Place of Origin: TAIWAN
Date: 19th Century
Overall: 680mm (26 ¾ inches)
A unique and vibrant sword of the Paiwan, the indigenous people of Taiwan.
Undoubtedly this piece owes its remarkable aspect to its decoration, such as in the mirrored arrangement of stylised ancestor faces carved at the top and bottom of the hilt, their unpainted eyes revealing this object’s brown wooden core and so contrasting against the bold red paint that features throughout. A carved snake zig-zags between further faces along the scabbard – the unusual, almost forked end representing its head, and its menacing tail appearing just below another visage at the scabbard’s centre. This snake – more specifically known as the ‘hundred-step snake’ (species name D. acutus) – is an object of veneration in Paiwanese culture and appears frequently in their carvings. Its particular appearance here beside an imposing human head represents the former passing its power to the latter: “The power and strength, associated with the snake, is transmitted to the human it touches or reaches toward.” Such added strength would surely have been invaluable to this weapon’s original owner.
The reverse of the scabbard is open-faced, with iron bars attached in order to keep the blade securely in place – two horizontal bands are fastened across the upper third whilst another extends along the greater part of the scabbard’s length, curving towards the edge at each end. The blade is of typical form, single-edged and with an oblique tip.
Such swords are exceptionally rare, though a small group are published by the Vienna Museum für Völkerkunde, one of which similarly depicts the “Hundert-Schritt-Schlangen-Motiv” (‘the hundred-step snake motif’).
 Hueiyun Chen, “Form and Meaning in Paiwanese Art and Material Culture” (PhD thesis published August 2015), p. 97. (https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/156707973.pdf).
 Hsu (Ying-chou) & Shao-jen Hsu, Paiwan: Kunst und Kultur der Ureinwohner Taiwans, published by the Vienna Museum für Völkerkunde, 1991, p. _.