Saturday, January 22, 2011

Rattan, The Pinoy Warrior's Vine

Scary looking stem of a plant? Perhaps.

This is one of the many species of rattan, a vine originally growing in the tropical regions. To date, about 600 species of this plant are known, among which, a few are known to grow in lengths of 100m. Originally called "rotan" in Malay, hundreds of uses has been developed to utilize the stem of the plant. Furniture, ornaments, keepsakes, and even weapons have been developed using rattan, and their use is ever increasing.
These tropical vines are easier to harvest than timber, easier to transport and grows faster than tress, thus making it a very attractive resource. It is an great alternative to wood furniture and for years it has been used to make the best furnishings in home or in the outdoors. Because of its flexibility to a certain extent, a lot of creativity can be exercised in the use of rattan in furniture making, particularly the rattan core. Almost all parts of the rattan can be used. The skin of rattan strands are peeled off the core and used for weaving. The remaining stems are then processed further, split into small diameters and become the basic material of rattan furniture.

Photo from Marketmanila
Some species of rattan are edible, and some bear edible fruit. Like bamboo, the shoots could be turned into delicacies. The fruit on the other hand, resembles a scaly egg and tastes sweetly sour. It is not popularly known that the fruits can be eaten, it is even rarer cultivated because of its fruits. In the Philippine markets, rattan fruits are an uncommon sight and finding one may be hard.

Aside from the mentioned usage of the tropical vine, there is one use of the rattan plant that a Pinoy warrior would definitely be interested in... martial arts. In the past decades, rattan gained popularity in its use as a tool for practice and as a weapon.

Present day practicioners of the Filipino Arts of Combat use sticks made from rattan. Delicately hardened over fire, these sticks retain the flexibility and durability to withstand multiple strong impacts. With the rise of the present day grandmasters of the Filipino arts, these "bastons" became the training material of choice for safety reasons. The choice of why rattan was used is simple. It is lightweight but strong and durable. It will break but will not shatter. It will spread into thin strands but will not splinter. It is also very much available locally. Compared to local hardwoods, it is cheaper and more practical.

Traditionally, knives and swords were used in the learning of Philippine sword arts. Restrictions by the colonists of the islands prohibited the practice of the deadly arts, therefore resorting to secrecy and seclusion. The sound of clashing metal is more inconspicuous than the sound of sticks hitting each other. Thus the rise of the popularity of the "baston." Now, it is this lowly vine that helps in the preservation of what is "sariling atin" (truly ours), the Filipino sword arts.