Philippine Spears: Design and Uses

By | 2018-05-08T00:33:19+00:00 February 2nd, 2011|FMA Corner|

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“Sibat,” is the general Filipino term for spear. “Sibat” is a noun while “sibatin,” which means “to spear” is a verb. The weapon is also known by other names considering the number of dialects spoken in the country.

Just like in other cultures of the world, the spear is one of the Filipinos’ oldest weapons used in warfare and hunting. Its use by native warriors was recorded by Spaniard and American chroniclers alike.

The spear was considered by many as the “king of hand held weapons” because of its formidable reach. In the Philippines, it could be observed that the spears of the highland tribes of northern Luzon are generally shorter than those used by Muslim tribes at the southern tip of the archipelago.

The Filipinos’ combative use of the spear is less flamboyant compared to the methods of Chinese and Japanese martial arts.

The most potent attribute of the spear is that it can function both as a close quarter weapon and a missile weapon. In close quarter combat, the various parts of the spear could be used for either offense or defense; the point can stab and rip through flesh while the shaft can block attacks or inflict blunt trauma.

Thrown at an opponent, the spear is a fearsome projectile. Cold Steel’s head honcho Lynn Thompson, in his article “King of Weapons – The Spear,” wrote, “A good sharp spear, measuring 6 feet in length and weighing 2 lbs. or more, can easily be stabbed through the toughest hide to create a wound channel two feet long by three inches wide.”

Antonio Pigafetta, who witnessed the death of Ferdinand Magellan while battling the native army of LapuLapu described in his chronicles the types of spears used by the ancient Filipinos, he wrote, “They replied that if we had lances they had lances of bamboo and stakes hardened with fire.” These types of spears were still utilized by Katipuneros during the Philippine Revolution and Filipino bolo men of the Second World War.

While pointed bamboo (buho) and fire hardened wood were the most common material used for spears in the Philippines, the forging of steel blades has been a long tradition among the Igorots of northern Luzon. The Igorots have special spear blades for fighting, hunting, slaughtering an animal and ceremonial practices. On the latter, Paul Kekai Manansala in “Quests of the Dragon and Bird Clan,” noted, “In the Philippines, ceremonial spears are used to frighten away malevolent anitos or spirits from the land of the dead.”

The datus of pre-colonial Philippines were also believed to possess arcane powers and a spear is among the magical objects that he may own, “Panlus was a spear or G-string which cause leg pains or swelling in the victim as soon as he stepped over it,” wrote William Henry Scott in “Barangay: Sixteenth-Century Philippine Culture and Society.”

Deadly on human and game

Fay-Cooper Cole, author of “The Tinguian: Social, Religious, and Economic Life of a Philippine Tribe,” describes the spear of the northern highland tribes, which is deadly for both human and game, “A considerable part of these are made in the villages along the upper reaches of the Buklok river and in Balbalasang, but many come into Abra through trade with the Igorot and Kalinga.

They are used for hunting and fighting, and are intended both as thrusting and throwing weapons. In the lowlands the older type of spear-head is a modified leaf shape, attached to a ferrule which slips over the shaft. In the mountains, heads with two or more barbs are set into the handles, and are held in place by means of wooden wedges and by metal rings which surround the ends of the shafts.

A metal end or shoe covers the butt end of the weapon, thus converting it into an excellent staff for mountain climbing. Occasionally a hunting spear is fitted with a detachable head, which will pull out of the socket when an animal is struck. The shaft is attached to the point by means of a heavy line, and as this drags through the undergrowth, it becomes entangled and thus delays the flight of the game.”

The Bagobos, a pagan tribe in Mindanao, have a similar version of the Igorot spear with detachable head called “kalawat,” Cole, in another book, “The Wild Tribes of Davao District, Mindanao,” wrote, “For this purpose the ordinary lance is often used, but a more effective weapon is the spear known as kaláwat.

In this, the metal head fits loosely into a long shaft to which it is attached by a rope. As soon as the weapon enters the body of the animal the head pulls out of the shaft, and this trails behind until it becomes entangled in the undergrowth, thus putting the game at the mercy of the hunter.”

On the other hand, the infamous Balangingi pirates of southern Philippines have a special kind of spear used in recapturing escaping captives. In his book “The Sulu Zone 1768-1898, The Dynamics of External Trade, Slavery, and Ethnicity in the Transformation of a Southeast Asian Maritime Trade,” James Francis Warren wrote of the Balangingi’s prowess in using this weapon, it reads, “To deter captives from leaping overboard, the Balangingi had a supply of long barbed bamboo spears ready to throw on an instant’s notice.

They were capable of throwing one of these pronged spears accurately up to thirty yards, and captives hit by one of them were easily recaptured.”

Besides capturing man or animal, another reason for attaching cords to spears is for sure retrieval of the weapon after it was thrown. It is the practice of some Filipino tribes of yore to adorn their spears with precious materials hence the pressing concern of reclaiming the weapon after it was hurled at a target.

Bagobo spears including one with detachable head (from Faye-Cooper Cole’s book “The Wild Tribes of Davao District, Mindanao”).