Kris, more than just a
simple dagger

Tantri Yuliandini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The man cautiously took the kris in his hand, removed it from its sheath and examined the Javanese weapon with expert eyes.

""This is an old kris, its blade shows natural wear. Judging by the luk (waviness) of the blade, this is probably one of the earlier models before the luk was fashionable,"" kris expert Bambang Harsrinuksmo said after several minutes of careful study.

Three other kris owners lined up to have their weapons examined by the expert, some of them no doubt waiting to leave their kris off for a thorough examination and a certificate of authenticity from Bambang.

Bambang, the founder and chairman of the Jakarta Keris Center, in collaboration with Javakeris.com, issued his first comprehensive kris certificate last week, authenticating a weapon owned by P. Swantoro, himself a noted kris expert.

""This is so kris will be valued at their true worth, and a new kris cannot be claimed as old,"" Bambang said.

Garrett Solyom, in his book The World of the Javanese Keris, describes the kris as long asymmetrical daggers with distinctive blade-patterning achieved through alternating laminations of iron and pamor (nickelous iron).

Indeed the intricate patterns on the blade of a kris, also called the pamor, are most often what make the blade valuable. The best pamor are made from nickelous iron from meteors, which when blended into the blade acquire a multicolored luster.

However, besides any aesthetic considerations, these blades are also valued for the quality of their make, the materials used in their production and their historical value.

The oldest kris come from what experts call the Buddha age, between the sixth and seventh centuries. There are approximately 20 periodic classifications up to the present, according to the kingdoms that commissioned the kris, each with its own distinctive markings and designs, Bambang said.

The kris is acknowledged to have originated in Indonesia. While there is a great deal of Indian influence in other Indonesian arts, this is not so in the kris, Bambang said.

And the spread of the kris to other nations such as Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia, experts say, was the result of the influence of the Majapahit kingdom in Java around the year 1492.

Although it is categorized as a weapon, the kris has more of a ceremonial function. Even today, the kris is often regarded as sacred and believed to be sakti, or to have magical powers, or tuah.

At one time, the kris was a popular heirloom in the Javanese community, and a man was not considered a real man if he did not own a kris. Even today, particularly in court families, a father is obliged to present his adult son with a kris.

A kris is believed to be able to increase bravery, help the owner avoid illness and protect the owner from misfortune and black magic. It is also thought that the kris can give riches and prosperity to the owner.

The history and tuah of a kris also determine its market value, which can reach up to Rp 900 million (about US$94,736).

Although its role in Javanese society has been greatly diminished, there is still a great deal of interest in the traditional weapon as a collector's item.

Bambang calculated the number of kris enthusiasts in the country was more than 1,000, while there were more than 500 serious collectors.

""These collectors can own thousands of kris,"" he said, adding that there are millions of old kris in circulation but only one in 10 has magical powers.

Besides the dimensions and photograph of the kris, Bambang's certificate of authenticity includes such details as the name of the kris, the type, the pamor, or type of blade decoration, the approximate age and the style of the weapon.

It also includes the kind of tuah believed to be inherent in the kris, and its approximate value.

As mentioned, the material used in the pamor also determines the value of the kris. The pamor adds color and beauty to the otherwise dull black sheen of the blade. One cannot but wonder at the amount of time and skill an expert kris maker (called an empu) spends in creating such intricate and elaborate designs of unsurpassed beauty.

Today, kris are only made in a few places in Indonesia, these being Yogyakarta and Surakarta in Central Java, Madura in East Java, Taman Mini Indonesia Indah in Jakarta and Luwu in South Sulawesi. Outside of Indonesia, smiths in Kelantan, Malaysia, and Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, also make kris.

The most famous of the kris makers still living today, and one who can trace his lineage back to the ancient kris makers, is Empu Jeno Harumbrojo, born in 1927. His father, Kyai Supowinangun, was the kris smith for the Yogyakarta court, and his lineage goes back to the legendary smiths Jokosupo and Supodriyo of the Majapahit kingdom.

The kris is basically divided into two parts, the wilah, or blade, and the warangka, or scabbard. It is the wilah that is assessed for certification, and the value of the kris does not include the warangka.

""Sometimes a kris' value becomes obscured by the value of a scabbard decorated in gold and jewels. This isn't right because the scabbard can easily be replaced, and the wilah is a separate work of art from the scabbard,"" Bambang said, adding that the artisan who worked on the wilah was often different from the one who fashioned the warangka.

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