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Old 25th May 2018, 12:34 PM   #1
kai
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Question Aceh pommels with tassels - a hairy issue?

Hello SEA aficionados!

In a recent thread and another one, Aceh pommels with a tassel of hair attached to the distal cavity of the horn were shown. I'm attaching pics of known examples below for reference - please add any additional examples you may come across!

Due to the large size of Aceh horn hilts, the natural cavity of horn (usually from water buffalo) is often still present when the hilt is fully carved. In hilts with big pommel (hulu tapa guda, hulu cangge gliwang, etc.) this cavity is usually left open. In hilts of the gaping mouth types (hulu tumpang beunteueng, hulu peusangan, hulu rumpung, hulu babah buya) this cavity tends to be small and is often filled with jabung (cutler's resin); sometimes the tang seems to be sticking out, too (the usual tang of these blades doesn't seem to be long though; this might rather be a separate pin - some x-rays would be great to check!).

The Dutch subdued Aceh (or pretty much all of northern Sumatra) quite late and there was immediate scientific work done on the local cultures to foster the Dutch colonial rule. Despite of several detailed accounts on weapons, I know of no early source that even mentions any kind of tassels with these weapons.

There are loads of genuine antique swords from northern Sumatra that got into European musea and private collections during the Aceh war (and subsequent military/police actions) or during the early colonial period. Only a minute fraction of these do exhibit tassels of hair as shown in this thread, a huge majority of the "bald" hilts does not show any signs of later losses/removal/repair; this includes many high-status pieces with gold decoration which will, on average, have received more attention for preservation and study.

In the light of this evidence I don't think tassels of hair are a genuine feature of any culture in northern Sumatra. This is a probabilistic approach though, certainly not written in stone. I'm certainly trying to keep an open mind and ask you to falsify my hypothesis.


We all know that dealers and collectors often restore decorations of hair (as it is fragile and easily lost to clothing moths, dermestid beetles, etc.); I don't think it's unreasonable to assume that some would be dumb enough to also do this to pieces from a culture without any such tradition...


There is still another possibility though: Aceh was one of the important trade ports and political powers throughout the archipelago. A few swords from northern Sumatra have been found in other regions, e. g. a sikin panjang found early in Banjarmasin (Schmeltz, 1890). There is a slight chance that such a sword ended up in a culture with hair tassels and received an ethnographically legit upgrade by the new owner. However, this chance will not be terribly high IMVHO...


Short of a full CSI investigation, maybe the mode of attachment could give some additional hints: It would be great if you were to add close-ups showing the base of any tassels to this thread!

Regards,
Kai
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Old 25th May 2018, 12:37 PM   #2
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Default Gliwang from Thomas' collection

Example #1 from this thread: http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=22732

Quote:
Originally Posted by thomas hauschild
Total length nearly 80 cm without the hair, blade thickness 9 mm at the handle goes down continues to 1 mm, weight 620 gramm
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Old 25th May 2018, 12:41 PM   #3
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Default Amanremu from Roland's collection

Example #2 from this thread: http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showp...098&postcount=1

Quote:
Originally Posted by Roland_M
The whole sword is 66cm (26") long, blade 52 cm (20,5"), the massive base is a little more than 12 mm (0,5") wide, it weighs 740 grams.
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Old 25th May 2018, 12:43 PM   #4
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Default Sikin panjang from Machetero's collection

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Old 25th May 2018, 12:46 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kai
We all know that dealers and collectors often restore decorations of hair (as it is fragile and easily lost to clothing moths, dermestid beetles, etc.); I don't think it's unreasonable to assume that some would be dumb enough to also do this to pieces from a culture without any such tradition...


1: I think a serious collector would never add a hair tuft to a blade which never got one. This would be ridiculous and he cannot show the piece to any other collector.

2: To add a hair tuft as an upgrade to increase the price is also not senseful, because most collectors know what the buy and they will laugh about such an attempt.

In my case the hair is braided and surely not a kind of silly upgrade by a collector.


Roland
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Old 25th May 2018, 01:29 PM   #6
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Hello Roland,

Quote:
1: I think a serious collector would never add a hair tuft to a blade which never got one. This would be ridiculous and he cannot show the piece to any other collector.

2: To add a hair tuft as an upgrade to increase the price is also not senseful, because most collectors know what the buy and they will laugh about such an attempt.

I agree with you that this practise is stupid and/or unethical.

However, I have seen enough of "upgrades" and other stupid things done to genuine artifacts as to never exclude their possibility, even if deemed unlikely. Caveat emptor...
(Just a general comment, not aimed at any piece specifically since I haven't personally handled any of them yet.)


Quote:
In my case the hair is braided and surely not a kind of silly upgrade by a collector.

This is certainly interesting and may help to narrow things down. Any chance to shoot close-ups without the hair getting into the way?


It probably won't be possible to assess from pics whether any of these attached tassels are really genuine - it may be possible to recognise later additions though. Anyway, I believe gathering as much data as possible will be a good start!

