MALAY ART GALLERY'S....House of Keris
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
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.
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. 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.
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