Talasalitaan: Panabas

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On October - 15 - 2009

If you’ll recall we mentioned last week that the kampilan was one of the larger swords in use in the pre-hispanic Philippines, but perhaps it was simply not imposing enough for your berserker (or perhaps “amok”) hero. In that case, don’t go around contriving a plot wherein your hero fashions a buster sword from solid rock: consider first, the panabas (pasabat).

The pasabat is a huge chopping weapon, with a forward curved blade–widest near the point–that could be  lovechild of a sword and an axe. Reaching a length of up to four feet, the sword’s name, according to Wikipedia, a shortening of the word “pang-tabas“, which means chopping tool. As such, its etymological origins are the root word tabas (“to chop off”) and the prefix pang (“used for”). Filipino Martial Culture tells us that the weapon was popular in the Malabang, Cotobato and Labuan areas of Mindanao, and was primarily used for executions. This is corroborated in Sandata, which goes on to state that the panabas was used by warriors who “mopped up” any survivors of the first-wave of an attack, and that the panabas symbolized the power and prestige of the chieftain (datu) in his ability to control violence.

In more recent times, the weapon also saw a lot of use in jungle warfare that occurred during World War II.

As with the kampilan, the Macao Museum of Art’s History of Steel in Eastern Asia has a few striking images of particular panabas (as well as other Filipino weapons).

“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.


Image of the pasabat from wikipedia; 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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