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The karambit or kerambit is a small hand-held, curved blade from Indonesia. Called karambit in the Philippines, it is known as a kerambit in both Indonesia and Malaysia. Occasionally it is misspelled in Western literature as "karambit".
As proven by its etymological roots, the kerambit originated in Java where, according to folklore, it was inspired by the claws of big cats. As with most weapons of the region, it was originally an agricultural implement designed to rake roots, gather threshing and plant rice. As it was weaponised, the blade became more curved to maximise cutting potential. Through Indonesia's trade network and close contact with neighbouring countries, the karambit was eventually dispersed through what are now Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand.
Culturally the karambit was a subject of condescension in Java because of its history as a weapon of the agrarian peasantry, as opposed to the kesatria (warrior class) who were trained in the keraton or palace. European accounts tell that soldiers in Indonesia were armed with a kris at their waist and a spear in their hands, while the kerambit was used as a last resort when the fighter's other weapons were lost in battle. Nevertheless it was popular among women who would tie the weapon into their hair to be used in self-defense. Even today, silat masters regard it as a feminine weapon. The renowned Bugis warriors of Sulawesi were famous for their embrace of the kerambit. Today it is one of the main weapons of silat and is commonly used in Filipino martial arts as well.
Like its Southeast Asian counterpart, the Indian bagh nakh was purportedly based on tigers' claws and is concealed in the hand. The much simpler kerambit, however, was originally only a miniature sickle, slightly larger than the traditional Javanese rice harvesting knife and has never had the brass knuckle-type projections from either the handle or the pommel, as seen in some of the present day evolutions of the blade. Superficially the kerambit also resembles the jambiyah but there is no connection. The jambiyah was always designed as a weapon and serves as a status marker, often made by skilled artisans and jewelers using precious stones and metals, whereas the kerambit was and still remains an unadorned, modest farmer's implement and useful utility knife.
The weapon is held by inserting the first finger into the hole at the top of the handle so that its blade curves forward from the bottom of the fist. It is primarily used in a slashing or hooking motion. The finger guard makes it difficult to disarm and allows the knife to be maneuvered in the fingers without losing one's grip.
Generally, the short Filipino karambit has found favor in the West with some martial artists because such proponents allege the biomechanics of the weapon allow for more powerful cutting strokes and painful "ripping" wounds, and because its usability is hypothesized as more intuitive, though there continues to be debate about this matter.
There are many regional variants of kerambit. The length of the blade, for example, could vary from one village or blacksmith to another. Some have no finger guard and some feature two blades, one on each side of the handle. Traditional Indonesian forms of kerambit include:
kerambit kuku bima: Bima's nail kerambit, endemic to West Java
kerambit kuku Hanuman: Hanuman's claw kerambit, endemic to West Java
kerambit kuku machan: tiger's claw kerambit, endemic to Sumatra, Central Java and Madura
kerambit Sumbawa: larger, sturdier kerambit made specially for battle. From the Sumba Islands
kerambit Lombok- larger, sturdier kerambit made specially for battle. From Lombok
lawi ayam: chicken's claw, created by the Minang community
Additionally, modern kerambit may have spikes or spurs on the front or rear ricasso, which may be intended for gripping clothing or horse tack, tearing flesh or for injecting a poison, such as the upas.
The modern Western interpretation of the karambit is far removed from the original agricultural tool. They may have folding blades (more dangerous to utilise in agrarian contexts) and finished to very high standard, as opposed to being rudimentary and makeshift. As they are made from expensive materials, the Western variation is beyond the financial means of most South East Asian peasants.
The West has recently found the karambit to be useful for self-defense. Most of those produced in the West for use as weapons are based on the small Filipino variety, which features a short blade and index finger ring. Both fixed blade and folding (generally single-edged) karambit are produced by a number of makers, including Mantis Knives, Emerson Knives, Strider Knives, Spyderco, Cold Steel, Craig Camerer, United Cutlery, Rich Derespina, Cutters Knife and Tool, 5.11 Tactical, Kramer Custom Knives, and Fox Cutlery.
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