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KRIS / KERIS ON LEG

Keris

The Kris or Keris is a Javanese asymmetrical dagger most strongly associated with the culture of Indonesia or Javanese culture. In Indonesia, people believe that the Krises have magical powers.

The earliest Krises known were made around 1360 AD and most probably spread from the island of throughout Southeast Asia. Krises have been produced in many different places in Indonesia for centuries, but the Kris is mostly used, worshiped and seen in ceremonies in Central Java (besides the regular use in ceremonies of Krises in Bali).  As the result, in Indonesia Krises are commonly associated with the Javanese culture, although other ethnicities such as Balinese, Sundanese, Madurese, Banjar and Malay people are also very familiar with the weapon as part of their culture. The Kris is most known for its distinctive wavy blade, although many have straight blades as well. A Kris can be divided into three parts: bilah (blade), hulu (hilt), and warangka (sheath). These parts of the Kris are often carved into extreme detail and made from various materials like metal, precious or rare types of wood, gold or ivory. They are art objects on their own. Some blades can be made in a relatively short time, while some weapons take years to complete.

The dhapur (the form and design of the blade, has around 150 variants), the pamor (the pattern of metal alloy decoration on the blade, has around 60 variants), and tangguh is referring to the age and origin of a Kris. Depending on the quality and historical value of the Kris, the value in money can go up to thousands of dollars or more. Both used a weapon and as a spiritual object, Krises are often considered to possess magical powers, with some blades seen as holders for good luck and others holding the bad. Krises are also often used for display, as talismans with magical powers, weapons, as extra equipment for court soldiers, an accessory for a ceremonial dress, an indicator of social status, and as a symbol of heroism, etc.

Krises are made by a Kris blacksmith called, empu. Before the empu starts making the Kris, he will first have a conversation with the client to make sure the Kris will be adapted to the exact wishes of the future owner. Empu are highly respected craftsmen with additional knowledge in literature, history, the occult, etc. By performing specific rituals before, during and after the process of forging the Kris, it will give the Kris his energetic load. Because a Kris is always made specifically for one person, it could be that a Kris of someone else is not ‘a good match’ for you. That doesn’t mean the Kris is ‘bad or wrong’, but it doesn’t fit the person. Krises need to be washed and ‘reloaded’ every once in a while, this comes with a very complex and sometimes even dangerous ritual of washing, drying and oil. Dangerous because some people try to use Arsenic, to make the pamor show up better. After washing the Kris, incense is being used to dry the blade and after that treated with oil. Krises are always highly cherished and taken care of to preserve their magical powers. 

Until the 1990s, Kris-making activities in Java had almost come to a standstill due to economic difficulties and changing socio-cultural values. Over the past three decades, Krises have lost their prominent social and spiritual meaning in society. Only a handful active and respected empus still produce high quality Krises in the traditional way but their number is dramatically decreasing and it’s getting more difficult to find them.

– Ade Itameda

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