as “sandata,” the edged weapons of the Philippines displayed in this
exhibit are more than mere artifacts. They present a tangible living
connection with a culture and history that would otherwise have been
forgotten. Edged weapons have played a pivotal role in the cultural
development and survival of the Philippine people. For many
Philippine ethnic groups, bladed weapons exist as more than just a
tool of war; they are a key part of a man’s identity and daily
While limited in its scope to general information, history, and a
description of the types of weapons in this exhibit, this article in
conjunction with the exhibited items provide a glimpse into the
diverse world of Philippine weaponry. We start this discussion with
the physical aspects of the Philippines within the greater context
of the world. We then turn to the current population breakdown of
the nation, illustrating the wide variety of ethnicities and
cultures present throughout Philippine history. A brief discussion
of Philippine history follows, focusing on general trends and
events. Finally, we discuss the edged weapons displayed in this
exhibit, with brief descriptions of the ethnic groups who developed
According to archeological records, the Philippines was connected to
mainland Asia during the last Ice Age. As glaciation lowered sea
levels, newly exposed land in the China Sea created the Sunda Shelf,
a land mass that covered an area of some 1,800,000 square
kilometers. This land mass enabled the present day Philippines to
act as a land bridge connecting mainland Asia to Borneo, Indonesia,
New Guinea, and Australia. During this period the bulk of the flora
and fauna of the Philippines were introduced. Approximately 250,000
years ago the glaciers melted, and the land bridges were submerged,
creating the Philippine Archipelago.
Geography and Climate
The Philippine Archipelago consists of roughly 7,107 islands, many
of volcanic origin. It is located between three major bodies of
water: to the northwest the South China Sea, to the east the Pacific
Ocean, and to the south the Celebes Sea. The archipelago lies
between Southern China and North Borneo, in the latitudes of 4°23’N
to 21°25’N and the longitudes of 116°E to 129°E. The total area of
the Philippines has a total land area of about 300,000 square
kilometers of which only 19% is arable. It has an extensive
coastline of roughly 36,000 kilometers. Much of the terrain is
mountainous, with narrow but extensive coastal lowlands. The highest
point in the Philippines is Mt Apo, located on the southern island
of Mindanao, rising 2,954 meters. The Philippines is divided into
three geographic areas: Luzon in the north, the Visayas in the
center, and Mindanao in the south. It is further divided into 17
regions and 79 provinces.
The climate of the Philippines is tropical and subject to an
abundance of rain. It has three primary seasons: a rainy season
during the months of June to October, a cool dry season during the
months of November to February, and a hot dry season during the
months of March to May. The archipelago is located astride the
typhoon belt, and is normally affected by about 15 major storms each
year, and hit directly by five or six typhoons. Local flooding and
mud slides are major problems in the wet season.
According to a July 2005 estimate, the Philippines currently has a
population of 87,857,473 people, making it the fourteenth most
populous nation. About 96% of the population is under the age of 65,
with a median age of 22.7 years. The ethnic breakdown of the
Filipino population, according to the latest census data, is:
Tagalog 28%, Cebuano 13%, Ilocano 9%, Bisaya/Binisaya 7.6%,
Hiligaynon Ilonggo 7.5%, Bicolano 6%, Waray 3.4%, and 25% are listed
as “Other.” Despite the seeming dominance of Christian groups,
within the category of “Other” there exist about 100 non-Christian
tribal groups. According to the 2000 census, the religious makeup of
the Philippines breaks down as follows: Roman Catholic 81%,
Evangelical 2.8%, Iglesia ni Kristo 2.3%, Aglipayan 2%, other
Christian 4.5%, Muslim 5%, Other 1.8%, Unspecified 0.6%, and None
0.1%. For various reasons it is possible that the numbers of
non-Christians in the Philippines were underestimated.
Language is another source of diversity among the Philippine
population. The Philippines has two official languages: Filipino
(which is based on Tagalog) and English. Besides the official
languages there are over 500 local dialects. The eight most common
are Tagalog , Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon (Ilonggo), Bicolano,
Waray, Pampango, and Pangasinan.
Pre-Colonial Cultural Influences
Cultural diffusion among the Filipino population has been due
largely to effects of regional migration through trade and
settlement. While there are currently no archaeological findings to
support an explicit wave theory of population migration, we can
trace some of the means by which migratory cultures have affected
Before Western colonization, the Philippines experienced the
influences of two major cultural groups: Indian and Chinese. Through
trade and settlement, cultural elements from both of these groups
found their way into indigenous cultures.
