Brief Introduction to the Kris
The Kris is the distinctive weapon of Indonesia and Malaysia and is found in a variety of forms and origin ranging from Northern Sumatra and Malaysia to far distant Mindanao in the Philippines.
A typical kris consists of a blade, sheath, hilt, a hilt to blade fittings and often a metal stem cover. The double edge blade may be wavy or straight and is often damascene with beautiful patterns (pamor) forged into the steel. The base of the blade always, or rather, must widen at one side, for this is the feature that unite all krises from all origin into the family of one common weapon.
The kris is seldom very sharp and its lightweight indicates that it evolved as a thrusting dagger. Straight blades are plentiful in collections and they may be found in an approx ratio of two straight for every three found.
The blade or bilah in Malay, has three basic characteristics: Dapor, Perabot and Pamor
Dapor and Perabot
- Bungkul or Bonggol
- Picetan or Blumbangan
- Jalu Memet
- Lambei/Bibir Gajah
- Kembang kacang or Belalai Gajah
- Janggut/Jenggot Gajah
- Tikel Alis
- Sogokan Depan (Front)
- Lis-lisan or Elis
- Ada-ada or Sada
- Sogokan Belakang
- Wadidang or Wedidang
- Ron Da Nunut
- Ri Pandan or Eri Pandan
- Pudak Setegal
Dapor is its general shape or outline i.e. straight (lurus) or wavy (luk). The waves can be counted by starting at the first curve nearest the base (see fig). The number of waves is always odd, but sometimes difficult to distinguish the last odd curve.
Sculptured or chiseled features found at the bottom half of the blade are called Perabot and they constitute to a complex categorization of the dapor forms.
In a well made Kris, these features are considerably intricate and some are with animals or human figure. Its Dapor and Perabot features generally define a kris form. The number of forms of Kris blades or dapor Kris is surprising. Groneman, in his writing (1910), describes 118 types, 40 of which are straight and 78 wavy.
Sir Stamford Raffles (1817) says the varieties exceed 100 and provide illustrations for 41 common types.
Pamor is the pattern of white lines appearing on the blade. Kris blades are forged by a technique known as pattern welding, one in which layers of different metals are pounded and fused together while red hot, folded or twisted, adding more different metals, pounded more and folded more until the desired number of layers are obtained.
The rough blade is then shaped, filed and sometimes polished smooth before finally acid etched to bring out the contrasting colors of the low and high carbon metals.
The decorative effect in a good pamor is beautiful and fascinating.
The patterns obtain may up to a certain extent, depending on the design, be controlled by a skilful smither or empu, whose designs range from misty to bold to three dimensional texture.
Pre-planned pattern is called pamor rekan and the unplanned or unable to control patterns pamor tiban.
Groneman describes 48 styles while the publication from the National Museum in Singapore has 70 styles of overall pamor and 52 individual small design markings.
The subject of Pamor with its varieties would fill an entire volume. It forms a large part of the mystique of the Kris.
A study of pamor with aspects of producing it, rewards the person with unexpected insight to the mindset of bygone eras where earthly and unearthly wonders are ever present in the various designs.
The mystical power of the Keris is said to come from its celestial origin because of the use of meteorite iron. However, it is doubtful that many Keris blades were actually made of meteorite iron. The only fall of a meteorite in Java was recorded in the mid 18th century, near Prambanan. Since there was almost no natural iron deposits in Java, most probably most of the blades were made beforehand from imported iron.
Sulawesi is said to have exported its iron which contains a low percentage of nickel, this type of metal is called Pamor Luwu, from the Eastern part of central Sulawesi. While using this nickelous iron, Javanese smiths found they could control specific pattern designs by etching the blade and creating a contrast between the darken iron and the bright nickel.
The Prambanan meteor was said to contain 9.4% nickel, which made it very attractive to smiths, but its scarcity restricted its use to top quality blades for wealthy owners.
The colonial presence brought, in the late 19th century another source of cheap nickel from scrap iron: bicycles frames, ship propeller, tools… These industrial metal parts contained up to 5% nickel and provided a very high contrast pamor with bright nickel. More recently pure Nickel has been used, thus recently forged blade show a very uniform shiny nickel.
It is interesting to note that most Sumatra, Peninsular or Moro blades are in plain iron, whereas most of Java, Bali and Sulawesi blades are in pamor: these later islands had an easier access to the Luwu ore.
|Description & Forging Technique
|Tuah / Mystical
|Blossom of ginger flowers
|Buntel Mayit or Pangeran Welang
|Wrapped corpse or Venerable snake
Twist welded, no steel core
|Wanting to be feared upon.
|Floating water plants
|Protect against illness
|Gives to the owner a sympathy look
|You are King
Angled stripes directing towards the point
|Helps making a smooth career
|Tambal or Penambal
Has rectangles of diagonal pamor inlaid into the blade
|Enhances prestige in society
Small circles densely spread all over the blade
|Helps to make a living
Rather similar with the above Segara Wedi, but has a coarser surface that can feel the “scales”.
