Tradition, culture blending in harmony

Daniel Lim

With a wealth of tradition and culture deeply ingrained in the nation’s history, it might be easy to stumble upon several traditional handicrafts passed down from generations.

Learning about the significance of these handmade pieces is crucial to owning and showcasing these important pieces of history, as Haji Mohd Yusof bin Haji Dulamin, a collector of various traditional handicrafts, can attest to.

Some of such collections are a wealth of parang or pemarang (machete) and tongkat (walking stick) of various sizes and shapes.

While not used extensively today, Haji Mohd Yusof described how parang was used in the past.

“The parang is not just a traditional handicraft, it was a dependable weapon used by our ancestors, especially those who ventured deep into the forest and sailed across oceans,” he said.

His appreciation for traditional handicrafts and its historical significance served as an inspiration for his collection. Haji Mohd Yusof began collecting parang from an early age, with his first gifted to him for cutting paddy in fields.

Haji Mohd Yusof bin Haji Dulamin’s parang collection. PHOTOS: DANIEL LIM
Haji Mohd Yusof shows his collection

Though Haji Mohd Yusof is not particularly skilled at forging the blade, he dabbled in making the hilt and sheath; each of which ensure proper usage and provide distinct characteristics and history.

“I used to watch my father carve the hilt and sheath for the parang by hand using a small carving knife. But current technology saves time and makes it easier to learn how to make them.”

Being knowledgable about parang, he noted the wide variety that exists and showcased some of the more interesting variants, from Parang Kapak which has the hilt of a parang but a blade of an axe to more decorative parang made from zinc, all of which form the bulk of his collection.

His collection, picked up from his travels across the country, comprise a wide variety of culture and backgrounds. Haji Mohd Yusof also showed his tongkat collection and explained its history.

“I have always seen people using tongkat with intricate designs and functions, that’s when I started collecting them,” he said. “While some of the wood used to make them is easily acquired in marketplaces, there are also times where a tongkat is made from wood retrieved from deep in the forest.”

As with parang, the advent of technology has accelerated the making of tongkat. Haji Mohd Yusof noted that in the past, wood collected was slowly made into a tongkat through the labourious task of shaving and polishing, which are made easier with modern grinders and saws.

In addition to shaping wood into its proper form, there are considerations on whether to finish it off by coating it with varnish. He explained that some of the wood used to have a unique fragrance which will be lost if varnish is applied.

Another unique item in Haji Mohd Yusof’s collection is a short tongkat made entirely from a deer’s antlers which broke off naturally and was fashioned and reinforced into a small decorative tongkat.

He said there are not many challenges involved in collecting the items as he tends to take time exploring and learning more about the craft.

For Haji Mohd Yusof, his collection is mostly for him to appreciate the art of making parang and tongkat along with its history and culture.

Speaking on making the traditional handicrafts, he said, “It’s all about waiting for the right mood, and if the time is not right, it’s easy to put it aside.”