Early Philippine history books stated that the Philippines were once
part of the Indo-Malay South East Asian Empires of Sri Vijaya (which
existed between 683 and 1377 CE) and Majapahit (which existed
between 1293 CE and 1528 CE). The inclusion of the Philippines as a
vassal state of these two empires has been refuted by recent
archaeological and historical research. There is no proof that
either of these empires ruled parts of the Philippines directly,
although Indo-Malay cultural influences are certainly found in
various parts of the Philippines. As early as 900 CE,
Indian-influenced groups from mainland SE Asia may have settled in
the southern Philippines. Through the arrival of traders and
immigrants, elements of Indian religion, language, and literature
were brought to the Philippines. These influences can be seen in the
early use of Sanskrit by ancient Filipinos as well as the
development of Indian based dress (such as head scarves) and the use
of Indian techniques in the manufacturing of textiles. Furthermore,
much of the folklore and superstitions of Filipino groups have
definable Hindu roots.
The first recorded contact with China came in 982 CE when several
Filipino traders arrived in Canton. Through the Sung, Yuan, and Ming
dynasties, Chinese-Filipino trade continued to expand. Filipino
traders brought to China native products such as gold, beeswax,
pearls, and edible bird’s nests. Soon after, the trade in such
lucrative goods began to attract Chinese immigrants to the
Philippines, particularly to the cities of Jolo and Manila. These
immigrant traders interweaved themselves into Philippine society,
marrying local women, and today most Filipinos have some degree of
Chinese genetic heritage. Such lively interaction between the two
peoples brought many Chinese influences into Philippine culture. For
example, Filipinos learned the manufacture of gunpowder, refined
techniques of metallurgy, and the making of brass gongs from the
Chinese. Furthermore, the Filipino diet was greatly transformed by
Chinese culture, and the consumption of Chinese staples such as
rice, buns and noodles became widespread. Yet, probably the
largest Chinese contribution came in the form of language. Over
1,500 Chinese words are now found in the Filipino language, far
surpassing the earlier Indian influences.
Contacts with Islam and the Western
In the 14th century CE, Arab traders from Malay and Borneo
introduced Islam into the southern islands and extended their
influence as far north as Luzon. Subsequently, Muslims gained
considerable presence in the southern Philippines, including the
Sulu archipelago, southern and western Mindanao, and Palawan.
Substantial numbers of Muslims still reside in these areas and in
1996 many finally obtained some measure of independence through
creation of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. The Muslims
historically were organized in tribal groups, or Sultanates, which
waxed and waned in strength and dominance. The Sulu Sultanate was
founded in 1392 CE and was the strongest for a long while, rivaling
the older Brunei Sultanate in North Borneo. The Maranao and
Maguindanao Sultanates on Mindanao also enjoyed later periods of
ascendancy. Throughout their history the Muslim groups (termed
“Moros” by the Spanish) have been fiercely independent and resisted
first the Spanish and later American colonial rule. Neither colonial
powers completely subdued them.
The first Europeans to encounter the Philippines were a Spanish
expedition led by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan (1521
CE). Other Spanish expeditions followed, including one from New
Spain (Mexico) under López de Villalobos, who in 1542 named the
islands for the infante Philip, later Philip II. The conquest of the
Philippines by Spain did not begin in earnest until 1564, when
another expedition from New Spain, commanded by Miguel López de
Legaspi, overwhelmed Cebu. Spanish leadership was soon established
over many small independent communities that previously had known no
central rule. By 1571, when López de Legaspi established the Spanish
city of Manila on the site of a Moro town he had conquered the year
before, the Spanish foothold in the Philippines was secure, despite
opposition of the Portuguese who were eager to maintain their
monopoly on the trade of East Asia.
By the end of the 16th century, Manila had become a leading
commercial center of East Asia, conducting a flourishing trade with
China, India, and the East Indies. The Philippines supplied some
wealth (including gold) to Spain, and the richly laden galleons
sailing between the islands and New Spain were often attacked by
English pirates. From 1600 to 1663 there were frequent clashes with
the Dutch, who were laying the foundations of their rich empire in
the East Indies, and with Moro pirates.
