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Author Topic:   What constitutes a "good" keris?
Paul de Souza
Senior Member
posted 12-11-2000 05:37     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul de Souza   Click Here to Email Paul de Souza     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Wong Desa is correct in saying that we should somehow come to a consensus on what constitutes a good keris.

I am taking the liberty of starting a separate thread and pasting Wong Desa's earlier comments so that it will not get lost as a subset of another thread. I hope you all don't mind:

posted 12-07-2000 17:32

"Good" is indeed a very subjective term. That`s the reason I put it in parenthesis.I was actually hoping that a few keris-conscious people would make a contribution setting forth what they personally regarded as the epitome of desirable keris.It certainly was not posted as any sort of a trick question;I simply wanted to find out what the factors are that attract each of us to the collection and study of keris.
I do understand the attitude that to an individual collector each and every piece in his collection is "good".He can love it for one reason or another.My own collection is a very diverse mixture of very high quality,very low quality,archaic,old,and new.As far as I am able,I try to cover the entire spectrum of the keris.I do not necessarily insist that each piece I add to my collection be old,or of excellent quality,or of extreme rarity.Old keris do have a certain charm,certainly,but just because it is old,doesn`t mean it is "good".On the other hand,just because it is new or recent does not mean it is "no good".Excellent quality is always desirable,there`s just not a real lot of this sort of thing around.Rarity---well,I would like my collection to consist of more than three pieces.But each piece in my collection does have some factor attached to it which I find desirable.
As DAHenkel commented,Royal pieces are "a cut above".Problem is that there are very few Royal pieces,and when they do become available,their prices sometimes approximate that of a new Lamborghini.
Many people seem to feel that for a keris to be a worthwhile addition to a collection it must have some age.I strongly disagree with this opinion.Some of the finest work that has ever been done,is being done today,both in respect of blades and the various items of dress.The problem here is that we very seldom see recent top quality work in the western world,because it is mostly purchased by connoisseurs in Indonesia,and at prices that not many Western collectors would be prepared to match.Most of the new and recent keris we see offered by dealers in the West are very poor quality;this,of course ,degrades the whole market,with the result that many keris collectors ,because they are unable to define what is,and is not "good"in a keris,opt to avoid the purchase of more recent pieces and focus only on older pieces.They even avoid the purchase of keris with new dress(wrongko and handle),in the mistaken belief that a keris ,to be authentic,must have its "original" dress.This attitude is defensible on the basis of personal preference,however,such personal preference does demonstrate a lack of understanding of the keris ethic.Which is understandable,as almost nothing has been written on this.
This tendency to avoid new and recent is,in my opinion,really a great mistake,for, asI remark above some really beautiful work has been done in recent times;apart from this, the only way most collectors can acquire examples of some of the really scarce pamors and dapurs is to accept more recent work.The simple fact of the matter is that very,very few old keris with complex pamor were ever made,and when a good example of such a keris does become available it is normally snapped up by one of the wealthy Indonesian elite.
So, I guess it pretty much does come down to ,as samotez puts it,everyone deciding for themselves as to what is and is not a "good" keris.Which is also pretty much what DAHenkel said,only in slightly different words.It is also,more or less what I`ve said,above.
Thus it would seem to be possible for each of us to have a different opinion as to what makes a keris a desireable addition to a collection.
If we do,in fact,all have different opinions in this matter,do any of you keris fanciers out there feel like sharing with us what you personally find attractive in a keris,and conversely,what you do not like?
Since many amongst us do not have an understanding of the standards applied in Java, or other keris cultures,and since very little has been written on this aspect of the keris,how about if we try to formulate a "desirability matrix" for collectors living in the western world?

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Paul de Souza
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posted 12-11-2000 05:41     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul de Souza   Click Here to Email Paul de Souza     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This reply was initially written in the thread on stones in bali hilts. Since its on the topic of "good" keris. I am taking the liberty to post it here so that the topic stays in one thread:

As to regards what constitute a good keris, I have my own opinion on that. While there is no question about the keris being a work of art and that some are master pieces of sculpture, gold work etc, we cannot forget that it is primarily a weapon. Hence a good keris for me is how it feels in the hand, how it flows with the arm and how it mergers into the hand and arm of the bearer as though it becomes a part of himself.

