Kuku Macan

Code:  IN8

This weapon is identified as a contemporary kuku macan from Sumatra, a member of a group of weapons referred to as “Tiger Claws”.  (The knife should not to be confused with the “Tiger’s Claw”, or Bagh Nakh, from India.)  The knives appear in a wide variety of sizes ranging from the diminutive to this nearly two foot long weapon. The kuku macan is most similar in appearance and style of blade to the lawi ayam.

So awed were the ancient Sunda people by the power and beauty of the Pak Macan (“pamacan”, “ great tiger”), that this common blade of the people was patterned after the shape of the tiger’s claw.  Kuku Macan translates as “tiger’s claw”.  The smaller Lawi Ayam means “cock’s tail feather” or “spike chicken”.  

The blade is finely etched and blued. On one side, the pattern is distinctly floral.  On the other side, the pattern is more abstract with waves. The scabbard and hilt are stained hardwood, one side carved in a spectacular crocodile motif. The hilt has a steel bolster at the base of the hilt, helping to secure the blade in the scabbard. 

The blade is 14 1/2" and  1/4" thick, hand-forged spring steel tapering to  a 4 1/2" false edge.  The weapon has an overall length 20", including the sheath 22" long. 

As with other members of the Kerambit family, this weapon is held with the thumb over the hilt’s head, the blade pointing straight down and the tip towards the front.  When stabbing upwards (radak) it can cause atrocious injuries. The dagger is designed for an upward ripping movement into the bowels of the victim. The blade is strongly curved with the edge on the inside, but part of the back side is also sharp.  Small versions of this knife (e.g., Lawi Ayam) have been favored by women, who conceal them in their hair or the folds of a sarong.

In war, the cutting edge of weapons such as the kuku macan was often coated with a deadly poison. When the enemy’s flesh was cut, the poison entered the bloodstream and acted almost instantly. Even the smallest cut was enough to cripple or fatally wound an enemy. The sickness or quick deaths from wounds that would otherwise not be mortal may have contributed to fear of supernatural power attributed to some weapons. Knowledge and use of poisons derived from various species of poisonous frogs, snakes, scorpions and spiders were considered an essential element of a warrior's arsenal of close-quarter combative skills. These poisons rapidly accelerated death and were mostly feared for their nearly instantaneous killing power.

Edged Weapons of the Indonesian Archipelago