Filipinos were frequently unhappy with Spanish rule and uprisings
were common. As the power of the Spanish Empire waned in the late
19th century, the Jesuit orders became more influential in the
Philippines and acquired great amounts of property and power.
Opposition to the power of the clergy led in large measure to a
rising nationalist sentiment for independence. Spanish injustices,
bigotry, and economic oppressions fed the Propaganda Movement, which
was greatly inspired by the writings of Dr José Rizal.
The arrest of Rizal by the Spanish in 1892 was followed immediately
by formation of a secret society, the Katipunan, with the goal of
overthrowing Spanish colonial rule. After Rizal’s execution in 1896,
an armed revolt led by the Katipunan began in the province of Cavite
and spread throughout the major islands. Emilio Aguinaldo achieved
considerable success as leader of the Katipunan forces before a
peace was patched up with Spain. The peace was short-lived, however,
for neither side honored its agreements, and a new revolution was
brewing when the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898.
After the U.S. naval victory in Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, Commodore
George Dewey supplied Aguinaldo with arms to pursue battle with the
Spanish. When US land forces arrived, the Filipinos had taken the
entire island of Luzon, except for the old walled city of Manila.
The Filipinos had also declared their independence and established a
democratic republic. Their dreams of independence were crushed when
the Philippines were transferred from Spain to the United States in
the Treaty of Paris (1898) that concluded the Spanish-American War.
In February 1899, Aguinaldo led a new revolt, this time against US
rule. Defeated on the battlefield, the Filipinos turned to guerrilla
warfare, and their subjugation became a mammoth project for the
United States—one that cost far more money and took far more lives
than the Spanish-American War. The insurrection was effectively
ended with the capture of Aguinaldo in 1901, but the question of
Philippine independence remained a burning issue in the politics of
both the United States and the islands. The matter was complicated
by the growing economic ties between the two countries. The advent
of the Great Depression in the United States in the 1930s and the
first aggressive moves by Japan in Asia (1931) shifted US sentiment
sharply toward the granting of independence to the Philippines.
Invasion and occupation of the Philippines by Japan (1941-1945)
delayed independence until 1946. Since that time the Philippines has
been an independent democratic nation.
250,000 BCE Melting glaciers cause land bridges connecting the
Philippines to mainland Asia to disappear.
900 CE Settlement of Indian influenced Indochinese groups in the
982 First recorded contact between the Philippines and China.
1310 Islam first comes to the Sulu Archipelago
1390 First Sultanate in the Philippines founded in Sulu.
1521 Magellan is the first Westerner to land in the Philippines.
1542 During an expedition to the islands by Ruy Lopez de Villalobos
the archipelago is named Islas Filipinas in honor of the Spanish
Crown Prince Philip
1565 Conquest of Cebu by Spanish forces led by Miguel de Legaspi
1570 Defeat of Rajah Soliman by Spanish forces led by Miguel de
1571 Manila established as main Spanish settlement on Luzon
1892 Rizal arrested and deported. Katipunan society founded by
1896 Rizal executed. Armed insurrection against Spain organized by
Katipunan under leadership of Aguinaldo
1898-1901 Philippine-American War
1901-1915 Moro-American armed conflicts
1941-1945 Japanese occupation
1946 Independence declared
Edged Weapons of the Muslim Regions
The kris is the most famous Moro weapon (#1-6). Variations are found
in every Moro tribe and it was a key symbol of a man’s status and
rank in society as well as being a powerful talisman. Kris blades
are wide at the base, double-edged, and can be waved, half-waved
half-straight, or straight (straight blades were more practical in
combat). Older kris had fewer waves and the waves were deeper and
wider (#2,6). Over time the waves became shallower, tighter, and
more numerous and therefore required greater skill to prevent the
blade bouncing off or being stuck in an enemy’s body. The higher
number of waves meant the more potent the kris was in talismanic
power. Sometimes engravings (often filled in with brass or silver
inlay) are found on the blade in plant motifs (vines, foliage, etc.)
or Arabic script. Many kris blades are forged with fullers. Moro
kris are cutting and slashing swords versus the stabbing keris of
the Malay and Indonesians. Kris range from 45 to 65 centimeters in
length. Older kris before the 19th century tended to be smaller in
size. Laminated steel patterns are sometimes evident. Opposite the
hook like fretwork on the guard of the blade is a cavity in the form
of an elephant, eagle, or mouth of a naga (a mythical snake).
