Federico's Moro Swords

Some of the Major Weapons of the Moros

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The kris is undoubtedly the most famous of Moro weapons. Variations of this distinct sword are found in every Moro tribe. Besides being a superbly balanced and effective weapon, the kris was also a key symbol of a man's status/rank in society, as well as often bearing strong talismanic properties as an anting-anting (talisman/amulet). The kris was a key part of the everyday wear of a man's dress, and it was often felt that to be without a bladed weapon was akin to being naked (a sentiment shared by many native groups in the Philippines). This custom often conflicted with later attempts by colonial invaders to disarm Moro society and led to many unfortunate conflicts.

Moro kris

The kris blade is defined as one that is wide on the base and double-edged. It is capable of delivering both chopping and slicing cuts. While many assume the traditional form of the kris is the fully wavy blade, the half-waved half-straight, as well as the fully straight blades, are equally if not more common, as straight blades were more practical in combat. The waves in older kris were fewer in number and of deeper/wider distribution, however as time passed waves started becoming tighter and more frequent in placement. Kris blades with many waves demanded excellent skill in use since if cuts were improperly made they would merely bounce off target or worse become stuck in the bone of an enemy. However it is said that a higher number of waves increased a kris's potency as a talismanic object. Often one can find as a testament to their usage as talismanic objects, totemic like engravings (often filled with an inlay of brass, silver, or nickel) on the blade, generally in okir (jungle motifs such as tree and leaf) designs, but occasionally one will find Islamic script instead. Many kris blades are also forged with meticulously crafted fullers, ranging from a complex webbing of multiple full-length fullers, to a single elegant fuller running down the latter third of the blade approaching the tip. Near the gangya (guard) on some kris, are ceremonial spear/arrow head like incisions that have been carved into the blade. Unlike their Malay cousins, Moro kris are primarily cutting swords, and generally were not used as thrusting blades like the Malay dagger keris. This is evidenced by the rounded state of many kris points. Moro kris blades generally range in size from 18-26 inches, though as with all Moro weapons there are exceptions. Generally however, the larger blades are found on later pieces, while the oldest Moro Kris tend to be of smaller stature. Damascene patterning is sometimes evident though often not as controlled as seen in the complex pattern welding of the smaller Malay Keris. However, just because no pattern is immediately seen, it must not be assumed that none exist. Since many Moro kris were taken by American's as exotic souvenirs, and in order to "enhance" their appeal to the American aesthetic of what a sword should be (mostly influenced by Hollywood), many kris were polished by their foreign owners on a buffer till the original pattern disappeared, and all that was left was a shiny piece of steel. In some extreme cases, one can even find kris blades that have been chrome plated.

The gangya (guard) of a kris blade is made in such a manner that their lines flow very elegantly into the blade, never interrupting in continuity from transition from gangya proper to blade. Antique kris (kris made before 1930) were made with a separate gangya (guard) like their Malay cousins, while more modern made kris lack this feature and have gangya that are in fact integral to the blade. Some newer kris do have an engraved line to simulate the appearance of a separate gangya, but when inspected closely it is evident that this is only a cosmetic engraved line, and not a true separate gangya. However, it must be noted that often the fit of the guard on older kris is so good, and combined with age/corrosion, often the demarcation line that would indicate a separate gangya is not visible without first re-etching the blade. Kris made before the early 19th century featured a gangya that met the blade proper in a straight line. However, at some point near the early 19th century, gangya started to be made with a distinct 45-degree angle near the terminus. Opposite the hook-like fretwork on the gangya, exists a curved cavity. It has been suggested that this cavity is representative of the trunk of an elephant, others contend that it is the mouth of the naga (serpent) with the blade being the tail, and still others contend that it is in fact the open mouth of an eagle.

