Long (Panjang) ‘Duku’ from Batang Ai, Sarawak- a true user

This 'gift' from the chief of the Iban long house to me



The word ‘Duku’ means parang and when I visited an Iban village in Batang Ai, Sarawak some months back, the chief of the village (after noticing how much I admired his parangs) decided to present me with a duku panjang from his own farming tools. This Duku was in no way beautifully crafted but to me, it is a real testament of how a true working tool looks like.

There are many Iban long houses in Batang Ai and many do not have supplied electricity. They still live off the land, by working their farms (which are essentially hill tops) and hunting. So, naturally parangs are the most common tool used. A family of Iban owns not just one but usually several parangs because when it comes to the various seasons of the crop cycle, they require relatively different tool. This particular parang, which has a rather long and slender blade shape, is used mostly to clear the light bushes in and around their farm (as I was told)

The duku panjang with a Mora knife at the side for size comparison



Ok, I practically sheave through almost all the parangs I can see when I was at the long house. I was both curious and excited to see so many parangs at any one time. And best of all, they are ALL working parangs. Parangs that are actually used out in the farms and jungle.

From my observations, real parangs used on farms, hunting trips and in the jungle by people who actually depend on the land to feed themselves and their families are never beautiful or pretty to look at. But what they lack in asthetic look is made up by the skill of the user and quality of the blade itself. And this is one goo example of such a parang.

Both the handle and the sheath of the parang is made of wood. The waist string and bindings were all made of plastic material. As disappointing as this may seem, the truth is that these materials are used in replace for natural materials like rattan or ‘terap’ cordage is strictly due to practical reason. They are easier to obtain, very cheap (often times free) and lasts indefinitely. This also translates into less time and energy needed to constantly replace natural material…two important considerations when one works hard on the fields all year round.

Binding straps from cartons etc being cut to smaller strips and used as cordage to bind wooden sheaths together



Rubber hose being used on parang handles. Note the green string used as a waist belt



Well, this is a parang made not for its look but for its use. Top that up with the fact that the villagers in this particular village still makes their own parang, naturally it was no surprise to me to find the parang exceptionally functional and sharp. The shape of the handle was consistent throughout all the Duku Panjang I saw in the village. Holding it was a bit awkward but the fat bulge towards the end of the handle really helps to make sure that it does not slip out of my hands.

The shape of the Duku panjang. Note also the shape of the handle

The 'entry' to the parang sheath

A working parang always has a hole at the end of the sheath to allow for water drainage and ventilation. Helps to keep the blade inside dry

The Duku Panjang blade from Batang Ai, Borneo

I inquired about how the blade tang was inserted into the wooden handle. Like many makers, the actually heat the narrow tang and slowly ‘burn’ the hole to which the tang is to be later inserted into the wooden handle. This is a slow process. But the wood the Ibans use to make this particular parang is a light, rather soft wood because it is the easiest for them to obtain. So according to one of the villagers, it is quite a fast and easy process. Only when the maker is ready to insert the tang permenantly into the wood that he adds in the resin (from a particular ant’s nest) that will harden when cool and keep the tang steady in the wood.

A particular resin from a particular ant's nest is use to 'seal' the tang inside the wooden handle

While I was taking pictures of the parang and a closer look at the blade, I realised something rather unusual. While most parangs are made from vehicle springs, this particular blade have lines and what looked like small scales on them.

The small lines on the parang blade

The tiny 'scales' on the parang blade

The blade is sharp, no doubt about it and the more I study the ‘scales’, the more I am convinced that this particular blade was actually made from an old file. It is not uncommon to have small blades/ knives to be made of old files but this is the first time I find a parang made of a file.

Old file markings on the parang blade

Well, this Duku Panjang parang from Batang Ai in Borneo certainly is not pretty looking but it certainly is of reliable and useable design and quality. A real Borneo parang that is made and used by the Ibans of Borneo. You can read more about the this particular trip here.

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