Hilts of krises are either straight or slightly curved. Commonly the
pommel is in the form of a horse hoof (#3,4,6), or a stylized
cockatoo head with beak and crest (#2,5). Usually the pommel is made
of hardwood burl with the handle being wrapped in lacquered fiber.
Upper class kris pommels (#4,5,6) are often made of ivory, silver,
brass, or other exotic materials with handles wrapped in chased
bands of silver or swassa (copper-gold alloy) or braided wire. Large
extravagant cockatoo pommels appeared toward the end of the 19th
century and are called junggayan. Pommels before the 19th century
were very small (#2,6).
Moro kris scabbards were made of wide grain native hardwoods like
mahogany, teak, and narra, lashed together with rattan or metal
strips (#3-6). Sometimes the crosspiece is separate from the bottom,
but more often they are carved together. Around the mid-20th century
mother-of-pearl was introduced to scabbard work and kris pommels.
Scabbards of the nobility are bound with bands of plain or chased
silver, brass, or swassa instead of rattan bindings (#4,6). Some
nobility scabbards even have crosspieces made of ivory or horn.
Barung are the favored weapon of the Sultanate of Sulu. This
single-edged, leaf-shaped blade is an amazingly effective slicer and
chopper, capable of cleaving a man in two. Barung blades are thick
and heavy, ranging from 30 to 60 centimeters in length, and often
laminated. Some barung blades were made by Chinese smiths and are of
high quality. Decoration of the blade was rare, although there are
examples with inlaid brass dots or chiseled plant designs inlaid
with brass or silver.
Pommels were usually in the form of a stylized cockatoo (#7-12).
Most handles had a silver (sometimes brass) sleeve and lacquered
braided fiber rings that lie on top. Nobility hilts were made of
ivory, carabao horn, or Philippine ebony. One example in the
collection is made of fossilized elephant molar ivory (#10). These
hilts were carved in large and elaborate junggayan styles
(#8,11,12). Lower class and fighting barung had less elaborate hilts
and were smaller in size (#7,9). In the mid-20th century, hilt forms
changed where crests became triangular and beaks became more
rectangular and massive.
Scabbards were made of wide grained hardwood boards lashed together
with rattan (#9,10). Older barung scabbards are thinner whereas
post-World War 2 examples are much thicker with a central ridgeline.
Like kris scabbards of the post World War 2 era, mother-of-pearl
inlays began to appear at the throat as well.
Moros of Mindanao occasionally used the panabas, a fairly rare and
large heavy chopping weapon that ranges from 60 to 120 centimeters
in length (13-16). It can deliver horrible cleaving blows and was
sometimes used for executions. As a weapon of execution, the panabas
also came to symbolize the power and prestige of the chieftain
(datu) in his ability to control violence. It was used as a combat
weapon and as a display of power. Sometimes on the battlefield
warriors wielding the panabas would follow the main group of
warriors, mopping up any survivors after the first wave of attack.
Panabas blades are curved, being wider at the tip than at the hilt,
and made of laminated steel. A rare form of panabas has an “S”
shaped blade sharpened partially along the backside (#15,16). File
work in the form of talismanic “X” are found on some of the spines
(#15). Hilts are made of hardwood often wrapped in braided rattan
(#13), although some are wrapped in metal bands (#14-16). Scabbards
for this weapon were made of plain wood and are rare (#15). Warriors
frequently discarded the scabbards prior to battle, contributing to
their scarcity today. Sometimes panabas were carried into battle
wrapped in cloth and slung across the back.
Warriors of Mindanao favored the kampilan (#17-20). This
single-edged sword is noted for its fearsome look, ranging up to 110
centimeters in length, amongst the largest of Moro swords. The
kampilan was a sword for war and the court. As a court sword it
represented the datu’s prestige and power. Related to the klewang,
the blade is narrow near the hilt gradually swelling in width into
an almost trapezoidal profile at the end. The blades are often
laminated with various styles of tip. Many have a spike at the tip
(#18) that some believe was decorative, and others think was used as
a distraction in countering an enemy blow. Kampilan blades often
have holes near the tip sometimes filled with brass. Rarer still
some kampilan tips have kris-like fretwork; others have engravings
down the entire blade. Various hilt styles exist, but the most
common is the bifurcated type that may be a stylized version of an
open alligator mouth (#17,18,20), and some had horse hair decoration
(#21). Although the kampilan can be used with one hand, it is
primarily a two-handed sword. At times the hilt was bound to the
hand by a talismanic piece of cloth to prevent slippage. Sometimes a
chain mail covering was attached to prevent the hand from injury.
