The keris is more than just wood, metal, ivory, gold, silver etc. etc. which is true in many ways. Not made for just the warriors alone, all levels of people uses it, like a farmer, fisherman, judge, teacher, dancer etc. men and women, young and old. Although it has to function as a stabbing weapon, the stressed on the many other more significant roles of a keris is important in realizing that it’s is not merely a weapon.
When does one commission a keris for oneself? It starts from the duty of a father to commission a keris for his children (if affordable) upon puberty. This is not to encourage the child to fight, but more to instill unto him his first responsibilities in life, at the same time learn the traditions and ways of owning a keris. It is transitional period of becoming a man, where he is “incomplete” without his keris.
The father will meet a keris smith, or Empu, and informs him of the son’s personality; i.e temperamental or timid, playful or silent, mischievous or strict, friendly or a loner, whether he’s showing any ambitions, what are his likes and dislikes, how is his working life, has he any status in society, whether he is homely or not………. questions that DO NOT consider the weaponry aspects of the keris.
Only the physical size of the person will affect the size of the keris.
The empu will then make a keris according to the personality and lifestyle of the person at that particular time of his life. A person will not have only one keris throughout his life. The usually time is when he is getting married (normal at age 18 or 19 in the early days), and he will meet an Empu and commission a keris. That does not stops there too. If he is being sent away on duty or work, he can commission a keris for that purpose. A farmer who just obtained a land for cultivation can commission a keris for his endeavors.
A businessman going into a new business venture can do the same. The main factor here is that whenever there is a change in your lifestyles and eventually the personality, that’s the time to consider having a keris. A person with high ambitions will look for the “right” Empu to make a “super’ keris for him, but not necessarily the Empu will abide. He may just ignore if the intentions are not in accord. With this understanding, one can understand why the endless varieties are seen in kerises, for each one reflects a certain personality AND at that particular point of time in his life. It is not a question of what you want in your keris, but what features are suitable for your present needs.
Eventually, a grandfather with maybe more than dozen grandchildren would have maybe 3 or 4 maybe more kerises in his possession, each showing his past lifestyle and personality. The next important step is to hand down the heirloom to the correct person. The “lucky” sibling who he sees fit to hand down the keris to would have to reflect to him the way that he was when he was younger.
To understand the concept or mindset of mysticism in kerises, one has to understand that it is more like a “tool” or more alive like a “pet” that you bring along with you wherever you go to “protect” you and “warn” you or make you “conspicuous” or be bold, wise, popular etc.etc.
But do note that the keris also has to function as a weapon to defend yourself with in times of needs.
It is also to note that during warfare, it is not logical for an army to be equipped with just the keris. Weapons for warfare includes the klewang, golok, parang, lembing, tombak, panah etc. other longer and more practical long swords or spears. This is held in one hand with the other hand usually holding a shield or “perisai”. The keris is brought to the battle field also, but worn at the back (so as not to hinder movements) more as a spiritual motivation or protection and used only after other weapons are not in hand.
With the above understanding, the next is to go deeper into the physical aspects of making the blade. From the beginning till the end:- it’s a detailed and tedious process that when one understands deeper, one will truly be able to appreciate better. Understanding the different type of metals, how they are obtained naturally and how to prepare these metals even before starting.
The tools and equipments if not having the correct one, will surely reflect the end product. The layering of the metals may sound and look easy, but if not done well from the beginning will again be obvious at the end. The coming together of the different metals into a rectangular billet first, and then the other aspects of executing the various luks/lurus, ganjar, aring, gandik and perabots etc. Only when one understands how all the correct ways are done, then one will be able to tell from the end product whether or not any compromise was done.
The next deeper stage is to understand the slightly different ways the different regions approach and execute the work. These differences are most of the time very sublime but when shown will be very obvious. With the fittings or handle and sheath, the differences between the regions are quite easily identified, but the woods and materials preferred can differ a lot also.