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The Kampilan is a type of single-edged long sword from the Philippines, widely used throughout the archipelago before the arrival of European colonizers, but now mostly used only by indigenous Muslim tribes on the island of Mindanao, notably the Maguindanao and the Maranao.[1] It has a very distinct profile, with the tapered blade much broader and thinner at the point than at its base, and with the long hilt’s pommel shaped to represent an animal’s open mouth.

Among Filipino swords, the most distinguishing characterstic of the Kampilan is its size – at about 34 to 44 inches long, it is much larger than typical Filipino swords.[2] In fact, it is thought to be the longest of the traditional Filipino bladed weapons [3], though small Kampilans (sometimes called the Kampilan Bolo)[4] exist. A notable exception would be the Panabas, another Philippine long sword, of which an unusually large example could measure up to four feet (48 inches) long.[5]

The Kampilan’s laminated steel blade is single edged, and is distinguished by its tapered profile – narrowest near the hilt and gently widening until its truncated point. The blade is also notably thicker at its base and thinner at this point, which is accented by a distinctive spike. Some sources thus describe describe the Kampilan as “dual-tipped” or “double-tipped”.[2] The spike is said to be used for conveniently picking up the severed heads of the enemy, an indication of the Kampilan’s predominant use as a headhunting sword.[6]

In some cases grooves cut into the back side of the blade indicate number of lives that specific weapon has taken in battle.[6] Some older examples show a “Pamor” specific to the Arabic pattern-welding process.[1]

The hilt is quite long to counterbalance the weight and length of the blade, and is typicaly made of hardwood.[1] As with the blade, the design of the hilt’s profile is relatively consistent from blade to blade, combining to make the Kampilan an instantly recognizable, iconic, weapon.

The kampilan’s full tang disappears into a crossguard (“Sampak”), which is often decoratively carved in an Okir (geometric or flowing) pattern.[1] This protects the enemy’s weapon from sliding all the way down the blade onto bearer’s hand, and also prevents the bearer’s hand from sliding onto the blade while thrusting.

The grip itself is large enough to accommodate two hands, so that the bearer holds the sword very much like s/he would grip a baseball bat. [3]

The most distinctive design element of the hilt is the Pommel, which is shaped to represent an animal’s wide open mouth. The represented animal varies from sword to sword depending on the culture. Sometimes it is a Monitor Lizard or Crocodile[2], and more often, a mythical snake such as the “Naga” or “Bakonawa.”[3][1]

Some Kampilan have goat hair tassels attached to the hilt.[1]

A competently-forged Kampilan has a blade tough and versatile enough to hack off limbs, cut through vegetation, and even lumber, but its primary function is as a weapon, used either in small skirmishes or larger scale encounters.[3] Historical accounts say that a single baseball bat-like swinging motion with the kampilan is capable of chopping off two enemy heads at a time. It was thus widely used as a “head-hunting” sword, in small skirmishes and ambushes.[2] During larger battles, it is noted to have been carried by warriors at the first lines of defense.[3]

In popular portrayals today, the Kampilan is often shown carried by the Maginoo ruling class, particularly Datus, most notably Lapulapu. The Kampilan has thus become thought of as a mark of one’s high rank in society. Whether or not this association is historically accurate, a kampilan today is always a very valuable heirloom, the act of giving it represents the passing on of a proud warrior heritage.

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