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Old 19th April 2010, 10:37 AM   #1
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Default The Philip Tom article on the Paiwan swords

The link in the forum link list to the excellent article 'Knives of the Taiwan Aborigines' by Sherrod V. Anderson & Philip Tom appears to be not yet working so I copied the article here after.

Knives of the Taiwan Aborigines

By Sherrod V. Anderson & Philip Tom

Hints of the history of a people can often be discerned as we more closely examine the weapons of their culture. These are forged and dressed with care, for not only are they a man's most constant companions, but are also his major implements for survival in a hostile world of physical challenges and supernatural threat. The blades and mountings of the knives of the Baiwan people offer many clues to a dynamic and intriguing cultural heritage.

Chinese historical records mention contact with the island of Taiwan as early as the Southern Song Dynasty, during the twelfth through thirteenth centuries. Two unsuccessful attempts to conquer the island were made du- ring the succeeding Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty, once under Kubilai Khan in 1291-2 and the other during the reign of Temur Oljeitu in 1297. Chinese immigration and settlement, chiefly of the coastal areas, proceeded during the Ming (1368-1644). The first settlers were smugglers and pirates, who were later joined by Japanese and various Europeans (it was the Portuguese who left the name Ilha Formosa, or "beautiful island"). Formosa became the base of operations for the famous Ming loyalist Zheng Chenggung (Coxinga) in the mid-17th century, and was finally conquered and annexed by the Qing Dynasty in 1683.

Chinese and Western visitors found on Formosa and the small outlying islands many groups of indigenous or aboriginal people. These were classified into separate tribes or extended kinship-groups. The number of such tribes has varied from three to twenty-three, depending on the time period and the criteria used by the classifiers. All of these peoples share a Malayo-Polynesian linguistic base, split into various dialects. These linguistic sub-groups differ according to the geographic origin of a particular migratory wave and the subsequent isolation or assimilation of the settlement over thousands of years.

For this brief consideration of edged weaponry, a division of the peoples according to their geographic placement on the island would be convenient. The main island of Formosa may be divided into Northern, Central, and Southern territories. Knives are important tools and male costume accessories in all three areas. Certain characteristics distinguish those made and used in each region. Most blades curve slightly upwards towards the tip, this feature being more prominent in the Northern and Central groups.

The knives illustrated here are of the Baiwan people, who inhabit the south-central mountains and the southern foothills of Formosa. The blades are typically straight, in marked contrast to the curved styles from more northerly areas. Their form is furthermore interesting from its marked similarity to straight, single-edged blades found in the following cultures:

* CHINA, Zhou through Song Dynasties
* KOREA, through the Koryo Dynasty
* JAPAN, Kofun through Nara periods
* TIBET & BHUTAN, to the present day

This straight blade shape, most likely a remnant of Song Chinese influence, is in marked contrast to the various curved forms encountered among the Baiwans' ethnolinguistic relatives elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

The blades are secured to the hilts via a long tang which is bent over and hammered tight against the pommel, which is usually a flat metal plate. The use of a blade tang which passes entirely through the grip in this way is the characteristic method of knife assembly in China and Europe; the bending-over of the end of the tang (as opposed to a simple "mushrooming" over the pommel) is still followed in the construction of Chinese kitchen cutlery. Again, we see a marked contrast to blade attachment systems used in the nearby Philippines and the Southeast Asian mainland. In those areas, tangs typically extend only part way into the grip. They are secured by adhesive, transverse pins, fiber lashing, metal cleats bearing on the exposed part of the blade, or by any combination of these.

An examination of the Baiwan blades show that a majority are quite short. Lengths of over two feet are exceptional. An interesting characteristic of many of them is their single bevel (having a cross-section much like the edge profile on a carpenter's chisel). Single bevels of this type are not typical of northern cultures like Japan (except on certain daggers) or China. They are most commonly associated with the mandau or headtaking knife of the Dyaks of Borneo. The case for influence from this southern region is strengthened by the fact that some Baiwan blades are slightly hollow-ground on their unbevelled sides, which is the norm on most mandau. Indeed, such linkages can also be illustrated by examination of other, more significant cultural affinities between the Dyaks and the Baiwan.

The Baiwan blades exhibit a rough and inelegant finish. Forging marks are in evidence and grinding is slipshod. However, close examination reveals that they are of lamellar construction. The ones illustrated here have a central layer of hard, high-carbon steel "sandwiched" between cheeks of softer metal. The basic style of lamination is duplicated in the Chinese qiangang, the Japanese jakan or san-mai, and in similar effects used in Mindanao, Indochina, and elsewhere. Despite their rather crude finish, the blades examined for this article appear to have been heat treated with considerable skill.

