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Old 17th April 2005, 10:01 PM   #1
Ian
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Default Unknown Thai Chopper

Picked this one up from Artzi in Timonium last month. Artzi purchased it in Bangkok years ago. I have not done anything to it and I don't think Artzi had touched it in many years -- basically "as is" from when he acquired it.

Quite a chopper with a heavy blade that has a concave cutting edge and is sharpened on the squared-off end as well. The edge shows evidence of hardening, as can be seen in the pictures. The spine of the blade has three brass or copper inlays, with filed crosses in between. Our on-the-ground sources in Thailand say that the designs on the blade's spine come from the northern area of the country, around Chiang Mai, and that they are purely decorative with no known meaning or significance (thanks to Dan Wilke for that information).

Additional inlays are found on the blade, with incised desigs that resemble vines and foliage. The inlays may be flowers or fruit in the overall design.

The handle is bamboo and has darkened from frequent handling in the past. Hard to judge its age, but seems to be at least 100 years old.

Artzi and I talked about whether this one was made primarily as a weapon or as something with a more utilitarian purpose. We agreed that the amount of work on the blade suggested far more than a "tool" and that it was probably a weapon (or possibly a ceremonial object). In any case it would deliver a nasty blow.

OAL = 29.5 inches Blade = 9.5 inches
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Last edited by Ian : 17th April 2005 at 11:00 PM.
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Old 17th April 2005, 10:55 PM   #2
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Could this be considered a mak? And could it be considered a war-mak? Of course, it's not the mak whre the gooseneck is on the shaft, but on the blade. I have seen other hooked blades, on shorter handles (like a regular farm mak) and looking very farmery and mainland SE Asian (and IDd as such) that have the end sharpened, including newish ones with forged sockets; I think in all-purpose/land-clearing tool use this allows them to be used as chisel, prybar, and shovel.
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Old 18th April 2005, 01:48 AM   #3
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There were two things at Artzi's table this year the I needed to have. Charles picked up one, this was the other.

I think this is an exceptional weapon, and would definitely include it in the mak family. I agree with Tom that this may very well be a "war" mak.

Extraordinary thing, Ian. Please do let me know if you are ever inclined to part with it. I'll give it a good home.
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Old 18th April 2005, 02:46 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andrew
There were two things at Artzi's table this year the I needed to have. Charles picked up one, this was the other.

I think this is an exceptional weapon, and would definitely include it in the mak family. I agree with Tom that this may very well be a "war" mak.

Extraordinary thing, Ian. Please do let me know if you are ever inclined to part with it. I'll give it a good home.


Hi Ian

Very nice and interesting chopper congrats! It seems to be quite a large maybe we can even say it's a Big Mak did it come with fries (sorry I couldn't resist the pun)

Lew
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Old 18th April 2005, 04:33 AM   #5
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Seems akin to a mak, although the mak is a tool/weapon of the Montagnard in Laos and Vietnam. A northern Thai provenance would place it close to Laos, so some diffusion of the style might be expected into that region of Thailand.

Andrew, whenever I part with this one, you will be its next owner.

Ian.
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Old 18th April 2005, 05:04 AM   #6
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The spine markings are identical to those found on many Montagnard dha, and the blade engravings (if not the inlay--those are quite unusual in my experience) similar to this dha of Mark's:





Northern Thai seems more and more likely for that one.

Montagnard dha spine markings:


Similar spine markings seem to appear on weapons from a wide geographic area, from China to the north right down through most of SEA.
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Old 18th April 2005, 05:08 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian
Andrew, whenever I part with this one, you will be its next owner.
.