Modern tourist kris blades can be distinguished by a number of features that once identified are quite easy to spot. Perhaps the easiest to identify feature of a modern tourist/fake kris blade are the shaping of the waves. Traditional kris feature gracefully undulating waves that are forged deep into the blade to penetrate straight to the centerline of the blade. Tourist kris, on the other hand, feature shallow angular waves, that appear to be cut out of the steel rather than forged into the blade. Also, in order to stand to the rigors of combat, traditional kris are quite thick at the gangya, often approaching half an inch in thickness. However, to maintain its balance, traditional kris distally tapers becoming thinner near the tip. Tourist kris, generally are made of much thinner material, and are of uniform thickness lacking distal taper. This leads to the flimsy and unwieldy nature of many tourist kris.

The hilt of kris are either straight or slightly curved (most common on cockatua pommel hilts). Pommel variations are many, however the most common are the horse-hoof (the most distinctive variation coming from the Sulu Sultanate) and the cockatua. Commonly the pommel is made of beautiful hardwood burl (such as banati) with the hilt being wrapped in a lacquered natural fiber (such as jute). However on higher end kris, belonging to the upper class, the pommel would be made of such exotic materials as ivory, silver plating, solid brass, etc... with hilts often lavishly bound with silver or swasaa (an alloyed mixture of gold similar to red-gold) bands frequently with braided silver wire interspersing the chased bands. Large junggayan (a Sulu term denoting the elongated style, though elongated styles can be found all over Moro-land) and Danangan (literally meaning decorative, but used most commonly to describe the large embellished cockatuas) style cockatuas appeared in the 19th century, while older kris pommels sported medium to small cockatuas. The oldest krises are found with hilts of a much diminutive stature, with the cockatua versions retaining only vestigial elements of a crest. The axis of the hilt (whether straight or curved) is always at an angle to conform the blade angle, when properly held with the guard up, to the arc of a circle. Thereby the angle of the blade when swung conforms to the cutting arc of the wielder maximizing the cutting potential of the blade.

kris Angle

Kris Shown Against Straight Axis for reference

The Moro kris scabbard shares many common characteristics with their Malay cousins, but are unique in their own style and form. Scabbards tended to be made of wide grain native hardwoods (eg. mahogany, teak, nara, etc...), and lashed together with rattan bindings. Sometimes the cross-piece is a separate piece, with the tail-piece socketed in, but quite often the cross-piece and tail are made of one board. Older scabbards feature wider rattan lashings, and normally only cover small sections (eg. bottom 1/3, 4 inch bands, etc…) of the scabbard. However sometime near WWII, scabbards began to be fully wrapped with thinner lashings. Also it is in this time period that the use of mother of pearl inlays on the cross piece and tips of scabbards, as well as the pommels of kris, begin to appear. For higher end kris (belonging to those of high rank) more exotic materials were used for scabbard construction. Often the scabbards of the nobility were bound with exquisitely chased and repoussed silver or swaasa bands, instead of the rattan bindings found on more common scabbards. Sometimes these bands were so numerous, and socketed in such a fashion as to cover the entire wood core thereby giving the appearance of a scabbard that is entirely crafted out of precious metals. One can even find on such high end scabbards such opulent features as cross-pieces crafted entirely of ivory, horn, bunti, etc…


Moro Barong

The barong is the favored weapon of the people of the Sultunate of Sulu. This single edged, leaf shaped blade is an amazingly effective slicer and despite its diminutive size it has been known to have the ability to cleave a man in two. The blade tends to be thick and heavy with the weight aiding in the slicing capability of this sword. Barong blade lengths tend to range from 8-22 inches (with newer blades tending to be the larger 18-22" range) however like all Moro swords there are exceptions. Damascene patterns are also sometimes evident but again most often not as controlled as the more widely known Malay keris. Some barong blades were made by Chinese smiths (due to the similarity in style to certain Chinese cleavers) for import into the Sulu sultanate. These blades tended to be of excellent quality and often feature Chinese characters stamped into the forte. While generally barong blades sported a flat grind to the spine with a slight convexity near the edge, some (most commonly Chinese made blades) do sport convex grinds. Some rare blades featured what would appear to be a swollen edge that extended into the blade for about half an inch from the edge. Finally there is also the barong blade style which sports a spine with a false edge that tends to extend 1/3 of the length of the blade from the tip. This is one of the most rare barong blade styles.

