‘Sundang’ is the name for a traditional weapon which originates from Mindanao in the south, and the Sulu archipelago in the southwest of the Philippines. The estimated origin of the sundang can be traced back to the fifteenth century, when Mindanao and the Sulu islands were tributary states of the Javanese Majapahit Kingdom (1292–1500). In the early stage of development the sundang, it functioned primarily as a symbolic weapon, and was valued as a sacred pusaka heirloom item. Through the course of time, the sundang gained a much more practical function; it soon became a weapon used for combat, and served the purpose of a genuine pedang sword.
The sundang looks very similar to the Indonesian keris, though the latter has a much shorter blade. The average length of the blade of a sundang is approximately 54 centimeters, and usually measures around 10 centimeters at the widest point of the blade – the ganja. The majority of sundang have a straight blade; though very rarely, sundangs with a waved-blade (‘luk’) have been made as well. Some of these extremely rare sundangs can have a blade with as many as nineteen luks.
Just like the keris, a sundang is also forged from iron and steel. A sundang, however, uses a higher quantity of steel, which often results in a bright and shiny pamor pattern on the surface of the blade. Below the blade, a Philippine sundang is often also attributed with a fine piece of decoration in the form of a ring. This typical feature is named a ‘katik’, and is usually made either from bronze, brass, or a copper alloy.
From the Sulu archipelago in the southwestern Philippines, the sundang spread to distant regions, such as Brunei Darussalam, Sabah, Serawak and Peninsular Malaysia. Hence, in these regions the sundang is often more commonly known as ‘keris Sulu’. But unfortunately, the ancient tradition of sundang making seems to no longer exist in Philippine society today. In Java, however, the sundang still lives on, for local empus developed various kinds of dapur for the sundang. These Javanese ‘keris Sundang’ can have three luks (‘Suluk Balikung’, or ‘Pililiyang’), five luks (‘Api Liang’), seven, nine or even eleven luks (sundang Rantai, or ‘Jenova’).