Perhaps thats why I have a preference for the older pieces and pieces from outside Java. These pieces were constructed with its primary function in mind. They are light, yet strong and they have a graceful curve or incline, both lok and straight pieces, to match the curve of the arm, wrist and hand. These pieces excude a strength and grace which I feel new pieces lack.

Modern pieces are made with little consideration to the keris as a weapon. "Art" and pamor have taken over so completely that somehow they leave the new keris incomplete.

Perhaps I do not have enough exposure to the really good new work that is available. Most of the new work we have here are from Madura. While some pamor are really intricate and striking, somehow the blades are heavy and static - they lack the flow and don't have the feel. Its also the same for the new work that is coming out from Malaysia and Mindanao.

Preference I guess is a personal thing so I hope that my opinion here makes sense.

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DAHenkel
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posted 12-12-2000 00:35     Click Here to See the Profile for DAHenkel   Click Here to Email DAHenkel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I tend to agree with Paul on this with the caveat that I think many of the Javanese pieces also qualify as terrific weapons. My slant on this though has more to do with condition and authenticity. I have a preference for older pieces and shy away generally from the newer pieces for many reasons. These include weight, intricate pamor, overall over-doneness, use of modern technologies and materials, (eg. plating, plastics etc.) the general poor quality of wood used, poor finishing and lack of craftmanship and attention to detail. That is not to say that new pieces that qualify as good in my book are not being made but I prefer those pieces which are made using traditional materials, technologies and craftmanship. Older pieces in good condition are of course more special to me because they have the mystique of antiquity to them but they are also difficult to find in good, complete and restorable condition within the constraints of my budget. Which is why I prefer to make trips to the field to hunt out stuff in those increasingly rare antique shops away from the big cities. There are all sorts of reasons why one might find a keris desirable. Condition, provenance, fit and finish, cost, they're all factors which have gone into my choice of keris for my collection. But in the end this all remains highly subjective. I've seen a lot of keris which their owner's found very attractive but which I would deem flat out ugly!

By the by, if anyone out there is looking for a copy of the MBRAS reprint of The Keris and Other Malay Weapons (with articles by Hill, Woolley, Gardner and others reprinted from the original submissions to the Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society) I found four copies in Kuala Lumpur at the local MPH and will gladly pick up copies for those of you who want one. Cost is $11 USD (RM40.00) plus shipping and handling of course. E-mail me off list at dahenkel@pacific.net.sg

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wong desa
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posted 12-15-2000 05:45     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you Paul for getting this topic up front where we can see it.And thanks again to both you and David for the opinions on what you personally value in a keris.This,to me,looks like a pretty good start to an attempt to construct an index/matrix /standard/reference----call it what you will, by which we can measure the desirability of a keris.

For the moment I`ll hold off on adding to the criteria that have already been put forward.Firstly I would like to address the nature of these criteria.I think we are all agreed that subjectivity plays a role in the selection process,however,even though we accept this to be so,that is no reason to prevent us from constructing a reference of criteria to assist in the evaluation of a keris.As an example:let`s say we need a person to fill a job as a sales manager for an engineering firm.There are certain pre-requisites for this position:a degree in mechanical engineering,a qualification in marketing,practical experience in fitting and machining,a qualification in management,at least 3 years experience in sales.These are the essentials.Without these qualifications ,nobody gets an interview.O.K.,so we get a number of suitable applicants,we select some for interview.At the interview, the interview panel asks each candidate a number of questions ,and engages in general conversation,in an attempt to gauge the character and depth of the person undergoing the interview.When all the interviews are complete ,a selection may (or may not) be made of a person to fill the position.That selection will have been made on the basis of an objective evaluation(the pre-requisites)and a subjective evaluation(performance at the interview).I suggest that the process that we engage in when we evaluate a keris is not a dissimilar one.It is a mixture of objective selection and subjective selection.
The fact that some of our personal criteria may vary is no barrier to the formulation of a set of criteria to assist in the evaluation of a keris.At the end of the process I would hope that we will have been able to formulate a set of universal values,and a number of guidelines .I believe that to a large extent we are probably already using these values and guidelines,however,we are doing so instinctively.Virtually nothing has yet been written in western keris literature along these lines.Would it not be of great benefit to all persons with an interest in the keris to have a reference to which they could turn to assist in evaluation?
When I look at the criteria that have already been put forward,I can see the nucleus for such a reference.Listed out,I identify these criteria as:


