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The Kampilan: Story of epic sword from Forged in Fire

The Kampilan, with close-ups of the shaft and tip
An example of the Kampilan, with close-ups of its shaft and tip. Pic: filhistory.com/CC

This week’s Forged in Fire sees the bladesmiths having to create replicas of the epic Kamilan sword.

The Kampilan hails from the Philippines and is a long, single-edged tapered weapon, narrower and thicker at the bottom near the guard than it is at the top.

It is known for its size, usually measuring between 36in and 44in long which is far more than any other Filipino swords.

If handled correctly, it could slice through bone and flesh with ease.

Other distinctive characteristics of Kampilans are that they often have a small spike on the flat side of the tip, and a decorative hilt which is often made to look like the open mouth of a creature — often a mythical beast but sometimes a crocodile or lizard.

The creature usually depends on which ethnic group made it and is based on their belief systems.

Several Kampilan hilts
Examples of the hilt of the Kampilan, often representing a creature’s open mouth

The hilt, usually made of hardwood but also ivory or bone and sometimes covered with a silver sheet, is often also quite long so as to keep the blade balanced and accommodate both hands so the holder can control the weapon more easily.

In comparison to the hilt, the scabbard is usually very plain and often made of wood or bamboo with a gap where the blade sits.

This would be lashed with a plant fibre which the blade could easily cut through if the blade needed to be used at short notice while still in its scabbard.

A Kampilan with descriptions of each part
The different parts of the Kampilan sword. Pic: filhistory.com/CC

The Kampilan was often used in war and for headhunting, and was used by various ethnic groups across the Phillipines as well as in Borneo.

It’s believed that a Kampilan was used by Mactan king Datu Lapu-Lapu and his troops, who killed Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 and also defeated the Spanish.

The sword likely originated from the Moro people, but it has also been attributed to Borneo’s Dayak people.

Forged in Fire airs Tuesday at 9/8c on History. 

Julian is the editor of Monsters & Critics. He has worked as a journalist for more than ten years, previously as an editor at the... read more
Julian Cheatle

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