Almost all kampilans originally had large metal staples protruding
from the cross guard above the grip. Hilts were made of hardwood,
but expensive datu examples may be covered in silver sheet or made
of expensive materials like ivory or bone.
The scabbards are very simple (#20) and often would be discarded
when going into battle. Scabbards were made in two pieces lashed
together by rattan or fiber. The sword could be withdrawn quickly by
cutting through the thin lashings. Some scabbards were also made of
bamboo or were made with a handle that allowed half of the scabbard
to serve as a small shield.
Considerably rarer than the panabas, the bangkung is a short,
single-edged weapon that varies from 50 to 75 centimeters (#21,22).
Close to the hilt, the laminated blade is thick and narrow
increasing in width towards the tip. The cutting edge often has a
slight upward curve. Hilts on older bangkung were of the cockatoo
style with a metal sleeve similar to the barung. Those produced
since the mid-20th century have horse hoof pommels wrapped with
braided cord (#21,22). Scabbards are wide at the end to accommodate
the broad end of the sword (#21).
Pira are uncommon Moro weapons that have thick curved single-edged
blades (#23). This sword is a fighting weapon favored by the Yakan.
The handle is a flamboyant version of the cockatoo hilt with a long
up curving piece protruding from the pommel. Pommels are made of
horn or hardwood with a silver or brass sleeve. Blades are laminated
and from 30 to 50 centimeters in length. Modern pira have evolved
into a plainer working blade with a horse hoof hilt. Scabbards are
similar to the barung scabbards at the throat but with a flat
rectangular bottom, all wrapped in rattan.
The gunong (also known as a puñal or puñal de kris) is often worn at
the back in a waist sash or hidden in various places. It is a dagger
of last defense as well as a utility knife, carried by both sexes.
Many gunong blades are double-edged and are either straight or wavy
(#24,25). Older gunongs had straight hilts (#24), which changed to
the bulbous form in the 20th century (#25,26). During this time
gunong also started having more extravagant fittings with chased
bands on scabbards, belt clips, guards, and bulbous ferrules.
US restrictions on the carrying of traditional edged weapons left a
gap in daily attire for a culture that required the wearing of a
bladed weapon. The gunong filled in this gap and did not arouse the
fears of US colonial authorities. After World War 2 nickel and
aluminum became prevalent along with thinner blades. Newer gunong
became larger than old pieces. Some of the best Moro chasing work
may be found on tourist versions, with some blades having copper,
brass, or nickel inlay.
Edged Weapons of the Lumad
Lumad refers to indigenous groups that are neither Muslim nor
Christian. There are 18 Lumad groups: Ata, Bagobo, Banwaon, B’laan,
Bukidnon, Dibabawon, Higaonon, Mamanwa, Mandaya, Manguwangan,
Manobo, Mansaka, Subanon, Tagakaolo, Tasaday, T’boli, Teduray, and
Ubo. Lumad peoples comprise 18% of the Philippine population. They
live in the hinterlands, forests, lowlands, and coastal areas. At
the beginning of the 20th century Lumads controlled 17% of Mindanao
but by 1980 they had 6%. Heavy migration from the Visayas and
government sponsored resettlement turned Lumads into minorities.
Unlike the Moros, Lumads did not resist but retreated into the
mountains and forests. Edged weapons are varied and adapted from
The Mandaya live on the eastern coast of Mindanao. Spears (#29),
heavy bolos (#31,32), and a characteristic knife (#30) are their
traditional weapons. The Moros and Bagobos influenced the style of
spears. Mandaya spears are double edged with a central ridge and a
distinct V-point. Spearheads are socketed to the shaft instead of a
tang. Occasionally there is fine chiseling and paneling (#29).
Mandaya bolos have wide bellies that narrow toward the hilt. An odd
appendage appears in this angle on older Mandaya bolos (#32). Older
blades often had a diamond cross-section (#32) while newer blades
were flat with a bevel.