The most common pommel motif is the cockatua (though there are exceptions such as the naga/serpent motif), with a long metal ferrule (commonly made of silver, though copper, brass, swaasa, and on particularly on WWII era barongs aluminum is found) that tend to be around 3" in length (though Yakan barongs tend to have a small ferrule of about half an inch in size, and have cockatuas that resemble those as found on the pira hilt). Often the ferrule will have lacquered braided natural fiber rings to aid in grip. Sometimes these fiber rings were on top of the ferrule, but often what would appear to be a solid metal ferrule would in fact be a number of metal bands that alternate between the fiber bands. Cockatuas tended to be made of banati, however on higher end barongs belonging to those of the upper classes rarer materials such as ivory, carabao horn, kamagong (Philippine ebony),etc... were used. Higher end barongs belonging to the upper classes often had large elaborately carved junggayan (elongated) cockatuas. Barongs for the lower classes, and ones meant primarily for fighting have less elaborate cockatuas of much smaller sizes, often featuring de-emphasized crests or beaks (and on fighting versions mere vestigial elements of the crest and beak motifs). At some point near WWII, cockatua forms changed. Crests became more triangular, and began to emerge directly from the back of the pommel, whereas older cockatua had crests that flowed from the butt-plain of the pommel. Also beaks started to become more massive, and rectangular in form. Of particular note are barongs used by juromentados (those who had taken the rite of Magsabil), often they would sport smaller blades with normal size hilts. These barongs are often mistaken as children's weapons, but are in fact meant for adults.

Barong scabbards tend to be made of to wide grained hardwood boards that are lashed together with rattan. Older barong scabbards tended only to be partially wrapped with large rattan lashings, while newer barong scabbards sport a full wrap of thin rattan. Also, the scabbards of older barongs featured thinner flat boards, where-as post WWII barong scabbards are of much thicker stock, and feature a central ridge line. The terminus on modern-made scabbards tends to turn upward to a more dramatic degree, often at a near 90-degree angle, and feature squared tips. As with kris scabbards of the post WWII era, mother of pearl inlays begin to appear at the throat and tips of barong scabbards as well.


Moro kampilan

The kampilan is the weapon most favored by the warriors of Mindanao. This large single edged blade is considerably noted for its fearsome look and at total lengths ranging up to 40 inches it is the largest Moro sword. It also is notably the only true two-handed sword of Philippine origin. The kampilan were truly a war sword, and every well-stocked Mindanao arsenal had a number at the ready for battle. While in many court photos, one often sees kampilan bearers, it is alluded that the kampilan was not a weapon of common carry (like the kris, barong, or pira), but rather one of the campaign and court. As such, the kampilan was representative of a Datu/Rulers prestige/power in as much as it was a physical representation of the Datu/Ruler's ability to control violence either positively or negatively.

Related to the parang the kampilan blade is quickly identified by its distinctive taper, narrow at the forte, and gradually swelling in width to the tip, giving the blade profile an almost trapezoidal appearance. The kampilan blade often features damascene patterning. There are many variations to the kampilan tip. Some kampilan blades sport a spikelet at the tip, but it must be noted that not all kampilan have this spikelet. Some were never made with the spikelet, but on certain pieces often due to the fragility of the spikelet, upon close inspection, it is discovered that it has in fact broken off. Some say that the spikelet is purely ceremonial/decorative, but others assert that it serves as a key distraction when countering an enemy blow thereby allowing an effective un-impeded counter cut. Often one will find kampilan blades with decorative holes near the tip. Quite often these holes are filled with brass. Rarer still, some kampilan tips feature kris like fretwork. Some kampilan blades also featured engraved blades, with heavily engraved blades appearing near the late 1800s to early 1900s. It is speculated that these kampilans are perhaps early attempts at creating tourist blades, as the intricate engraving would not be typically be visible as status markers, as it would be a severe cultural faux paux to bare an un-sheathed blade in court, or generally in a non-war related situation.

