The karambit (Minangkabau language: kurambik or karambiak) is a small Southeast Asian curved knife resembling a claw. Known as kerambit in its native Indonesian language and Malay, it is called karambit in the Philippines and in most Western countries.
The karambit is believed to have originated among the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra where, according to folklore, it was inspired by the claws of tiger. 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 Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and the Philippines.
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 royal palace. European accounts tell that soldiers in Indonesia were armed with a kris at their waist or back and a spear in their hands, while the karambit 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.. The renowned Bugis warriors of Sulawesi were famous for their embrace of the karambit. Today it is one of the main weapons of silat and is commonly used in Filipino martial arts as well.
Superficially the karambit 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 karambit was and still remains an unadorned, modest farmer's implement and useful utility knife.
The karambit is held with the blade pointing downward from the bottom of the fist, usually curving forwards however occasionally backwards. While it is primarily used in a slashing or hooking motion, karambit with a finger ring are also used in a punching motion hitting the opponent with the finger ring. Some karambit are designed to be used in a hammering motion. This flexibility of striking methods is what makes it so useful in self-defense situations. The finger guard makes it difficult to disarm and allows the knife to be maneuvered in the fingers without losing one's grip.
The short Filipino karambit has found some favor in the West 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.
Karambit in Malaysian Silat
A karambit’s design set it apart from other kinds blades. More importantly, the design features provide the versatility and combative advantages karambits are known for. Every karambit shares several core identifiable parts. In order to be considered a karambit, a knife must meet the basic "anatomy" requirements.
New styles and variations of karambits pop up all the time since custom karambit knife makers prize creative designs. Functional design is just as important, if not more important, though. Some karambits look quite exotic but regardless of the precise design or appearance, these 5 features form the foundation of the karambit's anatomy:
Inside Edge (Concave Edge)
Outside Edge (Convex Edge)
Without each of the above features and parts, a knife cannot be considered a karambit. The design is simple, to the point and time-tested. Many traditional karambits, particularly southern Filipino karambits, meet only the above requirements - they lack a safety ring or other attributes commonly associated with this curved Southeast Asian blade. Modern karambits typically have at least a few (but more often all) of the following parts:
Safety Ring (Retention Ring)