Wooden hilts have stylized pommels that may represent the naga
(mythical snake). Scabbards are wooden, wide, and heavy with an
upturned toe. They were worn tied to the waist through a large
wooden hanger midway down the scabbard and held together by rattan
strips and cloth.
The Mandaya knife is unique (#30). The blade is double-edged,
spear-shaped, and symmetrical with a central ridge. The pommel has
two horns with part of the tang protruding as a spike for several
centimeters between the two horns. Hilts are made of wood or horn
and may be embellished with silver sheet and wire.
The T’boli live in the southern part of Cotabato province around
lake Sebu. There may be 100,000-150,000 T’boli who practice “slash
and burn” agriculture, using the cleared land to raise rice, cassava
and yams. Additional food comes from hunting and fishing.
Edged weapons of the T’boli include swords, knives, and spears. Two
swords are described, called tok and kafilan. Metal smiths recycle
old broken gongs or other metal objects and use outside sources of
steel (for example, scavenging the steel springs from abandoned
trucks). Blades are forged with skill and are heat-treated, usually
being decorated with geometric patterns. At times these are even
inlaid with brass or copper. T’boli blades are among the best in the
Philippines, ranging from 40 to 60 centimeters in length, and sharp
enough to shave. They are even used to cut down trees because they
are nearly impossible to break. Similarities exist between these
swords and Moro kampilans.
Hilts and guards are cast in one piece from brass or bronze and are
covered in geometric designs. All of this is done using the lost wax
method, making each one unique. The flared end of the hilt has two
rows of rings with brass chains and hawk bells (#37).
Scabbards are rectangular, wooden, often carved in geometric
designs, and wrapped in T’boli cloth. Recent scabbards may also have
metal bands. Occasionally two to four projections of wood or metal
come from the end of the scabbard, similar to Bagobo sheaths.
The Bagobo trace their origin to the first Hindus who came to
Mindanao from the Sri Vijayan and Majapahit peoples. Through
intermarriage with the locals a new society formed calling itself
Bagobo (bago = “new” and obo = “growth”). The upland Bagobo
traditionally lived east and south of Mount Apo and east of
Cotabato. The population at 58,000 (1994) is now scattered in the
interior beyond Davao City while those on the coastal plains have
adapted to lowland life. Bagobo have a fondness for beadwork that
adorns clothing and every day items. Edged weapons include swords,
spears and knives. Older swords rivaled T’boli examples in quality,
and were sought after by other Lumad tribes. Laminated steel blades
ranged from 40 to 60 centimeters in length and occasionally showed
complex patterns like twist core damascus (#38).
Sword hilts have a characteristic design: cast brass handle and
guard in geometric designs (all made by the lost wax method) capped
with a broad, carved hardwood hilt that is flat and down curved.
Along the bottom edge of the wood pommel often hang brass chains
with hawk bells. At the end of the pommel is a brass thimble filled
with colored beads in black resin (#38). The guard is octagonal with
a short brass extension that hooks over the scabbard to keep the
sword in place.
Scabbards were made of wood with carved areas sometimes inlaid with
various metals. The wood is wrapped with cloth and rattan strips.
Bagobos made their scabbard toes square or pointed, often with two
to four wood or brass protrusions.
Edged Weapons of the Visayas
The Visayas are the prominent group of islands in the central
Philippines. Samar and Leyte comprise the eastern region, Cebu,
Bohol, and Negros Orientale the central region, and Panay, Guimaros,
and Negros Occidentale the western region. Edged weapons are
strikingly different, reflecting different ethnic groups and
The talibon is the characteristic knife and sword, with a range of
local terms for this weapon. Blades often have a straight or concave
spine that angles down abruptly near the handle and then widens in
the middle before tapering to the point. Lengths vary and cutting
edges are beveled on one side while the other side is flat. Handles
on older talibon are hardwood with three-lobed pommels in the shape
of a flower (#27,28). Rattan wrapping secures the handle and
prevents the wood from cracking. Scabbards are also made of hardwood
wrapped in rattan strips. Just below the throat there is a wooden
protrusion for securing the scabbard with rope around the waist. The
ends of these scabbards are often upturned (#27).
Older forms of talibon were called garab and were favored by various
insurrectionist groups on Samar and Leyte when fighting the Spanish
and US at the turn of the 20th century with great effect. Since this
time, however, hilt shapes and styles have proliferated in number.
