Lawi Ayam

IN39 Lawi Ayam

Code IN39

A Lawi Ayam, late 19th to early 20th C (Karambit, kerambit, Koerambi, Koerambit, Kuku Ayam) of the Batak people in Northern Sumatra. Possibly the Pakpak Batak. It is very similar to the Kuku Macan in overall shape of blade and scabbard, but smaller.  The overall length from hilt to tip is 13 ¾ inches (35 cm), about half the size of the Kuku Macan.  The blade itself measures 9 inches (22.75 cm).

The blade is only slightly curved, unlike many other examples, and features serrations along the spine as it slopes down towards the tip.  The blade edge is on the concave side of the knife, sharp along the entire length. The tip is sharpened on both sides. 

This lawi ayam is distinguished by the exquisite decorative carving found on the hilt and scabbard. 

The hilt is made of bull horn and carved in the shape of a crouching nude ancestor figure with a stately countenance and downcast eyes. The guardian figure is believed to enhance the protective power of the weapon (Jay 2007, p.47). The features, carved deeply into the dark wood, are enhanced with the contrast provided by white lime. The figure wears a very finely carved helmet crown carved with a swirly floral motif. The hilt may be older than the rest of the weapon since it strongly resembles examples of Batak hilts authoritatively dated to late 19th C.

A bovine bone ferrule helps secure the hilt to the blade.  The decorative carved vine motif on the ferrule is echoed on the throat of the scabbard.

The scabbard is also finely carved and features not only the floral motifs typical of the region, but also very detailed faces as well as geometric decoration. The Batak are an ethnic group whose ancestral land is in northern Sumatra. In the past, they practiced ritual cannibalism. Faces found on scabbards are sometimes said to represent the heads taken by ancestors. Like the ancestor figure on the hilt, these faces express the power of weapon as well as reverence for ancestors. The Batak used a unique pigment to obtain the red coloration of their scabbards. The red dirt (bata hula) from their region was pounded with lime into a fine granulation, then mixed with resin for binding and adhesion to the wood of the scabbard. In accord with the Batak ritual cannibalism, the blood of killed enemies is said to have been added to the pigment.

Lawi ayam translates as “cock’s tail feather” or “spike chicken”. It is 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 nearly two feet long.


Jay, S., "Art of the Ancestors - Nias, Batak, Dayak: From the Private Collections of Mark A. Gordon & Pierre Mondolini", Alliance Francaise, 2007.