Regards,
Kai
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Old 25th May 2018, 01:30 PM   #7
kai
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Default Ladieng from Karel Sirag's collection

Submitted via email - thanks, Karel!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Karel Sirag
COLL.NR: 12-29
ORIGIN: Sumatra, Aceh.
SWORD: Gliwang. TYPE: Gliwang LadiŽng.
TOTAL LENGTH: 70 cm.
BLADE: Iron. LENGTH: 53,3 cm.
HILT: Greenish Buffalo Horn, carved. HEIGTH: 16,7 cm.
TASSEL: (probably) Horse hair, brown. LENGTH: 35 cm. (Measured from attachment to very tip.)
AGE: Old piece, could be first quarter of 19th cent.

NOTE 1: The back of the hilt is only partly carved.
NOTE 2: The hair is fastened inside the pommel cavity with a wooden plug and a metal pin. This pin can be seen on the photograph of the uncarved side of the hilt. At a later time, a light brown substance got added along the margin of the cavity.
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Old 25th May 2018, 01:31 PM   #8
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Hello Karel,

Quote:
Originally Posted by Karel Sirag
NOTE 1: The back of the hilt is only partly carved.

Yes, I've seen a more elaborately carved "show" side with quite a few hilts from the greater Aceh region.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Karel Sirag
NOTE 2: The hair is fastened inside the pommel cavity with a wooden plug and a metal pin. This pin can be seen on the photograph of the uncarved side of the hilt. At a later time, a light brown substance got added along the margin of the cavity.

The brownish (hardened) paste does indeed look like a later addition to fill the crevices around the tassel attachment, probably for cosmetic reasons (given that the metal pin is very likely to hold the wooden plug tightly enough).

The pinned construction is certainly unusual for the whole archipelago.

Regards,
Kai
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Old 25th May 2018, 05:34 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kai
This is certainly interesting and may help to narrow things down. Any chance to shoot close-ups without the hair getting into the way?


Hello Kai,

first, there was no attack intended by my comment in the other thread. When you have felt attacked I apologize!
I have a lot pictures from Rolands new treasure which I have assigned wrong as Amanremu since I agree with Roland that it is in fact a very rare Batak Pakpak landingin in my folder where you clearly can see the braiding, picture taken when still uncleaned.
Hope Roland don't mind when I post this picture.
You will agree that this let suppose that this is an original decoration. The same I can say about the gliwang from Thomas, the attachment isn't fine like by the sword from Roland but IMHO a tribal work and not a later addition for selling purpose.
And I've handled both swords in the meanwhile.

A thought come to my mind, could it be that all this pieces are of Pakpak origin? There are not many published Pakpak swords to compare so is the chance high that it was maybe not uncommon that some Pakpak warriors liked to adorn their swords with hair??
Like said before, I think we all haven't seen every sword variant and will maybe never see.

Best regards,
Detlef
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Old 27th May 2018, 08:18 AM   #10
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Hello Detlef,

Quote:
first, there was no attack intended by my comment in the other thread. When you have felt attacked I apologize!

No worries, frank communication is perfectly fine with me!


Quote:
I agree with Roland that it is in fact a very rare Batak Pakpak landingin

I have handled quite a few of these swords and just don't see it. To me the blade shape of Rolands sword does not seem to fit with typical ladingin; it clearly seems to be an amanremu/mermu (even if the tip might be a bit worn); and I don't see any features suggesting it originates from any Batak group. Let's discuss this on the thread dedicated to this sword - more close-ups would certainly be nice to see!


Quote:
You will agree that this let suppose that this is an original decoration.

Not necessarily, I'm afraid - horses and braiding hair were not exactly unknown in other parts of the world (including Europe... )

One region that springs to mind where braiding was used to attach hair decorations would be southern and central Sulawesi. On swords I'm used to see human hair while on tawara (spears) goat hair seems to had been utilized.


Quote:
The same I can say about the gliwang from Thomas, the attachment isn't fine like by the sword from Roland but IMHO a tribal work and not a later addition for selling purpose.

Just playing devil's advocate - how do you tell the difference (if made well)?


Quote:
A thought come to my mind, could it be that all this pieces are of Pakpak origin? There are not many published Pakpak swords to compare so is the chance high that it was maybe not uncommon that some Pakpak warriors liked to adorn their swords with hair??

There are a bunch of Pakpak swords around: Van Daalen & Christoffel and Volz & Christoffel were among the first Europeans to transverse the region. There is no mention of pommels with tassels in the records; and weapons were carefully studied for military reasons.

We should be careful with making up stories. None of the examples shown here does exhibit features that clearly suggest any Batak, much less Pakpak origin. All could possibly had been traded to Pakpak owners as well as to just about any other ethnic group in the northern half of Sumatra (and beyond - cp. Schmeltz). IMHO, the currently available evidence does suggest a much more northern origin of these swords though (Aceh or northern Gayo).

As already mentioned, it is possible that these tassels were modifications by some more distant ethnic groups. Let's see if we can narrow things down by details of the attachment and possibly any braiding work, etc.

Regards,
Kai
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Old 28th May 2018, 12:05 PM   #11
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I checked my Sikin if the hair was braided, but no. However, the hair was certainly separated into sections, as if the hair had once been braided, but in that case, clearly not as elaborately as on Roland's sword.

/Odd
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