|Material well being
Layered circles about 1cm diameter
|Good for business
Spots of pamor separated by 0.5 to 1cm
|Helps to make a fortune
|“Sekar” flower arrangements
|Same as Melati Rinonce, but with bigger circles
|Good for business
|Rante or Melati Rinonce
|Chain or String of Melati flowers
Layered circles connected together by a pamor line
|Good for business
|Bonang is a gamelan instrument
A straight pamor line in the middle with circles on the left and right side
|Brings esteem and power
Semi circular formation from the base to tip.
|Cubeb (Java peper)
Pamor on the sor-soran and a line along the center of the blade
|Protects travelers and is good for warriors
|Ship rope made from jute strings
A line made of a twisted welded damascene in the center of the blade
|Increases authority, bravery and firmness
|Palm leaves arrangments
A set of straight pamor lines in the middle of the blade
|Protection from natural forces
|Sada Saler or Adeg Siji or Lidi Sebatang
A line from top to bottom
|Increases the authority
|Pamor miring. A line from top to bottom like above but having a split at the base.
|Helps to make a fortune
|Wengkon or Tepen
|Tepen = Perimeters
The pamor makes a line or stops along both edges of the blade
|Makes the owner thrifty
|Similar to Wengkon but the line makes waves
|Exclusive, not for everyone
|Teja Kinuring or Adeg Wengkon
|Adeg = standing
Wengkon = circumference
|A mix of pamor adeg and wengkon
|Good for government officials
|Top down stripes along the blade
|Protects against black magic
Similar like the one above, but the vertical lines are disjointed instead of flowing.
|Protects against natural mishaps
|Ilining Warih or Banyu Mili
Top down dense stripes along the blade
|Provides popularity & status
|Beras Wutah or Wos Wutah
Layers of irregular lines and circles
|Luck and Peaceful life
Similar to Beras Wutah but spreaded evenly over the blade
|Helps to make a living and broadens society life
|Kulit Semangka or Ngulit Semangka
It has fewer & coarser layers than Beras Wutah
|Extends society life
|Blossom of nutmeg
|Makes the owner popular
|Blossom of orchids
|Makes the owner popular
|Blossom of flowers (Lampes)
|Increases the authority of the owner
|Blossom of rice plants
|String of coconut flowers
|Helps making a living & provides influence
|Budding Arenpalm flowers
|A select pamor
|Coffee fruits on their twigs
|Good for business
|Kenanga flower petals
|Provides a lot of attention
Handle, Sheath and Fittings
There are many styles of sheath in accordance with origin, which when recognized is an important means of identifying krises. The top sheath or Wrangka is usually of wood selected for its good grain rather than strength. The scabbard or Gandar (sometimes of different wood) may be encased fully or partially in metal called “Pendok“. The wrangka is seldom of ivory, but sometimes fossilized elephants molars are used for the wrangka or hilt.
The hilt or Hulu is usually of wood or ivory and is sometimes found in silver or brass. It takes many mythological and zoomorphic forms that reflects to the culture that produced the kris. A good knowledge of hilt types will serve the collector well.
Many kris hilts are finely carved and sometimes made with profusions of semi-precious stones or glass cabochons that many are being collected on their own.
The decorative metal ring that is between the hilt and blade is called the Mendak and Selut (Javanese). They are themselves little works of art. They vary widely from different areas and accordingly with its hilt. They are always made of metal – brass, silver, copper, gold mixed with copper (Suassa) and sometimes set with plain faceted gemstone.
The art of the kris includes various accessories for its care. A kris Pusaka or heirloom kris merited a special cushion for its repose.
The Java krises are often displayed on a wooden wall or plaque carved in a floral way or carved and painted with wayang themes.
The Balinese produced a sculptured figure for holding one or two krises. The sculpture are most imaginative in their depiction of wildly creature holding the kris. These colorful accessories add much to the art of the kris and to the special care given to it.
Preserving the Kris
The scant knowledge by collectors in respect to the proper care of their pieces is surprising. Museums are more familiar with conservation techniques of perishable artifacts, as well as seasoned collectors with correct traditional “caretaking” knowledge. Humidity is the factor most responsible for changes in articles.
Ideally, collection should be kept in a room or cabinet in which the humidity is controlled to some level. 45% humidity is perhaps ideal but difficult to maintain continuously. According to some conservationist, 60% is safe if not allowed to fluctuate.
Here are some simple procedures:
- The collection should be kept in a closed cabinet or room. Never exposed to direct sunlight.
- Maintain the temperature between 70 Deg. F. ï¿½ 76Deg.F. Temperature swings are very damaging.
- Try to maintain the relative humidity at 45%-50%.
- In winter, place a disk of water in the cabinet or some life plants in the display room.
- During the summer, or in hot climates the reverse is required. (A portable de-humidifier will control humidity to desired levels).
If the collector find it a bother for detail attendance to good conservation measures, heed an old and common advise by keeping in a cool, dry place out of sunlight.
Kris Washing (Ritual Cleansing)
This aspect of the kris is another artform in itself. The term Merawat Pusaka – used as a verb, meaning to clean a heirloom; literally refers to Nursing (Merawat) a heirloom. Without proper knowledge, a person may do damage to a blade as substances used for washing are mainly acidic base.
The rather ritualistic way in which the kris is clean, and the lack of understanding or misunderstanding of what is actually being done, has damaged many a pusakas. Anyone interested to know more details about how a kris is traditionally washed, you can visit Paul’s kris page.