Atjeh & Gajo status Rentjong – Aceh and Gayo status Rencong

In my earlier blog I already described the status weapons of the Aceh and Gayo regions of Sumatra to some extend. Here I want to show some detailed photo’s of the quality of workmanship in these status weapons! Remember the golden crowns are rare, maybe only 1 in a 100 examples have these….

Aceh rencong with golden crowns

An overview of 4 rencong, probably all 19th century pieces with the original sheaths on three of them. Short description from left to right and top to bottom:

  • Handle is made of “white” buffalo horn as opposed to the more common dark horn. Enamel of the crowns is of very high quality.
  • Handle made of Akar Bahar, root of the sea, which is very brittle and probably the rarest handle material. The back part therefore also of gold with a diamond (inten) on top. A very high status item.
  • Handle of dark horn and smooth as opposed to the first and last handle. Top of the metal also has very nice gold inlays.
  • Dark buffalo handle and the biggest size rencong of these four with some old battle damage and likely the oldest of these.

Note that the bottom two crowns have a very high quality of enamel and the top two ones hardly have any enamel.

Gayo status rencong with silver and (marine) ivory

In the Gayo region the use of silver was more common on status pieces. Also the use of marine ivory (dandan) was quite common. Also the first metal part often has an overlay in copper or suassa.

The first has an unusual size, the longest of all seven rencong in this blog. Also the combination of ivory, silver crowns and suassa overlay is remarkable. Probably of ritual meaning or very high status.

The second is a more standard Gayo status rencong with brass overlay and only ivory on the handle. Both have the typical blood groove that is more or less standard on Gayo made pieces.

The third seems to be a Aceh made piece for the Gayo region. The use of a full silver handle with suassa details and the sheath hint at Gayo use but the quality of workmanship hint at Aceh. An interesting cross cultural rencong.

Input and help in determining age and details of these rencong is more than welcome, please contact me with additional info!

Short overview of 19th Century status weapons of the Aceh and Gayo areas.

This is a translated/short version of an article I published in Wapenfeiten in Dutch in 2011!

One of my long standing collecting interests is the “Atjeh oorlog” or in English the Aceh war which lasted from 1873 (first Aceh war) to roughly 1941 (Japanese invasion of the Dutch East Indies). My main interest on the Dutch side are the medals and orders and related paperwork of the Royal Dutch East Indies Army, abbreviated as KNIL in Dutch.

Many books have been written about this war so I will not discuss the war and its backgrounds here. Instead I will discuss some status weapons and related etnographic items in his article both from the Aceh and Gayo region on Sumatra, Indonesia.

In three pictures I have tried to show the most important types of status weapons and some related contextual items.

Most of these status weapons were made before 1873 as during the war and following periods much more practical versions were made and after the 19th century production practically stopped altogether because wearing such weapons was prohibited by the Dutch colonial rulers.

Afbeelding1

On the picture above you can see two daggers of the “rentjong” or rencong type and two swords of the sikin type, The rencong and sikin can be considered the “national” weapons of the Aceh region. Of these weapons many examples can be found in Dutch collections, both private and museum. The long lasting war in that region brought a continued influx of Dutch soldiers many of whom collected local weapons and brought them home after their overseas military time.

The two sikin swords are both of the straight, panjang, type with the most common type of handle, the hulu tumpang made of buffalo horn. In this case the somewhat less found light colour of horn is used. What makes them rare and status pieces are the “crowns” between handle and blade which are made of high grade gold and embellished with enamel decorations. The use of crowns and gold in general on weapons was reserved for nobility and local leadership, including religious (Islamic) leadership. On the top you can see a double crown with a rounded top (glupa type) and on the bottom version had a triple crown with a pointed top (puco type). The wooden traditional sheath of the sikin has been inscribed with a text that translates into “This sikin belongs to Teungkoe Jat…?” The title of Teungkoe is used for Aceh nobility.

Both rencong daggers have the typical hooked handle that is called hulu meucangge. The bottom version is again made of horn but the one on top has a handle made of black coral, akar bahar, which is rare and prone to breakage.

All weapons are laid down on a typical Aceh rattan shield called peurisse.

Afbeelding2

In the photo above you can see two more sikin in the bottom part but also a different type of sword: the peudeung. This specific variation of that sword could only be used by noble men that were close to the Sultan of Aceh and is quite rare. It can be distinguished from more common versions by two features. Firstly the full metal handle is covered by woven silver, called “kabat”. Secondly the top is covered by high grade gold (another crown variation) with enamel and even rough, uncut diamonds (inten). This type of peudeung was mainly used as a symbol of status and is quite unpractical as a weapon. Also the size is very large where the Aceh men were quite small in that time.

This example comes from the (late) Jenssen collection (well known for his Krisdisk).

Afbeelding3

On the 3rd picture some material from the Gayo region that was related to Aceh but had some distinctive differences. Most material of that region was collected during the bloody 1904 expedition led by Lieutenant-Colonel Van Daalen.

What distinguishes the Gayo status pieces from that of the Aceh region is the use of silver for the crowns and suassa (gold with copper) for decorations which in Aceh was not used on sikin and rencong. The rencong on the right top has a handle made of marine ivory (dandan) and is exceptionally large, probably for ceremonial use. The bottom right rencong is totally covered by silver (similar types exist in Aceh but than in gold), embellished with enamel and some added decorations in suassa. Such pieces are very rare.

In some future blogs I want to discuss and photograph some of these pieces in more detail.

Sources:

  • Traditional Weapons of the Indonesian Archipelago, Albert G. van Zonneveld, Leiden 2001
  • Rentjongs, G. Bisseling en P. Vermeieren, Antwerpen 1988
  • Catalogus van ’s Rijks Ethnographisch Museum, Deel VI – Atjeh, Gajo- en Alaslanden, H.W. Fischer, Leiden 1912
  • Atjeh, J. Kreemer, Leiden 1922
  • De Inlandsche kunstnijverheid in Nederlandsch Indië, Deel V – de bewerking van niet edele-metalen, J.E. Jasper en Mas Pirngadie, ’s Gravenhage 1930

The original article in Dutch can be found in the Wapenfeiten magazine: wapenfeiten_2011_nr1