The hilt form is quite large thereby extended as a counter balance to the large blade. The kampilan hilt is generally bifurcated in what some say is symbolic of the open jaws of a crocodile. However, others assert that this motif is representative of the tail of the swiftlet (a bird common to the area that produce edible nests that are highly valued in Chinese cuisine). There do exist other variants, beyond the common bifurcated hilt. The kampilan hilt can be used single-handed but when necessary the wielder is able to use the sword in a two-handed fashion. It must be noted that traditionally the hilt was bound to the hand of the wielder to prevent slippage. The lashings used to bind the weapon were called munsala, and sometimes served as anting-anting as well. However, munsala were not always used for binding a weapon to the hand, and were often decorative or attached primarily for talismanic purposes. Also often there existed a mail, gauntlet like covering that was attached to the hilt during battle via metal staples that covered the hand of the wielder. However, since these metal staples and gauntlets often covered the okir carving on the hilt, they were often removed when not in ready for battle. Kampilan hilts were made of various native hardwoods such as kamagong (Philippine Ebony), but some extremely high end kampilan hilts were completely silver plated, or made of such rare materials such as ivory or bone. br>
Kampilan scabbards tended to be very simple. Often when going to battle scabbards would not even be used. However traditionally the scabbard tended to be of two pieces of native hardwood that was held together by a thin natural fiber string or rattan lashing, thereby allowing the scabbard to be cut through in case of emergency. Also there existed a "travel" scabbard made of tubular reed. Some scabbards featured a handle, which allowed the scabbard to be used as a make shift shield if necessary.


Moro panabas

The Panabas (also known as Tabas) is a chopping weapon favored by the moros of Mindanao. Panabases range in size from 2 to 4 feet. While probably originally an agricultural tool, this weapon soon gained its place as a weapon of war similar to the western battle axe. This wicked weapon can deliver horrible cleaver like blows, and was sometimes used as an execution weapon. As an weapon of execution, like the kampilan, the panabas also came to represent a Datu/Ruler's power/prestige in relation to his ability to control violence. Also, like the kampilan, the panabas was not a weapon of common carry, but rather a weapon devoted either to court/ceremony/execution, or the campaign. It is sometimes said that the warriors wielding the panabas would follow the main group of warriors, summarily mopping up any survivors of the first wave of attack. The panabas blade often features damascene patterning. On the spines of some panabas one will find decorative file work. Panabas hilts were often wrapped in rattan bindings, though some featured no wrap, or had metal collars.


Moro Pira

The Pira has a thick falchion shaped single edged curved blade. The handle normally has an upcurving horn, and is often made of various native hardwoods or horn. However like all Moro swords there are exceptions. Primarily a fighting weapon it is favored by those within the Sulu Sultanate, particularly the Yakan. However more modern piras have evolved into a plainer work oriented blade, with a simple hilt lacking the decorative horn. The blade often features damascene patterning. Scabbards are often similar to barong scabbards at the top with a flat rectangular bottom, and are often wrapped in rattan bindings.


It is said by some that the spear was the primary weapon of a Moro Warrior, with some warriors having the ability to loft multiple spears at a time thereby confusing/scattering the enemy. Spears were kept in excellent condition (in excellent polish and keeness of edge), and were prized implements in a Moro Warrior's arsenal. Spears/lances were used for war, hunting, and fishing. Generally war spears were not used for hunting/fishing, and featured shorter shafts and larger heads. Lance heads tended to be made of high-quality pattern-welded steel (though some were made of bamboo, particularly those found in the extreme past), and had iron and/or brass ferrules. Some feature metal butt caps as well. They were often mounted on hardwood shafts or bamboo. Many spear-head variants existed, from the curvy kris to straight fullered/panelled heads. Spear head lengths can range between 5-24 inches. Again there are exceptions.




Little has been written about the gunong. However with its dubious place in the modern tourist market it tends to be one of the most prolific of Moro Swords floating in today's market, and invariably often is the first taste of Moro Weaponry for the beginning collector.

