Rencong

Origin

The rencong (rentcong, rentjong, rentjoeng, rincong, reuncong, rintjong, rincoeng — see note at bottom of page) is one of the three primary weapons of the Aceh people in Northern Sumatra (the other two are the sewar, and the peudeueng).  Aceh's history is filled with a large array of weaponry. Swords and daggers have been used throughout for both ceremonial purposes and war. The rencong is one of those weapons which has been elevated to the position of a symbol for the whole of Sumatra. During the time of the kingdom of Aceh Darussalam, this unique shaped dagger was carried by all men and women of Aceh at every level of society. Today the Rencong forms an inseparable part of many traditional ceremonies and in the elaborate, traditional costumes of Aceh.

Aceh was devastated by a tsunami in recent years and it is likely that many fine examples of recong were lost along with other cherished household belongings.

Characteristics

The hilt (hulu) of a rencong is either of two primary shapes, a thin hilt that turns at 90 degrees to the blade, or an oblong bulbous hilt at a lesser angle. These are further divided into sub-types as discussed below. Both enable a "pistol grip".  When held in this manner, the blade edge faces upward. Blades are typically narrow in width. Like many finely forged blades, they vary in cross-section thickness, tapering distally from the hilt to a very fine point. Nearest the hilt, the blade is often typified by filings and carvings referred to as Duru Seuke. Typically, a rencong blade has a single curve of varying degree with the sharp, upward edge on the convex side. 

The length of a rencong blade varies greatly from around 10 centimeters for the very small to 50 centimeters for the largest (see photo illustration below).  A typic rencong blade is around 20 centimeters.  The longest of rencongs are reserved for rulers or high status individuals in Aceh society.

Illustration Sizes of Rencong

Illustration Showing Size Variation of Rencong

The scabbard (called a sarong, “clothing") and hilt materials may include buffalo horn (black or white, the latter often aged to a beautiful green color), ivory, deer horn, wood, silver, gold and tusk (manatee). The scabbard typically has a very wide throat and is elaboratly decorated with arabesque carvings. Decorative motifs are primarily floral. Scabbards may be bound with metal bands called "klah" that are made of brass, silver or gold. High prestige rencong scabbards (and hilts) may be completely covered in metal foil, often with elaborate embossed floral designs (see Rencong Meupucok).

The throat of the scabbard may have what is referred to as a kuku eland ("Eagle Claw”).  This aids in securing the scabbard as it is inserted into the waistband (literally: Bengkuang rencong yang berbentuk kuku elang atau kuku raja wali). 

batang-rencong; "Eagle Claw".  This aids in securing the scabbard as it is inserted into the waistband

Kuku Eland "Eagle Claw" on Scabbard to Secure it in Waistband.

Variations

Rencong with significant ethno-cultural differences are found based on the shape of hilt (ulee or hulu) and other characteristics:

  • Rencong Meucugek (meucangge, cugek, canggei) is a frequently found variant. It has a hilt that turns at roughly a right angle (90 degrees) to the blade. This type of hilt has a thicker part in the middle called a Boh mano ("chicken egg”). The most widely used material for this type of hilt is horn. This type of hilt may represent the neck, head and beak of a bird. The meucugek shape is intended to prevent the occurrence of excessive respect fellow human beings because of the intrinsic highest honor that belongs to Allah alone. Consider the wearing of a rencong:  if rencong intrinsic is worn at the waist or stomach in traditional fashion then that person can not overly bow his head or body to give respect to others because ofhis stomach will be depressed by the rencong's hilt. 
  • Rencong Meupucok hilts are rather small an made of engraved metal, type ring from thin to thick towards the pommel. This type is primarily used a decorative accessory or jewelry, or used in ceremonies, rituals and the arts.
  • Rencong Peudoi (puntung, puluen, pudoi) has a oblong, somewhat round bulbous hilt at a angle to the blade and is generally much shorter than recong meucugek. The bulb may be flattened at the sides.  Alternatively, the hilt may be more of a flattened cone with pommel that has a v-shape excision.  These hilts permits a "pistol grip" but they not as strongly offset from the blade as the rencong meucugek. The term "pudoi" in Acehnese refers to something having or still lacking perfection; having deficiency. Rencong pudoi are considered rudimentary forms.
  • Rencong Dandan is a variation originating the Gayo sub-ethnic group of the Aceh. It is among the largest of recong and very high prestige. The dandan hilt is made from the very white ivory tusk of manatees. The hilt and pommel are similar in shape to the rencong meucugek but are much thinner and truncated, and sometimes intricately carved. This type of rencong is vary rarely seen.
  • Rencong Meukure (meukuree) differ from the other types in that the blade is decorated with talismanic images of snakes, centipedes, flowers or other designs.  The designs interpreted as recognizing certain privileges and conferring certain advantages. This type, carefully preserved and cared for over generations, is deemed to have the greatest magical power.

