Bronze hand cannon cetbang, found in the Brantas river, with a circular touch hole. The mouth of the cannon is on the right, while the left is where the pole is attached.
Bronze hand cannon cetbang, found in the Brantas river, with a circular touch hole. The mouth of the cannon is on the right, while the left is where the pole is attached.

The Cetbang (also known as bedil, warastra, or meriam coak) refers to cannons produced and used by the Majapahit Empire (1293–1527) and other kingdoms in the Indonesian archipelago. There are 2 main types of cetbang: the eastern-style cetbang which looks like a Chinese cannon and is loaded from the front, and the western-style cetbang which is shaped like a Turkish and Portuguese cannon, loaded from the back.[1]: 97–98 


The word "cetbang" is not found in old Javanese, it probably comes from the Chinese word chongtong (銃筒), which also influenced the Korean word 총통(chongtong).[1]: 93  The term "meriam coak" is from the Betawi language, it means "hollow cannon", referring to the breech.[2][3] It is also simply referred to as coak.[4]: 10 

Cetbang in old Javanese is known as bedil.[1][5][6] It is also called a warastra, which is synonymous with bedil.[7]: 246  Warastra is an old Javanese word, it means magic arrow, powerful arrow, awesome arrow, or superior arrow.[8]: 108, 132 

In Java, the term for cannon is called bedil,[9] but this term may refer to various types of firearms and gunpowder weapon, from small pistol to large siege guns. The term bedil comes from wedil (or wediyal) and wediluppu (or wediyuppu) in the Tamil language.[10] In its original form, these words refer to gunpowder blast and saltpeter, respectively. But after being absorbed into bedil in the Malay language, and in a number of other cultures in the archipelago, that Tamil vocabulary is used to refer to all types of weapons that use gunpowder. In Javanese and Balinese the term bedil and bedhil is known, in Sundanese the term is bedil, in Batak it is known as bodil, in Makasarese, badili, in Buginese, balili, in Dayak language, badil, in Tagalog, baril, in Bisayan, bádil, in Bikol languages, badil, and Malay people call it badel or bedil.[10][11][12]


There are 2 main types of cetbang:

Eastern-style cetbang

A cannon found from the Brantas River. Made of bronze, with a triangular embossed touch hole. The wooden parts were recently made for display.
A cannon found from the Brantas River. Made of bronze, with a triangular embossed touch hole. The wooden parts were recently made for display.

Its predecessors were brought by the Mongol-Chinese troops to Java, so they resembled Chinese cannons and hand cannons. Eastern-style cetbangs were mostly made of bronze and were front-loaded cannons. It fires arrow-like projectiles, but round bullets and co-viative projectiles[note 1] can also be used. These arrows can be solid-tipped without explosives, or with explosives and incendiary materials placed behind the tip. Near the rear, there is a combustion chamber or room, which refers to the bulging part near the rear of the gun, where the gunpowder is placed. The cetbang is mounted on a fixed mount, or as a hand cannon mounted on the end of a pole. There is a tube-like section on the back of the cannon. In the hand cannon type cetbang, this tube is used as a place to stick poles.[1]: 94  The arrow-throwing cetbang would have been useful in naval combat, especially as a weapon used against ships (mounted under the bow gun shield or apilan), and also in a siege, because of its projectile ability to explode and as incendiary material.[1]: 97 

Western-style cetbang

A double barrelled cetbang on a carriage, with swivel yoke, ca. 1522. The mouth of the cannon is in the shape of Javanese Nāga.
A double barrelled cetbang on a carriage, with swivel yoke, ca. 1522. The mouth of the cannon is in the shape of Javanese Nāga.

The Western-style cetbang was derived from the Turkish prangi cannon that came to the archipelago after 1460 AD. Just like prangi, this cetbang is a breech-loading swivel gun made of bronze or iron, firing single rounds or scatter shots (a large number of small bullets). In order to achieve a high firing rate, 5 chambers can be alternately reloaded.[1]: 94–95, 98 

For the rear-loading cetbang, the smallest may be about 60 cm long, and the largest about 2.2 m. Their calibers range from 22 mm to 70 mm.[1]: 97  They are light, mobile cannons, most of them can be carried and shot by one man,[13]: 505  but they are not used like a bazooka because the high recoil force could break human bones.[1]: 97  These gun are mounted on swivel yoke (called cagak), the spike is fitted into holes or sockets in the bulwarks of a ship or the ramparts of a fort.[14] A tiller of wood is inserted to the back of the cannon with rattan, to enable it to be trained and aimed.[13]: 505 