The characteristic shape of the Baiwan hilts is straight, with a slight flare towards the pommel. Scabbards are open-faced, the blade being retained in a slightly dovetailed channel which is bridged with numerous wire loops. The design of these loops resembles in some cases the shape of the thick wire embellishments to the hilts of some campilan swords of the southern Philippines. The hilt shapes and open-faced scabbards also have direct parallels in the dao or single-edged short sword of the Kachins of the Khamti Shan area of the Assam. Indeed, the Baiwan are culturally related to several of the Assam peoples.

The aesthetic appeal of the Baiwan knives lies in their hilts and scabbards. Despite the straight blades, the sheaths continue to be formed in the upward-curving tradition. Another distinguishing feature of the Baiwan style is the elaborate carving on the hilt and scabbard. The motifs include stylized serpents and human faces and figures. The designs are highly symbolic and are charged with spiritual or magical power.

The separated faces actually represent human heads, since the practice of headhunting was widespread among the Formosan tribes. Heads taken in raids were of great ritual benefit for the warrior and his village. Human figures, often highly conventionalized and joined together, are symbolic of the community of ancestors which supports and protects the living generation. A singular human form, as seen on some hilts, may signify a particular ancestral deity.

Most prominent, often incorporated as geometric patterns as well as figural designs, is the snake motif. The great totemic serpent is called vorovoboron, or "elder of snakes". It is revered as the progenitor of all Baiwan nobility, and remains as the spirit guardian of the tribe.

Copyright 1999 Seven Stars Trading Co.

Sherrod V. Anderson, MD

With great sadness we announce the passing of our friend and colleague, Dr. Anderson. Those of you who have attended tribal arts and antique arms shows on both the East and West Coasts may remember him as the congenial expert on the weaponry and applied arts of a number of Southeast Asian and Oceanic cultures. Sherrod has also contributed his expertise and even items from his own vast collection to grace the pages of the Seven Stars catalog and website.

The Doctor was fond of saying that the collecting "bug" bit him when he was but a wee lad growing up in El Paso, Texas. After medical school, he went on to live in various parts of the Pacific before settling down to raise a family in a quiet valley in Hawaii. He also made field trips along the Pacific Rim to collect and do research. His favorite fields of study were Kris handles and the war clubs of various Pacific Island cultures. His scholarship was methodical, and his collecting activities revealed superb taste and a keen eye for detail. It is a pity that the demands of his career and the toll exacted by declining health did not permit him the time to publish the fruits of his studies. Sherrod died on 23 October 1999 at his home. He is survived by his wife and two sons.

Farewell, old chap! Ye'll be sorely missed!

Seven Stars Trading Company reserves all rights to the content of this website. Specifically named authors retain the rights to their articles. Copyright 1995-2009
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Old 6th May 2010, 01:57 PM   #2
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I'm glad you posted this up yuanzhumin! If Atayal traditional blades aren't well known then the Paiwanese ones are even less well known. Hopefully I can get my hands on a quality piece someday...

"Despite their rather crude finish, the blades examined for this article appear to have been heat treated with considerable skill."

I am wondering, what is the history of aboriginal metal-working? Some say there was no metal-working before the arrival of Chinese and then Japanese... and yet there is evidence of metal working long before... were headhunting knives weapons that only appeared within the last 300-400 years? If so, how come aboriginal knives have so many similarities with Dyak and "Igorot" blades?
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Old 7th May 2010, 10:25 AM   #3
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Kukulza, I sincerely hope you'll find a quality Paiwan knife one day. They are rare and like what is rare, they have a price. The challenge is first to find one, a good one, and then to be able to finance the buying -- not an easy task !
Yes, good question concerning iron making. The iron making was known in the island long ago, but it seems that mysteriously the tradition was lost !!? Then came the barter for blades with the non aboriginal settlers ! In this case, there are more questions than answers. The question is the same with pottery making and jade crafting : these techniques were known and mastered early in the island and exported to the whole Asia and Pacific, but then they were forgotten in the island itself -- only few groups were still able to do their own pottery in the 19th cent. Most of the other groups used pottery that was passed from generation to generation or obtained through barter. Why ?
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Old 16th May 2012, 04:24 PM   #4
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Default missing picture

Fortunately, I dragged a picture from this article for my documentation, before the article disappeared.
I suppose these knives were part of his collection.
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Old 16th May 2012, 04:32 PM   #5
Jim McDougall
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Thank you so much for posting this gentlemen! While not in my particular field of study I am always grateful and impressed when any material on these most esoteric subjects is shared and preserved. I never know where my interests will go next, nor when, so thankfully such material will be at hand in such time and Im sure many others feel the same. Also it is good to see that the work and legacy of such a gentlemanly scholar is carefully saved for us.
Nicely done, thanks again,
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Old 17th August 2012, 02:48 PM   #6
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Default Some more small pictures from Anderson and Tom's article

Knives of the Taiwan Aborigines

collection of Sherrod V. Anderson &/or Philip Tom?
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