Thanks, Ian. Do you want my shipping adress now?
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Old 18th April 2005, 08:49 AM   #8
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You may or may not be able to so tightly bound mak geo/culturally, and it largely depends on how you define "mak", as similar styles, including Arit, and ultimately parang ginah, Naga dao, pinagas, and panabas, spread out to both sides; tanged choppers.... This, however, with its backward s-curve (z-curve? ), seems like me pretty close to mak per se. The difference from the Montagnard ones seems to be in the absense of the nonsharp hook of (only) some of them (and I'm not sure that'd be on a fighting one; this machete-like parang-nabur-like rounded "Roman" slashing tip seems more practical for a weapon). As I say, a similar blade with a sharpened tip edge, though more pointily hooked, and often socketted, is often seen on mainland SE Asian farmers' tools, though I of course haven't had a lot of interest in what they call them, and so don't know....
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Old 18th April 2005, 02:48 PM   #9
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Guys this looks like an asian item listed as ceremonial on ebay right now. Yours appears to be much longer, but it is the same shape.On the current auction, there is a "sheath" of bamboo that curves, with a cut away section in the middle where the blade and shaft rest. The ends of the sheath are connected by a cord, which gives it a look reminiscient of a loosely strung bow. I have seen this, possibly in Stone's, but I don't have it in front of me at the moment. Maybe someone else will find it first.

When the auction is over I will post the item number.

-derek
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Old 18th April 2005, 02:57 PM   #10
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Default Thanks Derek

The piece you are referring to is a pisau raut or rattan knife, which we discussed on the old Forum. These are still being made -- basically they are a tool for cutting rattan.

The present chopper is considerably larger with a much more substantial blade. The pisau is a small knife and could certainly cause a nasty cut if used as a weapon, but this chopper could inflict a much heavier and potentially lethal blow. Possibly the same general idea in construction design, but the chopper is definitely a "magnum" compared with the pisau.

Ian.

Quote:
Originally Posted by derek
Guys this looks like an asian item listed as ceremonial on ebay right now. Yours appears to be much longer, but it is the same shape.On the current auction, there is a "sheath" of bamboo that curves, with a cut away section in the middle where the blade and shaft rest. The ends of the sheath are connected by a cord, which gives it a look reminiscient of a loosely strung bow. I have seen this, possibly in Stone's, but I don't have it in front of me at the moment. Maybe someone else will find it first.

When the auction is over I will post the item number.

-derek
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Old 18th April 2005, 03:04 PM   #11
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I saw several of these during my visit of the Smithsonian off-shelf collection. Unfortunately, they were just classified as "choppers," or sometimes "jungle"-something (chopper, knife, etc.). Personally I think that it is distinct from a mak, but that term is pretty broad so that is what it might be called despite it having a distinct use.

As far as it being a weapon, I think it would be pretty awkward, particularly in view of the mix-it-up style of fighting generally seen in old SEA battles. They would basically rush at each other en masse and flail away. Since this would require a lot of room to effectivly swing, it would be hard to use in this setting. It might be a calvary weapon, however, which is the mak's war-time job. Having handled this one at Timmonium, I think its handle istill s a little too long, though. I doubt that it would have been used from elephant back, as it is too simple an affair for a high noble, who were the ones who fought from elephant back. The mahout just drove (sort of -- the elephants apparently went pretty nuts once in the fray).

I am not sure where that leaves me, since the decoration would seem superfluous to a tool.
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Old 18th April 2005, 03:06 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andrew
The spine markings are identical to those found on many Montagnard dha, and the blade engravings (if not the inlay--those are quite unusual in my experience) similar to this dha of Mark's:
Northern Thai seems more and more likely for that one.

Yes, very similar markings and probably dating from about the same time. Mark's sword seems at least a hundred years old, perhaps second half of the 19th C. or earlier, and I would not be surprised if this chopper was made then.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Andrew
Montagnard dha spine markings:
Similar spine markings seem to appear on weapons from a wide geographic area, from China to the north right down through most of SEA.

Tom H. made a similar point with respect to the blade style, and the markings could be more widely distributed than simply northern Thailand and neighboring states. Perhaps the ill-defined term "hill tribe" might apply to the patterns.

Ian.
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Old 18th April 2005, 09:28 PM   #13
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Without seeing or handling it in person, my first impulse is to say the it was probably a"state" weapon, as used by guards at the gates, for example, as opposed to a general purpose melee weapon.
It's my understanding that the area was, and still is in many instances, heavily occupied by local warlords, each with their own retinue and weapons such as this would seem ideal.
The work put into it suggests more than purely decorative intent, while, like many polearms, the form likely had its beginnings as an agricultural tool.
Would not a piece such as this also be effective against horsemen?
While not something many westerners think of, the elephants were not, by far, the only animals ridden into battle in SE Asia.
Mike
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Old 18th April 2005, 11:49 PM   #14
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Default Excellent suggestions ...