Cetbang can be mounted as a fixed gun, swivel gun, or placed in a wheeled carriage. Small-sized cetbang can be easily installed on small vessels called penjajap and lancaran. This gun is used as an anti-personnel weapon, not anti-ship. In this age, even to the 17th century, the Nusantaran soldiers fought on a platform called balai (see the picture of a ship below) and perform boarding actions. Loaded with scatter shots (grapeshot, case shot, or nails and stones) and fired at close range, the cetbang would have been effective at this type of fighting.[7]: 241 [15]: 162 


Majapahit era (ca. 1300–1478)

Majapahit cetbang cannon from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, from ca. 1470–1478. The Surya Majapahit emblem can be seen. The bulge at the back of the breech is actually a hole where the tiller or wooden butt  is inserted.
Majapahit cetbang cannon from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, from ca. 1470–1478. The Surya Majapahit emblem can be seen. The bulge at the back of the breech is actually a hole where the tiller or wooden butt is inserted.

Cannons were introduced to Majapahit when Kublai Khan's Chinese army under the leadership of Ike Mese sought to invade Java in 1293. History of Yuan mentioned that the Mongol used a weapon called 炮 (Pào) against Daha forces.[16]: 1–2 [17][18]: 220  This weapon is interpreted differently by researchers, it may be a trebuchet that throws thunderclap bombs, firearms, cannons, or rockets. It is possible that the gunpowder weapons carried by the Mongol-Chinese troops amounted to more than 1 type.[1]: 97 

The Majapahit Kingdom dominated the Nusantara archipelago primarily because it possessed the technology to cast and forge bronze on an early mass production basis. The Majapahit also pioneered the manufacturing and usage of gunpowder weapons on a large scale. The Majapahit Empire was one of the last major empires of the region and is considered to be one of the most powerful empires in the history of Indonesia and Southeast Asia.[citation needed] Thomas Stamford Raffles wrote in The History of Java that in 1247 saka (1325 AD), cannons have been widely used in Java especially by the Majapahit. It is recorded that the small kingdoms in Java that sought the protection of Majapahit had to hand over their cannons to the Majapahit.[19]: 106 [20]: 61  Majapahit under Mahapatih (prime minister) Gajah Mada (in office 1329–1364) utilized gunpowder technology obtained from Yuan dynasty for use in the naval fleet.[21]: 57  One of the earliest references to cannon and artillerymen in Java is from the year 1346.[22]

The use of cannons was widespread in the Majapahit navy, amongst pirates, and in neighboring kingdoms in Nusantara.[23] The neighboring kingdom of Sunda was recorded using bedil during the battle of Bubat of 1357. Kidung Sunda canto 2 verse 87-95 mentioned that the Sundanese had juru-modya ning bedil besar ing bahitra (aimer/operator of the big cannon on the ships) in the river near Bubat square. Majapahit troops situated close to the river were unlucky: The corpses could hardly be called corpses, they were maimed, torn apart in the most gruesome way, the arms and the heads were thrown away. The cannonballs were said to discharge like rain, which forced the Majapahit troops to retreat in the first part of the battle.[24]: 34, 104–105 

Ma Huan (Zheng He's translator) visited Java in 1413 and took notes about the local customs. His book, Yingya Shenlan, mentioned that cannons are fired in Javanese marriage ceremonies when the husband was escorting his new wife to the marital home to the sound of gongs, drums, and firecrackers.[7]: 245 

Because of the close maritime relations of the Nusantara archipelago with the territory of West India, after 1460 new types of gunpowder weapons entered the archipelago through Arab intermediaries. This weapon seems to be cannon and gun of Ottoman tradition, for example the prangi, which is a breech-loading swivel gun.[1]: 94–95 

Majapahit decline and the rise of Islam (1478–1600)

A galley from Banten, 4 cetbang can be seen.
A galley from Banten, 4 cetbang can be seen.

Following the decline of the Majapahit, particularly after the Regreg civil war (1404–1406),[25]: 174–175  the consequent decline in demand for gunpowder weapons caused many weapon makers and bronze-smiths to move to Brunei, Sumatra, the Malay peninsula, or the Philippines. This spread the production and usage of the cetbang, especially for protecting trade ships in the Makassar Strait from pirates. It led to the near universal use of the swivel-gun and cannons in the Nusantara archipelago.[citation needed] When the Portuguese first came to Malacca, they found a large colony of Javanese merchants under their own headmen; they were manufacturing their own cannon, which is deemed as important as sails in a ship.[26]

