See also Parang.

The Parang Ihlang is known a Malat (Malaat) or Mandau by the Kayan people, and the Baieng by the Kenyah.  It is the traditional sword of the Dayak tribes of Borneo and is associated with their headhunting traditions although it is more commonly used as a machete in everyday life.  The mandau is used by many people of Kalimantan and is widespread.  The mandau is believed to have supernatural power and it is passed as an heirloom from generation to generation.  In addition to an important role in custom rituals, the mandau is also used as payment or as a richly symbolic gift, for example, at a wedding.

warrior with heads

The mandau swords of all Dayak tribes typically conform to the same pattern:  a blade narrow at the grip, widening gradually towards the point.  There is a slight difference in curvature between the blades of different tribes.  The mandau slang is almost straight.  The mandau langgi tingeing curves backward.  The mandau naibor (naibur) has a kind of hook sometimes described as "pea flowers" near the base. The mandau pakagan has yet another shape with subtle differents that are not easily described.  

The mandau is single-edged, but not flat in section. Rather, it is slightly concave to ensure an effective cut.  Cutting is its purpose, so the tip is of little importance and may even be slightly rounded.  The blade is made of a softer iron, to prevent breakage, with a narrow strip of a harder iron wedged into a slot in the cutting edge for sharpness. The headhunting necessitated being able to draw the sword quickly. For this purpose, the Mandau is fairly short, which also better serves the purpose of trailcutting in dense forest. It is holstered with the cutting edge facing upwards and at that side there is an upward protrusion on the handle, so it can be drawn very quickly with the side of the hand without having to reach over and grasp the handle first. The hand can then grasp the handle while it is being drawn. The combination of these three factors (short, cutting edge up and protrusion) makes for an extremely fast drawing-action.

The mandau is one of the most romanticized, albeit macabre, weapons of Borneo.  The way of life of the Dayak aborigines, maintaining their ancient customs, habits and religious beliefs, has always involved the taking of heads.  They became feared as head-hunters and only in recent years has the practice been “largely” abandoned. (Officially, headhunting doesn’t exist in Borneo despite the occasional report of an isolated jungle beheading).  The swords are also “working” swords, capable of separating a branch from a jungle tree as much as a head from man.

One of the characteristics of the Kayan mandau is rich decoration decoration of the blade and scabbard markings. Symbols that represent leeches are distinctive.  While leeches are boneless, weak and vulnerable, they are also flexible and consume blood - characteristic of a warrior. There are several other symbols on a mandau sheath, such as the mata kalung (necklace eye; parallel two dots with a carving beneath), mubung bilah (tomb of ancient kings), kalung telu, kalung helat, and kalung aso lejo (tiger). Decoration with holes filled with brass is called Lantak Paku.  Each group has unique mandau features of its own, symbols that tell storiees about the character and cultural traditions of the group and tribe.

See also: Blade Tips - Mandau