These knives were popular with US servicemen returning form the
Philippines after World War 2 and as souvenirs ever since.
Panay and Negros have two distinctive sword types: “tenegre” with
fat-bellied blades that come to a pronounced point (#42,43,44,46),
and “binangon” with straight edges and curved spines (#45). Edges on
these blades are beveled on one side and flat on the other, similar
to talibon. Guards are common and older versions had wood or horn
discs, or lacked a guard, but towards the end of the 19th century
they started having metal disks, “S” or “D” shaped guards.
Handles are wood and early examples were bare (#42) or wrapped with
rattan strips, but post 1900 they had a metal sleeve (#43-46). Most
striking are the pommels. Many have beautifully carved demonic heads
of deities that may have originated from Hindu influences in the
13th and 14th centuries. Several have elongated noses. Simpler
handle forms began in the late 19th century with a round knob and
small beak versus a deity. They lack a guard and have a metal
Scabbards are wood and early examples resemble talibon scabbards
with rattan wrappings and a wooden block as a hanger to suspend a
rope belt (#42,44). Later versions used a leather flap at the throat
for suspension with rattan or metal bands around the scabbard
There are elaborate versions of these swords decorated in silver or
brass sheet on the handles, guards, and scabbards (#46). More
embellished examples are sometimes called sanduko bolos.
Edged Weapons of Luzon
Luzon is the largest of the Philippine Islands, home to several
ethnic groups like the Tagalog in the central area of Luzon, the
Bicolano and Batanguano to the south, the Aeta (Negritos), Ilocano,
and various Igorot tribes (head hunters) in the north. The Spanish
controlled the southern and central areas of Luzon while the
northern and mountainous regions were isolated from the West until
the 20th century. Here head hunting persisted until after World War
2. Edged weapons of central and southern Luzon frequently show
Spanish influence in style and construction, whereas weapons of the
northern mountain peoples have retained their indigenous forms.
Swords of these areas show marked Spanish influence. Late 19th
century swords use by Katipunan fighters were often pointed,
single-edged, straight or slightly curved, laminated, and had either
“S” or “D” guards (#39,40,41,49). Their wood handles had full-length
tangs peened over a small metal plate at the end. Scabbards were
made of leather with a leather belt.
Other sword styles were produced such as the rare single-edged wavy
blade swords (#47) and double-edged wavy blade daggers (#50) similar
to those of the Moro but with Spanish style handles and guards. Some
Katipunan bladed weapons had engraved talismanic figures or personal
More basic knives from the same area and period were called tabak
(#51-53). These reflect the Spanish ban on sharp pointed knives.
Their blades were either forged without a point or had the point
removed. Handles are made of wood or horn with one or two metal
sleeves. Again, the tangs pass through the handle and are peened
over a metal plate at the end.
The characteristic weapon of many of the Igorot mountain tribes
(Ifugao, Benguet, Bontoc, and Kalinga) is the head axe. Kalinga head
axes have a deeply concave edge (#33,35) while Bontoc examples have
a straighter edge (#34). Both types have a lightly convex spine and
a narrow projection or spike (#33-35). A hardwood handle, about 2 to
4 centimeters in diameter and 20 to 50 centimeters long, is attached
to a short tang just below the start of the rear spike. Included is
a projection along the length of the shaft that acts as a
resting-place for the forefinger. The head axe is so named because
Igorot headhunters would use these for decapitating victims. Binaroy
axes (#36) have a narrower blade and were used only for agriculture.
Igorot knives are exemplified by the pinahig and hinalung used by
the Ifugao (#54-56). The pinahig (#54,55) is a heavy fat bellied
single-edged bolo made of laminated steel. Bare steel or wood
wrapped in heavy braided rattan comprise the handle. The knife is
carried in an open-faced scabbard of wood hollowed out to the shape
of the blade, and a retaining block lashed across the front with
rattan strips. A woven belt attaches the scabbard to the waist. The
hinalung has a double-edged blade with a spear point that is
constructed in the same way as the pinahig. Sometimes the handle is
hollow allowing it to be mounted on a pole and used as a spear. The
scabbard is the same as the pinahig.
Igorots have distinctive shields for combat. The wooden shield of
the Kalinga (#57) is similar to other Igorot shields in that it is
long (about 100 to 130 centimeters), with prominent protrusions at
each end, and held together by heavy rattan bindings.
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