De Barros and Faria e Sousa mention that with the fall of Malacca (1511), Albuquerque captured 3,000 out of 8,000 artillery. Among those, 2,000 were made from brass and the rest from iron, in the style of Portuguese berço (berso). All of the artillery had its proper complement of carriages which could not be rivaled even by Portugal.[27]: 279 [28]: 22 [29]: 127–128  The cannons found were of various types: esmeril (1/4 to 1/2-pounder swivel gun,[30] probably refers to cetbang or lantaka), falconet (cast bronze swivel gun larger than the esmeril, 1 to 2-pounder,[30] probably refers to lela), medium saker (long cannon or culverin between a six and a ten-pounder, probably refers to meriam),[31][32]: 385  and bombard (short, fat, and heavy cannon).[33]: 46  The Malays also have 1 beautiful large cannon sent by the king of Calicut.[33]: 47 [28]: 22  The large number of artillery in Malacca come from various sources in the Nusantara archipelago: Pahang, Java, Brunei, Minangkabau, and Aceh.[27]: 279 [34]: 124 [35]: 30 

It needs to be noted that, despite having a lot of artillery and firearms, the weapons of Malacca were mostly and mainly purchased from the Javanese and Gujarati, where the Javanese and Gujarati were the operators of the weapons. In the early 16th century, before the Portuguese arrival, the Malays were a people lacked firearms. The Malay chronicle, Sejarah Melayu, mentioned that in 1509 they do not understand “why bullets killed”, indicating their unfamiliarity of using firearms in battle, if not in ceremony.[36]: 3  As recorded in Sejarah Melayu:

Setelah datang ke Melaka, maka bertemu, ditembaknya dengan meriam. Maka segala orang Melaka pun hairan, terkejut mendengar bunyi meriam itu. Katanya, "Bunyi apa ini, seperti guruh ini?". Maka meriam itu pun datanglah mengenai orang Melaka, ada yang putus lehernya, ada yang putus tangannya, ada yang panggal pahanya. Maka bertambahlah hairannya orang Melaka melihat fi'il bedil itu. Katanya: "Apa namanya senjata yang bulat itu maka dengan tajamnya maka ia membunuh?"
After (the Portuguese) came to Malacca, then met (each other), they shot (the city) with cannon. So all the people of Malacca were surprised, shocked to hear the sound of the cannon. They said, "What is this sound, like thunder?". Then the cannon came about the people of Malacca, some lost their necks, some lost their arms, some lost their thighs. The people of Malacca were even more astonished to see the effect of the gun. They said: "What is this weapon called that is round, yet is sharp enough to kill?" [37]: 254–255 [18]: 219 

Asia Portuguesa by Manuel de Faria y Sousa recorded a similar story, although not as spectacular as described in Sejarah Melayu.[38]: 120–121 

A Madurese galley, showing 4 cetbang.
A Madurese galley, showing 4 cetbang.

Cetbang cannons were further improved and used in the Demak Sultanate period during the Demak invasion of Portuguese Malacca (1513). During this period, the iron, for manufacturing Javanese cannons was imported from Khorasan in northern Persia. The material was known by Javanese as wesi kurasani (Khorasan iron).[39] When the Portuguese came to the archipelago, they referred to it as berço, which was also used to refer to any breech-loading swivel gun, while the Spaniards call it verso.[15]: 151 

Colonial era (1600–1945)

When the Dutch captured Makassar's fort of Somba Opu (1669), they seized 33 large and small bronze cannons, 11 cast-iron cannons, 145 base (breech-loading swivel gun) and 83 breech-loading gun chamber, 60 muskets, 23 arquebuses, 127 musket barrels, and 8483 bullets.[32]: 384 

Bronze breech-loading swivel guns, called ba'dili,[40][41] is brought by Makassan sailors on trepanging voyage to Australia. Matthew Flinders recorded the use of small cannon on board Makassan perahu off the Northern Territory in 1803.[42] Vosmaer (1839) writes that Makassan fishermen sometimes took their small cannon ashore to fortify the stockades they built near their processing camps to defend themselves against hostile Aborigines.[43] Dyer (ca. 1930) noted the use of cannon by Makassans, in particular the bronze breechloader with 2 inches (50.8 mm) bore.[44]: 64 [4]: 10 

The Americans fought Moros equipped with breech-loading swivel guns in the Philippines in 1904.[13]: 505  These guns are usually referred to as lantaka or breech-loading lantaka.[45]

Surviving examples

There are surviving examples of the cetbang at:

Cetbang are also found at:


See also


  1. ^ A type of scatter bullet - when shot it spews fire, splinters and bullets, and can also be arrows. The characteristic of this projectile is that the bullet does not cover the entire bore of the barrel. Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilisation in China, Volume 5: Chemistry and Chemical Technology, Part 7, Military Technology: The Gunpowder Epic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 9 and 220.

Similar weapons


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