ‘Parang Ilang’ and other types of machetes or cleavers to sell during exhibitions.

Johnny disclosed that his prices for ‘Parang Ilang’ range between RM700 to RM1,000 depending on the accessories, carvings and materials used for the sheath and the hilt.

Other blades, machetes and cleavers are priced from RM150 to RM300. This also depends on the material used for the blades and its accessories.

He disclosed the most ever expensive ‘Parang Ilang’ he ever sold was for RM18,000 and he thanked the buyer for accepting his work, recognising his craft and being willing to pay that price.

Currently, he has ‘Parang Ilang’ that he intends to bring to Peninsular Malaysia to exhibit and will sell at RM8,000 a piece.

Johnny said he has also been featured on a local TV channel which helped to publicise further his work and profession to the public.

Unfinished machetes and cleavers at Johnny’s workshop.

“This kind of thing helps me and also people in rural settings to be able to sell their products and keep the traditional crafts alive and known.

“It also gives them the motivation that they are making something worthwhile and for an honest living.  It also gives the younger Iban or Dayak generation a positive platform to do this and other crafts. We can feel proud of our ancient tradition and culture even in this modern era.”

Thus far, Johnny’s work has also found appeal among international buyers, especially when takes part in national exhibitions in Kuala Lumpur.

He said that the demand for ‘Parang llang’ is good as there is wide demand in the Iban community.

“Even though the person has bought one for himself, he also wants to buy for their children and friends as gifts as this ancient blade will give them the identity.”

Johnny said he is very proud have the knowledge of making ‘Parang Ilang’ and is glad that his children are following in his footsteps.

He hoped the award he had by the Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation in 2012 when exhibiting his work to the public speak for itself in term of his work and his craftsmanship.

“I always encourage my fellow neighbours who are free and have the craftsmanship and interest to do make good “Parang Ilang” as there is demand and the products can be sold to make extra income, especially for rural folks,” he said. — DayakDaily