Weapons, Shields, and Armors

In examining the function and manner of use of Philippine weapons, a lot can be divulged regarding the sociopolitical and economic contexts, as well as religious beliefs of the Philippine ethnolinguistic groups.

Long-bladed weapons, such as the kris, kampilan, and bolo, are designed to be wielded single-handedly and function as slash-and-thrust weapons. Both the kris and kampilan are used primarily by Muslim groups in Mindanao, such as the Maranao, Maguindanao, Tausug, Yakan, and Sama. They were utilized to fight against the threat of raiders, and later on, to resist against the Spaniards, who attempted to subjugate the Moros under the colonial rule. Their design for single-handed use allows the warrior to carry shields made of wood and layers of abaca (hemp) cloth with their other hand to protect the upper body. The kampilan and the kris are seen as symbols of power and status among the datus, sultans, and members of the nobility and warrior classes. Their designs, such as the naga, the mythical serpent, and the intricate okir carvings in the handle resembles variations from blades seen in neighboring polities in Southeast Asia, suggesting contacts through trade.

Bolos, on the other hand, stems from its more practical use in the household. It is used as tools in farming, hunting, food preparations, and ritual offerings and ceremonies. As a weapon, it was used by Lumad groups in Mindanao, such as the Mandaya and Bagobo in pangayaw or raiding expeditions. It was also adapted by the the Itneg, Ilongot, Ifugao, and other groups in the Cordillera in Northern Luzon. During the Spanish-American war and the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, it was used alongside firearms by Filipino soldiers and guerilla groups to wage armed resistance against foreign colonizers.

The spears, axes, and knives are also among the commonly used weapons that serve multipurpose function in acquiring subsistence and in warfare. Spears are considered longer impact weapons consisting of a wooden shaft and a woven rattan ferrule or a metal spearhead, the form of which may be flat and single-pointed at the end or barbed along the metal head. The falfeg of the Bontok or balabog in Ifugao are a single-barbed spear typically used in warfare and hunting. Spears in the Cordillera are also indications of status and animistic beliefs. The gayang of the Ifugao are used only by the members of the kadangyan or the elite class. The sinalitawan of the Bontok is believed to ward off anitos (spirits). The multi-purpose axe used by the groups in Northern Luzon was labeled as “head axe” or “battle axe” early anthropologists, thus, exoticizing them for their headhunting tradition despite the axe’s similar utilitarian function in the household.

Aside from the blades forged in metalsmithing, the lantakas, armor, and helmet made of brass are also prime examples of the rich metallurgical tradition in the Philippines. The ornate okir designs which adorn them belies the intricacy involved in this craftsmanship.

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