North Borneo Mandau has its own characteristic that makes it different from any sword from other parts of Borneo. It can be seen from the blade and the Kumpang (the sheath). The making process of the sword is also special. It uses a special iron found in a unique stone. Once the iron as the main material is found, the maker will add other metals to gain artistic value.
The Material of North Borneo Mandau
Most of Dayaknese from North Borneo would go to the hilt of Baram River in close to Serawak. There, they would find the particular type of stone that contains iron. Back in the old days, the ancestors of Dayak people can determine whether a stone contain iron. But, nowadays that skill seems to vanish.
The Making Process
North Borneo Mandau is made only by the experienced Blacksmiths. Sometimes, experience is not enough. Those makers have to do some ritual in order to get a “sight” from the spirit. Those sights can be obtained by having a sharp instinct or by dreams.
Once they got the sight, they will go and find a stone. That stone then will be burned in an extreme temperature. The burning process usually takes place on the riverside as it needs a lot of water to separate irons from stones.
After getting the iron pieces, the maker will gather them inside a handful of clay and let them dry. After they dried, they will be burned many times to obtain the pure and the strong iron. These pieces of iron will then be melted and forged over and over again. The forging will stop once the iron gets a certain level of strength.
The Mixture of Metals
To make it more artistic, several types of metal are mixed with the iron. Normally, the mixture consist of copper or gold, sometimes they use silver. But, the mixture is only added on the blunt side of the blade. The sharp side remains pure with only iron to keep the strength.
The Handle and the Sheath
As any other Mandau, this Indonesian traditional weapon has a handle in the shape of animal’s head such as bird or dragon. On the top of the animal’s head, the maker will add human’s hair as an accessory. The human hair is also attached at the lower side of the handle. On the grip side, the maker will twist a string of rattan for ergonomic reason. The entire handle is usually made in white color as it is their favorite color.
Every engraving and color on the handle is not made and chosen at random. They are chosen based on the experience of life the owner got before. Only the makers know how to describe those experience with color and engraving, which makes it unique and sacred.
The sheath itself is made of Meranti wood added with some ornaments. People in North Borneo happen to like engraved and colorful stuff. For that, the maker will tie a string and a traditional fabric in three different colors. Those colors are white, red, and black. Those colors are believed to bring safety and luck for those who hold the Mandau.