South Nias belatu
Overall length

Sheathed 68.2 cm

Sword 65.8 cm

Blade length

50 cm

Blade thickness

Base 5 mm

Middle 4 mm

Widest part 3.5 mm

Blade width

Base 29 mm

Middle 28 mm

Widest part 41 mm

Weight

Sheathed 884 grams

Sword 462 grams

Point of balance

13.5 cm from hilt

Materials

Iron, wood, brass, bone, rattan, nylon

Origin

South Nias

Indonesia

Dating

Hilt & scabbard late 19th to early 20th century

Blade possibly earlier

Basket outer decoration no earlier than the late 1930s

 

Price €1350, -

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Introduction

The sword of Nias is typically called belatu, although according to Engelbertus Schröder -administrator of the island from 1904 to 1909- the locals referred to the different types with different names entirely. 

The type described here is called balatu salà in the south of the Island. The type is characterized by having a blade with a long, inward curved edge and a stepped back. Also, the elaborate pommel is more typical for the better Southern pieces and were a lot more simplistic in the north.

 

South Nias studio portrait

South Nias chiefs in war dress.
Tropenmuseum Amsterdam, accession number 60042492.

 

For more information, see my glossary article: Belatu.

 

This example

A South Nias belatu salà as worn by chiefs in the region. Probably dating from the 20th century.

The blade is possibly earlier. It has a slightly inward curving edge and a stepped spine. A blade type that goes by the name of belatu salà in south Nias, also known as Fischer type B. (See glossary article.) On this example the back side of the point section is beveled and semi-sharp. The blade is traditionally forged and has folding lines running over the length of the blade.

The hilt consists of a large wooden carving of an open mouth with large fangs, called lasara, which most likely represents the wild boar, an animal that enjoys considerable respect from the local population as it defends itself so fiercely when hunted. Others, like Schröder, insist they are stylized elephants, while some other researchers have argued it may be related to the Indian makara instead to which it indeed bears some resemblance. My hunch is it's a boar anyway because boar tusks are also a part of the war dress of Nias chiefs, see picture above.

On the back of the head sits a small monkey figure called bekhu that almost always appears on these hilts. The grip section itself is of octagonal cross-section, strengthened at the base by a brass ferrule.

The scabbard is made of two pieces of hardwood, held together by fourteen brass bands.

A rattan amulet basket is attached to the right side of the scabbard, initially held by a pin, now reinforced with metal wire as well. Its outside is adorned with pieces of bone carved in the shape of teeth. They appear to have some age but are attached with old discolored nylon fishing line, which wasn't invented until the late 1930s. 

 

 

Condition

Sword blade with some pitting and patches of rust. Hilt and scabbard in good condition, no damage or losses. As mentioned, the amulet basket is adorned with pieces of bone that are attached with nylon fishing line, mid to later 20th-century work at least on the basket decoration. (Many Nias belatu in the Ethnographic Museum in Leiden initially came with unadorned amulet baskets.) Some movement in the ferrule, but the wooden hilt is still firmly attached. See photos.

South Nias Belatu
South Nias Belatu
South Nias Belatu
South Nias Belatu
South Nias Belatu
South Nias Belatu
South Nias Belatu
South Nias Belatu
South Nias Belatu
South Nias Belatu
South Nias Belatu
South Nias Belatu
South Nias Belatu
South Nias Belatu
South Nias Belatu
South Nias Belatu
South Nias Belatu
South Nias Belatu
South Nias Belatu

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