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Mandau, Dayak Traditional Weapon

20 August 2010 4,124 views No Comment

Kalimantan/Borneo is one of five major islands in Indonesia. Actually the island is not only the origin place of Dayak tribe because there are also Banjar (South Kalimantan) and the Malays. But Borneo usually related with Dayak. Moreover,there are different culture developed among Dayaks themselves. In other words, cultures developed by the Dayak-Iban is not exactly the same as that developed by Dayak-Punan etc. However, every Dayak has one similar special traditional weapon known as Mandau. In everyday life this weapon can not be separated from its owner. Therefore, it’s always carried anytime because Mandau also serves as symbol of a person (the honor and identity). For the record, mandau was once thought to havemagical power and only used in certain rituals, such as: war, headhunting, traditional dance equipment, and supplies the ceremony.


Mandau believed to have levels of supernatural powers. The power was gained not only from the drafting process through certain rituals, but also in the tradition of headhunting (beheading opponents). At that time (before the 20th century) the more people beheaded the more power the mandau got. Usually part of the victim’s hair used to decorate the handle. They believe the spirit of people who die beheaded will inhabit the mandau to make it more powerful. However, the current function of mandau has changed, i.e as objects of art and culture, souvenirs, collectibles, weapons for hunting, and even pruning shrubs and farming.

Mandau Structure

  1. The Blade
    Mandau’s blade are made of wrought iron plates to the long flat-spired like machetes. One side of it are sharpened while the other side is left a little thick and blunt. There are several types of materials that can be used to make mandau, such as: montallat iron, matikei iron, steel, chainsaw blades, discs vehicles, etc. That said, the best quality mandau is made from specificcally melted mountain rock so that the iron is very strong and sharp and given a touch of gold,silver, or copper. This type of saber is made only by certain people.
  2. The Handle
    The Handle is made of deer horn, carved to resemble a bird’s head. The entire surface of the handle is carved with various motifs such as dragon head, beak, birds, spirals, and hooks. At the end of the handle there is also animal fur or human hair. The shape and carvings on the handle of mandau can distinguish its origin, the tribe, and the social status of its owner.
  3. The Glove
    Mandau glove (called Kumpang) usually made of thin wood plates. The top coated with a bone-shaped bracelet. The middle and bottom wrapped with rattan webbing. As a garnish, usually there is baliang bird feathers, tanyaku bird, beads and sometimes also amulet. In addition, the saber is also equipped with a small knife sheathed with leather and attached to the side of the glove.

Cultural Value

The making of Mandau, if examined closely, contains the values that in turn can be used as a reference in everyday life for the Dayak community. These values include: beauty (art), persistence, meticulousness, and patience. Those values reflected by the forms of mandaumade in such a way that radiates beauty. Meanwhile, the value of persistence, meticulousness, and patience is reflected from the drafting process that requires patience, precision, and persistance. Without it, it’s impossible to make such beautiful and meaningful mandau.

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