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Old 9th September 2021, 02:59 PM   #27
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Join Date: Dec 2004
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Hi Detlef:

The issue of laminated blades in Moro weapons, especially in the mid- and late-20th C, is an interesting one. Some of the following information comes from our forum friend xasterix who, with other Filipinos, has been researching Philippine blades for some time and has spoken with panday and others who make them.

Laminated blades were the norm during the time of Spanish occupation of the Philippines and into the early 20th C. However, with greater access to steel in various forms, the forging of blades from mono-steels and alloys became more common. These newer steels actually produced better weapons, such that mono-steel was preferred for weapons and tools. This recognition seems to have occurred fairly early in the time of the U.S. presence, around 1920 or so. As we look at Moro bladed weapons produced after this time, there is an increasing preference for mono-steel, particularly in the 1930s, during WWII, and subsequently.

The exception seems to be among "prestige" pieces with fancy hilts. Here the continued use of laminated blades may have been for aesthetic reasons or a nod to tradition. One also notices that some of these "prestige" pieces had poor quality blades, probably because they were not intended for anything more than show while in their scabbard. I have seen several examples of beautiful ivory and other precious hilts on kris with blades that would barely cut butter. There was a time, I think pre-WWII, when this became relatively common and has continued since then. That is not to say that high quality hilts with high quality blades were no longer made, but rather that not everything that looked good in the scabbard was high quality all round.

As a general observation, and by no means an absolute statement, it is customary in the last 80-90 years for Filipinos to make edged items (tools and weapons) from mono-steel when possible. In general, they cut better and break less often—mono-steel does not delaminate. Laminated blades are made either by those who could not afford or could not acquire mono-steel, or by those pursuing aesthetics and traditional cultural techniques.

Finding a laminated blade on a gunong might suggest a few things. It could mean that the blade is from before WWII when laminated blades were more common. Refitting of old blades with newer hilts is common. However, gunong were not highly regarded as weapons and redressing them with fancy hilts for what was essentially a work knife or a concealed weapon may not have made a lot of sense. If you look at examples collected by U.S. soldiers and researchers in the period 1900–1920, these knives were very plain and had simple wooden or horn hilts. Fancier versions mostly came later, and have long been an item for sale outside the culture.

Which brings us to the second reason for finding laminated blades on gunong—the "bling" factor. Laminated blades look cool, especially with fancy hilts.

A style of gunong akin to the original post, but pre-dating it in the time of first appearance, has a similar hilt with a prominent bulb in the middle, and usually a banati, bone, or ivory pommel. The "bulb" is part of the ferrule, and the ensemble is all metal. The bulb may be decorated with filigree and other metalwork. Better quality hilts have silver for the ferrule and bulb, while others have copper alloys (such as white brass/German silver, yellow brass, etc.). In shape and concept this style was clearly the precursor to the multimedia hilts, some of which have been shown here. The all-metal versions were still being made into the late 20th C, but I suspect they have not been made for the last 20 years.

There are other small Moro knives that have been dressed up in different ways. There are all metal knives and scabbards with fancy curling guards, that have been referred to as sarimanok knives. These may date back as far as the 1930s. They feature metal (usually brass) hilts and guard, often with a brass scabbard. Blades on these knives are usually wavy, very thin and poor quality. [The sarimanok is a fanciful and mystical chicken, mostly associated with Maranao folk lore.]
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