The gunong is also commonly known as Punal, or Punal de Kris. This name is more often associated with pieces that are from Mindanao, where Spanish influence/interaction (as seen in their presence in Zamboanga, and at differing times Northern Mindanao), particularly on the Maguindanao Sultanate, was much more significant compared to the Sulu sultanate. Such influences on vocabulary can be seen in other Spanish loan words such as the title of Kapitan Luwat, versus the pre Spanish Raja Luwat.

Gunongs are often considered to be the dagger version of the Moro kris. With blades that often bare strong resemblance to their larger Moro Kris sword relatives. While many gunong blades are found as double edged either straight or wavy, there also exist gunong blade variants that are single edged, often with more crescent like blade shapes. It is unclear in this authors current level of research whether this is just a variant in blade form of the gunong proper, but it has been suggested that this blade form constitutes a different weapon in of in itself. It is possible that the true answer may be lost to the sands of time. What is clear though, gunong blades, while often resembling kris, lack many features normally associated with the kris blade, such as the presence of a gangya, and in the case of the single edged blades the tapering blade profile intrinsic to the kris form.

Gunong hilts are what distinguish gunongs most from other Moro weapons. Many associate the bulbous pistol grip style pommel, which is often at extreme near right angles to the hilt proper, as being the traditional gunong hilt. However, truly old gunongs feature a straighter hilt, as can be seen in the related picture of old gunongs. At some point between the turn of the century and the 1930s, gunong hilts gradually changed into the more familiar pistol grip. In this time period as well, gunongs start to appear made with much more extravagant fittings and materials. These newer gunongs often featuring beautifully chased bands on their scabbards, with conspicuous Western style belt clips on the top most band. Also, guards start to appear with more frequency, as well as hilts featuring socketed bulbed ferrules that connect to the bulbous pommel.

As to why these changes started to occur are left to speculation. However, there are many factors that may have influenced these changes. First let us gain some background on the usage and intention of the gunong. Gunongs were often worn in the back of the sash, or were hidden in various spots on a person, such as the turban. They were daggers of last minute defense (similar to the Western Boot knife), as well as daggers for common utility. It has been reported in period documents that gunongs were often carried by both sexes, young and old. As such, in daily interaction with the newly colonial aspiring Americans, it is not surprising that gunongs would be commonly exchanged as souvenirs. With the fledgling tourist market, demand for gaudier gunongs would most likely have grown, and given their relatively small size the gunong is ideally suited for both the maker and the tourist for quick and easy manufacture and purchase. Another factor could be as American influence grew in Moroland, US colonial restrictions on the carry of traditional weapons, such as the kris or barong, left a gap in the daily attire of a native population whose culture required the daily wear of bladed weaponry. A gap, that the less menacing gunong, could easily fill, thereby existing as an in-offensive item of dress to the colonial fears of the US colonial powers. However, these are only possible factors in the evolution of the gunong. They are by no means definitive, and remain only speculative.

As to identifying the age of newer gunongs, one must rely on looking at such logical identifying features such as material usage, construction method, etc… The usage of German silver, and aluminum become much more prevalent, like with many Moro swords, after WWII. One piece construction of ferrules and other fittings, versus soldering, also becomes more prevalent after WWII as metal tubing becomes more common in the area in such dubious forms as shell casings. With kris variants one must look at the shape of the luks. Like their larger sword counterparts, more modern tourist gunong blades have much more angular luks. Thinner blades, are also more common on newer pieces. Also newer gunongs tend to be much larger than older pieces, with some pieces verging on sword like proportions. This author personally owns a modern tourist gunong that is over 2 ft in size. Ironically, some of the best Moro chasing/repousse this author has seen have been on newer, often tourist gunongs. Often these newer gunongs also feature either an inlay down the blade consisting of copper, brass, or nickel. It is my personal feeling that many of the newer gunongs are prime examples of Moro craftsmanship, and should be cherished as highly as their plainer older counterparts. However one must take caution to consider these more modern pieces for what they are, modern expressions of traditional art, and if the term applies, sometimes a tourist pieces.