1. Must have been constructed as a weapon.
2. Must feel as if it has been made for use by one`s self.
3. Prefer old to more recent or new.
4..Prefer other than Javanese keris
5. Prefer keris which are in good condition.
6. Dislike keris that are heavy
7. Dislike complex(intricate) pamor.
8. Dislike elaborate detail in blade design and dress(overall over-doneness).
9. Dislike use of modern technologies and materials.
10. Dislike use of poor quality woods.
11. Dislike a) poor finish
b) inferior craftsmanship
c) lack of attention to detail
12. Prefer keris which are made using a) traditional materials
b) traditional technologies
c) traditional craftsmanship
13. Prefer keris which are in good condition.
14. Previous ownership can influence selection.
15. Cost can influence selection.

I have extracted these criteria from the comments contained in the previous contributions.If I have made any errors in the intent of these comments,will the relevant contributor please make the necessary correction,or carry out any revision that may be considered necessary.

To this list ,I would like to add several of my own criteria:

16. Technical excellence in the execution of benchwork(by "benchwork"
I mean that work undertaken ,in the shaping of a keris blade,which has
occured after the forging has been produced.)
17. Technical excellence in forging and welding.
18. Application of artistic interpretation in the forming of the various features
of the blade.
19. Choice of adequate material for the execution of design.
20. Compliance with established standards in overall blade design.
21. Technical competance in the execution of heat treatment.
22. Technical competance in the application of stain (warangan).
23. Good state of preservation,taking into account the percieved age of the
blade.


Criteria from Manteris:

24. No keris to be considered unless
complete.
25. Wrongko and handle should be of
attractive material.
26. Prefer handles with carved
design.
27. Blade should contain good
quality hand-work(garap).
28. Pamor should be clear and well
defined.

With my own nominations,I have chosen not to make mention of any part of the keris other than the blade,and that only in the broadest and most approximate terms.The various items of dress can be addressed separately after we have determined the elements which should be considered in the evaluation of a blade.I have taken this stance because a keris is the sum of its component parts.To evaluate the whole we must first evaluate the component parts,and in turn,the elements of these component parts.
I have also chosen not to introduce at this time my personal preferences in respect of the types of keris I prefer.If we are to construct a standard,we need to be able to differentiate between that which is a personal preference and that which can be identified as a standard of excellence.Personal preferences could well have a place as guidelines,but they cannot be regarded as a measure of excellence.

I hope we are in agreement that the objective of this discussion is that we should try to reach a consensus of opinion in respect of what makes a keris collectable from the point of view of keris fanciers who are not followers of the Javanese cultural ethic.This consensus of opinion should embrace a determination as to the qualities to be found in a keris which would make it desirable.This then can assist other collectors,as well as ourselves,in forming a balanced judgement when contemplating any given keris.To achieve this there must be a free flow of ideas.This means open discussion.It also means that we must display a degree of patience,for to bring this to a satisfactory conclusion will surely not be a short or an easy undertaking,however,if we are successful I believe we will have made a material contribution to the study of the keris.

I would now like to submit for approval a proposed methodology.
Briefly,I suggest that one by one,each point which has been,and will be, identified be subjected to a process of examination by the other contributors to this discussion,and that where appropriate,relevant questions be put.Effectively,this would act as a a peer review of criteria,so that at the end of the process we would have developed a number of criteria which can be used to construct a standard to be applied in evaluation,and a number of guidelines which can assist in selection for addition to a collection .
If we are in agreement on this process of review,I`d like to start the ball rolling by raising a couple of questions on point No. 1 above.