See Also: Indonesian Hulu (Hilt) typesAceh Hulu (Hilt) types,  Nomenclature - Indonesian Hilts (Hulu) Type, and Nomenclature - Rencong


Rencong use as a weapon

rencong attack illustration

The rencong is usually worn sheathed on the left hand side of the bearer. When it is used as a weapon, then it is usually drawn with the left foot forward so that by a quick short step forward with the right foot, the thrust of the knife receives added impetus. The blade is withdrawn from its sheath, cutting edge toward the enemy. It is then whipped to the right by a snap of the hand which brings the palm upward; the elbow is held fairly close to the body. The thrust is made by extending the right arm almost to full extension and turning the palm downward just prior to penetration of the target.

Custom

The rencong is as important to the Acehnese as the keris is to the Javanese.

Acehnese say that the rencong takes the shape of the invocation, "Bismillaah In the name of God, the merciful and compassionate."  The component parts of the rencong can be likened to individual letters of the formal Arabic script huruf gundul, literally bare lettering, of the phrase Bismillaah (Basmala). (Source: Leigh, B. "Hands of Time: The Crafts of Aceh". Jakarta 1989).

The hilt of the rencong is in the shape of "ba" 

The decoration at the base of the hilt is "sin" 

The blade's shape is "mim" 

The shape of the metal parts at the top of the blade is "lam" 

The base of the scabbard has the shape of the letter "ha" 

Together, "ba, sin, mim, lam and ha" make up the world, "Bismillaah" 

The rencong is carried on the left hand side, inserted between the body and girdle. As with krisses, people attribute mystical powers to rencongs. The spiritual nature of rencong means it may only be used to defend against enemy attacks or to fight in the cause of Allah. 

"The Rencong is a dagger as important to the Acehnese as the Keris is to the Javanese. According to some scholars, its shape is said to symbolize the Arab lettering of the invocation “Bismillaah”. One can accept this interpretation or not, however the Islamic symbolism is evident in the Rencong shape and decoration. As the Keris, it is believed to have a mystic power.


The Rencong is worn slipped into the folds of the sarong on the left hand side of the stomach directed to the right hand. It is part of the traditional Acehnese clothing and is still worn for ceremonies and weddings."


- Old Blades

A very old rencong was believed to have a special relation with the owner. When danger is nearby or the owner about to be attacked, it was believed that a rencong would give its owner an insight about the threat. Another belief was a particularly charmed rencong could never be used to harm or hurt its owner and his family. (Rencong owners have occasionally been demonstrably wrong about this charm.) These beliefs are rooted deeply in most Acehnese and this has led them to hand a rencong down only to their off-spring and not sell it to other people. The children would carefully care and preserve the rencong for future generations, much like pusaka elsewhere in Indonesia. The result is that particularly fine rencong are very rare to find at auction or in private collections.

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Note:  Spellings, that contain "oe", "ue" and "ee", for example Oeloe instead Hulu, are still found in the older literature and included here for completeness. They come from the Dutch colonial era and are no longer used in modern Indonesian font.