Keeping a sharp tradition alive

Aziz Idris

A parang is a type of machete used in Brunei for many purposes, mainly for agricultural activities and cutting meat. It is also used as a wall decoration.

Hammered into shape and sharpened by hand, parangs feature three distinct blade profiles: they’re thin and sharp near the handle, for preparing food and other fine work; broad and blunter in the middle, for chopping; and pointed toward the tip, for skinning and drilling.

These makes the parang an incredibly nifty instrument. It’s touted as the ultimate do-it-all survival tool in agriculture, as well as for hobbyists and outdoorsmen.

In keeping the age-old tradition alive, local craftsmen from ‘7 Rumpun Keluarga Nayan’ in Kampong Lamunin, Tutong District still practice the fading art of making a parang.

The village is famed for its handmade parangs made by the Kedayan community.

“The trade was taught by my father and grandfather.

Guests trying out their skills in making a parang, monitored closely by Harun bin Haji Tinggal. PHOTOS: AZIZ IDRIS
During the process of making a parang

“I learnt mostly from observing how they make the parang since there were no proper trainings,” said Harun bin Haji Tinggal, a part-time blacksmith from Kampong Lamunin. “The craft is part of the Kedayan people’s identity. I want to make sure we can safeguard our tradition, culture and the identity of my forefathers by making sure the art of handcrafting the Parang Kedayan continues,” he said.

Working alongside his sibling, Harun managed to develop a partnership with local tour operator KommuniHub to open-up a woodworking shop to teach parang making classes during the weekends. He said these sessions also help him to hone his skills.

Among traditional parang makers, recycled leaf spring plates salvaged from vehicles are a preferred raw material which they can melt and use. After selecting the materials for the blade, Harun heats up the steel.

Once it turns red, he hammers the now-malleable piece of steel into a desired shape for a knife.

It takes Harun a few rounds of heating and hammering for the steel piece to take the desired flatness. Nowadays, modern machinery has helped the process of making a parang become faster and safer, but one technique called sepuh is still being practiced.

This process can literally make or break the parang.

Sepuh is a traditional way to harden the metal by burning it and then immersing it in water and oil to produce stronger blades with shaper points.

“After the steel is heated, it would be forged and shaped before being sharpened and engraved on.

“Then the handle and sheath will be made,” said Harun, who prefers to use kayu malam and jackfruit tree wood for the sheath.

The quality of woodcarving on the sheath as well as the craftsmanship in the handle usually makes the parang more valuable.

It is also the unique design that distinguishes the Parang Kedayan from other types of machetes.

“Bladesmithing is a job that requires patience, calmness and focus,” said Harun. He believes it is important for the younger generation to continue with the craft as it is part of their heritage.

“Every parang made here is never identical to another. Every piece made is unique to each owner.

“We want people, especially the youth, to see our craft products or, even better, learn it from us. We welcome new ideas or techniques to be incorporated in our craft products as we don’t want them static, and instead be fresh in terms of design and variety,” he added.