A parang is all you need to survive in the jungles of Malaysia


Jam the parang tight against your knee and move the wood or bamboo to shave it to create a clump of tendrils to make a feather stick and start a fire.

Always strike green bamboo with a parang at an angle away from you. Meaning, if you are right-handed, slash to your right, away from your body.

“Green bamboo can be so tough that it can deflect a parang strike.

“Many times, I have seen people getting injured in the knee or shin when they slash at bamboo inwardly, towards their bodies.

“Their parang glance off the bamboo and strike them in their lower extremities,” said Shaik Reismann, 52, chief instructor of Malaya Junglecraft, a social enterprise that shares survival tactics in Malaysian jungles.

A wide selection of duku chandong and latok parang.A wide selection of duku chandong and latok parang.

Such accidents, he added, happen most often after people chop down a bamboo stalk and then need to trim off the fronds of leaves.

“With only a parang and some bamboo, you can survive in our jungles.

“You can make traps, cooking utensils and build a fire with bamboo, but you need to know how to use the parang properly,” he said.

Shaik’s workshops on parang skills at The Orchard in Hulu Langat, Selangor, also teaches participants how to make traps for small game like squirrels and jungle rats for sustenance with nothing but some freshly cut bamboo and a parang.

For most first-timers, the eye-opening insight on parang use is that it is hardly about slashing and chopping.

One technique is called batoning, a method of splitting wood or bamboo.

When trimming or chopping bamboo, always chop away from you.When trimming or chopping bamboo, always chop away from you.

“Balance the wood or bamboo vertically with your parang on top of it. Then hit the parang with a baton, which will usually be a stout branch,” explained Shaik.

Splitting wood for kindling is essential work in jungle survival because the regular rain in tropical jungles might make deadwood wet on the outside but inside, they are dry enough for you to make a fire.

Splitting bamboo is even more important because you can make many tools with it.

“Batoning lets us make precise and measured splits,” Shaik added.

Another cutting method that involves no movement of the parang at all is called “meraut” in Malay, which means to whittle or trim.

The method requires the user to “choke up” on the parang, meaning you hold the parang way up ahead of the handle as close as possible to the cutting edge.

Shaik Reismann (centre) and participants of his parang skills workshop with their newly made small games trap made with bamboo and some rattan.Shaik Reismann (centre) and participants of his parang skills workshop with their newly made small games trap made with bamboo and some rattan.

“Brace the parang firmly on top or at the side of your knee, then move the object to be whittled or trimmed against the parang’s edge.

“The parang is heavy and unwieldy compared with a kitchen knife. When you need to make precise cuts, it might not be easy, so it is better to keep the parang stationary and move the object to be cut,” said Shaik.

This method is essential when stripping bamboo, rattan or vines into thin strips for lashings.

It is even more effective for feathering sticks or bamboo strips.

A feather stick is a length of wood in which one end is shaved multiple times to create a cluster or clump to thin curls.

It allows damp wood to be used to start a fire when tinder is hard to find, a survival technique that is essential when everything is almost always damp under the rainforest canopy.

“Try to feather a stick by moving a heavy parang and you might shave the curls right off. It is easier to move the stick for precision whittling while keeping your parang firmly in place,” explained Shaik.

For precision slicing or whittling with a parang, brace the blade and move the object to be cut over the cutting edge.For precision slicing or whittling with a parang, brace the blade and move the object to be cut over the cutting edge.

The frequent need for a choked grip on the parang in many tasks makes Shaik favour the duku chandong and latok parang blades.

These are Sarawakian blades: the duku chandong is a design of the Iban and Dayak people, while the latok is a blade created by the Suku Bidayuh.

The defining features of these parang are three:

First, they have blunt tips. They are not meant for stabbing and the squared-off ends, which are wider than the hilt, make the blades strong enough for hacking into thick wood, almost like an axe.

Second, the blades are set at an obtuse angle against the hilt, such that when slashing or chopping with all your might, the blade will have a split second more to build momentum than the actual angle of your slash, creating more power.

And third, the several centimetres along the blade after the handle are blunt enough for you to grip the parang close to the cutting edge, and this is how the choked grip is achieved, allowing you to make precision cuts with an otherwise long and unwieldy blade meant primarily for hard slashing.

Shaik Reismann (right) demonstrating how to wear a parang with a shoulder sling and performing a cross-draw to unsheathe the blade.Shaik Reismann (right) demonstrating how to wear a parang with a shoulder sling and performing a cross-draw to unsheathe the blade.

“I joined many survival training programmes in Europe. There, the axe or hatchet is important because of their environment.

“In Malaysian jungles, what we need for survival is the parang. I also know that survivalists in temperate countries are learning to use our parang.

“Some renowned international knife makers are fashioning survival knives inspired by the duku chandong,” said Shaik, who is a qualified wilderness and austere first responder certified by an NGO called Austere and Emergency Medical International based in Wyoming, United States.

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