Thanks Mike.

A guard's weapon seems quite plausible. It would certainly be a handsome accessory for the personal body guard of a distinguished war lord.

Not sure about the foot soldier's answer to mounted cavalry -- perhaps a little on the short side for that purpose.

Another possibility might be for rampart defense. JP gave a very nice talk at Timonium about koras, and he showed pictures of several very heavy kora used for rampart defenses. This one is nowhere close to as heavy as those brutes, but it could possibly have a similar purpose within the Thai armamentarium.

Ian.
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Old 19th April 2005, 02:49 AM   #15
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By the way, I won a pisau raut last year and when it got here it took me completely by suprise, being 20" overall with a heavy 7", razor sharp blade.
A "nasty cut" would be a major understatement.
While it's obviously not made to be a weapon, the fact that the handle curve matches and is an extension of the blade curve means it could easily remove a whole hand in a pinch!
Possibly for splitting whole palm trees?
Mike
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Old 19th April 2005, 03:24 AM   #16
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Yes, Mike, those pisau are handy-dandy work knives that would serve as a weapon in a pinch. Mainly used by women in my (limited) experience of seeing them in action. Extremely sharp as you say.

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Old 19th April 2005, 06:24 AM   #17
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Sometimes, discussions accidently seed the germ of further discussions.....while looking at the photos of the pisa raut and reading your comments about women, the similarity in blade shape, down to being sharpend on the outer edge suddenly made the lumad "women's knives" pop into mind.
With that said, I'll stop here and apologize for hijacking your thread, as that was not my intent.
Mike
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Old 19th April 2005, 12:46 PM   #18
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Question

Forgive my ignorance, is the pisau the one on the top? If so it closely resembles a dha-mauk, which has a shorter handle, but is used to cut toddy palms (to get the liquer out, from which they make ... liquer, actually. Teh long handle would help reaching the heart (growing apex), which as I understand it is where the incision is made.
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Old 19th April 2005, 08:05 PM   #19
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Default Pisau raut

Yes, Mark, the one on top with the slightly curved long handle. I have seen these used to cut rattan strips with the butt of the handle against a woman's chest, and split rattan drawn along the cutting edge, which rests on a low table or the ground, to create narrow strips for weaving, etc.
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Old 19th April 2006, 05:14 AM   #20
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http://www.culture.go.th/knowledge/...are/wicker1.htm


I 'm with Ian for the long-handle/razor-sharp knife.
I 's mainly bamboo/rattan striper. And it can be used as a utility knife too.
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Old 19th April 2006, 06:31 PM   #21
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So far, it still looks like we're not sure whether to mak war or peace with it.
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Old 5th January 2017, 08:12 AM   #22
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stumbled across this thread looking for something else. it rises from the grave.

definitely NOT a rattan splitter. except possibly by necessity.

the OP's item is a thai pra or jungle knife. like many items, this is foremost a everyday tool carried into the jungle for slashing like a machete, or chopping vegetation, or general use. this particular one was used extensively over many years to clear encroaching vegetation in a thai villagers garden. i liberated it from him after he retired it. i'm assuming he uses power tools now . sharp on the inside of the curve. also somewhat decorated blade. decorations look very much like the OP's blade except no brass slug. also a handy weapon if needed. mine is below. hardwood haft. edge faces down. probably comes from aranyik, have seen others almost exactly like it for sale from there. they call it something more specific than a pra, a generic term, i gather.

the mak is a bit different, tool and weapon, and rather odd and clumsy, they have a certain charm. mine, also below the pra, is set in a bamboo haft's root ball, which was grown curved back on itself. they were used in SE asia as pole arms by infantry and cavalry, as well as villager tools and self defence. i seem to recall getting this one on ebay...edge also faces down, and is well behind the haft line, making strikes a bit unusual.

both are just under 3 ft. pic of my wall next to my PC for scale.
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Old 5th January 2017, 04:19 PM   #23
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Wayne:

Thanks for bringing up this old thread. I've often wondered exactly what the item in the OP was called and used for. Now we have an answer.

As far as rattan splitting, that action was in reference to the long handled knife pictures from Conogre, not the item in the OP. As you can see, PUFF confirmed that use based on his experience as a native Thai from the area.

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