Language: Nias
Source: Schröder, 1917

Description

Belatu is a generic word for "knife" or "sword" in the Nias language.1

A belatu from Nias

A telögu sword from South Nias.
Sold by Mandarin Mansion in 2020.

 

A fine nias sword

balatu salà from South Nias.
Sold by Mandarin Mansion in 2022.

 

Today the word belatu is used by collectors to refer to any knife or sword from Nias, but according to Schröder, who worked on the island as a colonial administrator from 1904 to 1909, this was wrong and the locals referred to the different types with different names entirely.

 

Nias swords north and south


Left: Swords from South Nias
Right: Swords from North Nias
From Elio Modigliani; Un Viaggio a Nías 1890.

 

Types of knife / sword according to Schröder

His descriptions are a bit cryptic, but I will repeat them nonetheless. These are my direct translations from the orginal Dutch.

1. Bulu sewà (north) / balatu salà (south)
The edge is shorter than the spine and there is a bend in the transition.
(Possibly Fischer type B. See below.)

2. Tòmbà (north) / telögu (south)
The edge is much longer than the spine and transitions sharply into the spine.
(Fischer type C. See below.)

3. Gari or gari matuwà
The edge is considerably shorter than the spine. There is first a sharp bend and then a gradual transition to the point. There are two subtypies, one with a straight spine and another with a curved spine. The latter is also called sò bawa wötō, with a point like the beak of a woodpecker.
(Possibly Fischer type A. See below.)

4. Ròsō (north) / sirawi (south) / ono balatu (elsewhere)
Daggers of different sizes.

5. Rudu
A small curved saber of which the edge is longer than the spine.

6. Balatu (sebuwa) (north) / belawa (gari) (south)
A crude bulu sewà, the working knife used in the fields. Many different varieties exist.

 

Fischer typology

Fischer, writing in 1909, presents a typology of both hilts and blade shapes. He uses numbers for each type and does not provide native names for each.2

Belatu blade types

Belatu blade types. Drawing by author, after on illustration in Fischer.
The edge is emphasized for clarity.

 

Belatu hilt types

Belatu hilt types. Reproduction of the illustration in Fischer.

 

A glossary of terms

Schröder names a great deal of terms relating to Nias knives and swords in his work.I made a visual overview below using a South Nias telögu.

 

A Nias sword glossary

 

 

   

English

   

North Nias

   

South Nias

     

 

   


 

   

 

1    

Hilt

   

dànga

   

dràga

2    

Brass ferrule

   

sàngò

   

siànò

3    

Animal pommel

   

niòbawa lawölò

   

niòbawa lawölò

4    

Monkey figure

   

bekhu

   

bekhu

5    

Back of blade

   

tu'i

   

tu'i

6    

Edge of blade

   

bawà

   

bawà

7    

Ricasso

   

böna

   

böna

8    

Transition to edge

   

fusō

     
9    

Middle edge

   

dalu

   

talu

10    

Point

   

ighu

   

ighu

11    

Scabbard

   

sàèmbu

   

sàèbu

12    

Scabbard bands

   

làojo nifali

     
13    

Scabbard mouth

         

telàu dsèbu balatu

 

Production

Steel was imported into the island from China by Chinese merchants and worked locally into blades.

 

Nias forge

A Nias forge with bamboo bellows.
From Elio Modigliani; Un Viaggio a Nías 1890.

Hilts are usually made of wood, but sometimes ivory or buffalo horn was used, which was imported from nearby Sumatra.4 In rare instances, gold was used, this came primarily from the slave trade with North Sumatra.

 

 

Notes
1. Engelbertus Eliza Willem Gerards Schröder; Nias. Ethnographische, geographische en historische aanteekeningen en studiën. Brill, Leiden. 1917. Page 235.
2. Fischer, H.W.; Catalogus van 's Rijks Ethnographisch Museum, Deel IV, de Eilanden om Sumatra. E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1909. Page 39.
3. Schröder. Pages 236-239.
4. Th. C. Rappart; Het Eiland Nias en Zijne Bewoners. Bijdragen tot de taal-, land- en volkenkunde. s' Gravenhage. 1909. Page 529.

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