Talasalitaan: Kampilan

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On October - 7 - 2009

“Talasalitaan” is the Tagalog word for “vocabulary.” In these posts, we’ll spotlight Filipino terms, concepts, beings and objects which one might encounter–or use–in Speculative Fiction based in or inspired by the Philippines.

Keeping with the week’s fantasy theme, let’s start off with a few ancient Filipino weapons shall we? After all, if we’re sending an intrepid youth on a quest in a setting patterned after some region of the pre-hispanic Philippines, we can;t very well arm him (or her) with a halberd or a rapier.

The kampilan is one of the larger swords used in the pre-hispanic Philippines, primarily in Sulu and Mindanao.  Wikipedia puts the length at anywhere between 36-40 inches, but Filipino Martial Culture by Wiley gives a length of approximately forty-four inches.

The blade of the kampilan is long, single-edged and with a dual/truncated point. The carved hilt is also somewhat long, to compensate for the length of the blade, with a forked pommel styled to resemble the jaws of an animal, such as a crocodile. In “SANDATA — The Edged Weapons of the Philippines”, (by Ian A. Greaves, Jose Albovias Jr. and Federico Malibago), it’s stated that the hilt was sometimes bound to the hand by a “talismanic” piece of cloth to prevent slippage.

As for the kampilan’s use, while the kampilan can be used with one hand, it is primarily a two-handed sword, perhaps because of it’s great weight. Filipino Martial Culture states that the kampilan was often used as a headhunting weapon, while Sandata states that it was also a sword meant for show, indicating the datu’s prestige and power. A datu’s kampilan may have a hilt not of hardwood but of silver, bone, or other precious material.

One aspect of the kampilan which is noteworthy is that the scabbard is meant to be disposable: it is a breakaway scabbard made of two pieces of wood, fastened at two points by string or a vine; this is done so that the warrior need not waste any time “unsheathing” the blade–s/he can simply slash through the bindings (and his/her opponent) in one movement.

The Macao Museum of Art’s History of Steel in Eastern Asia has a few striking images of particular kampilan (as well as other Filipino weapons), though it seems most of the ones on display were of more recent vintage, dating to the 19th century. Note how it’s mentioned that any kampilan scabbards found are “rare.”

Image of the kampilan from the Macao Museum of Art’s History of Steel in Eastern Asia; alibata font used in slider image is © 1998, 2006 by Victor Ganata and released under the GNU Lesser General Public License.

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Rocket Kapre is an imprint of Eight Ray Sun Publishing Inc. (a new Philippine-based publisher), dedicated to bringing the very best of Philippine Speculative Fiction in English to a worldwide audience by means of digital distribution. More info can be found at our About section at the top of the page.