Questions,Point No.1:

A) The keris carries many facets.One of these is its role as a weapon.If we only wish to collect those keris which have been made to serve as weapons,does this mean all other keris are not subject to evaluation? Does it also mean that serviceability as a weapon is the principal,or perhaps only, criterion that we consider? Hence,the better its function as a weapon,the better keris it is?

B) If we decide that the only keris which should be subject to our consideration as being worthwhile to add to a collection are those keris which have been made to serve as weapons,how do we identify these keris,and conversely,how do we identify those keris that have not been made to serve as weapons?


[This message has been edited by wong desa (edited 12-21-2000).]

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DAHenkel
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posted 12-16-2000 03:09     Click Here to See the Profile for DAHenkel   Click Here to Email DAHenkel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Identifying which keris were made to serve as weapons I think it is safe to say relies on two main criteria, that is sturdiness and utility. However, I think evaluating the keris solely based on its role as a weapon is missing the boat. After all we know that both historically and in the present day keris collectors and owners base their criteria on all of the various roles which the keris can play. While it its certainly true that the keris’ principal role was and is as a weapon we also can see quite clearly that certain examples are manifestly unsuited to that task. I also think that given the multifarious and overlapping roles that the keris played we would do well to be careful not to divide up these roles artificially. If we however take a step back and look at the various roles that the keris plays then I think that we can come up with a useful set of criteria for judging their individual quality.

It is fairly clear that the keris’ role as a weapon is principally that of a personal side weapon. This role of course varied with both the political climate of a given place and period, and with cultural factors. In times of full-scale battle (or at least, in times when planning and preparation would have preceded the fighting) most groups would likely have carried keris as a ‘secondary’ side arm. I suspect that, in most cases our Malay warrior would have kept his keris tucked safely in his waistband or sarong while a more practical and dangerous weapon, perhaps a klewang, parang or tombak would have served as his primary weapon. Most keris’ are just not sturdy enough to withstand the constant use and abuse that heavy combat would entail. There are exceptions of course and it is also arguable that in at least some case the keris could and would have served as a primary weapon. For the most part however in such events I would suggest that the keris’ role would have been part personal talisman and part weapon of last resort.

We know however that at most times up until the modern era the keris was a regular part of an individual’s daily ensemble. In day-to-day life however the keris would have served mainly as a spur of the moment weapon. Perhaps in a fight between individuals or small groups where sustained combat would not have ensued. In such cases a fairly sturdy keris would prove quite adequate and if the individual survived the encounter but his keris didn’t he could easily repair or replace it.

It is also fairly apparent that at least from Majapahit times and probably much earlier the keris served additional purposes. We know for instance the talismanic roles that a keris played as personal and community protector and bringer of good things. We thus encounter keris which wouldn’t safely cut frozen butter but that were (and are) still regarded as powerful weapons/objects. These then were keris whose esoteric roles and utility far outweighed their exoteric utility. These would have been judged with far different (but perhaps overlapping) criteria than keris whose main function would have been as a fighting weapon. These criteria of course have to be accounted for even if these esoteric functions are becoming perhaps somewhat obsolete in the present day (or maybe they aren’t). The esoteric functions of pamor and the purported powers or past deeds (real or imagined) of magical keris are indeed criteria that at least some collectors weigh in judging the desirability of a particular keris.

Then there is the role of the keris as ornament or dress accessory. Like parade swords these keris would have been judged more for their aesthetic qualities than for any real martial utility. Artistic execution and expression, as well as materials used would have been the governing criteria in the case of these types of keris.

We should also take a moment to recognize the socio-economic factors, which would and still do affect keris use and ownership. While each and every person would have owned at least one keris, wealthier individuals would have owned at least several and perhaps many different keris. Given that the average Joe couldn’t have afforded to keep more than one or perhaps two keris his criteria for selecting a piece would have been significantly different than that of a rich man who could afford to own many different weapons for different persons. The Marhein would have most likely have preferred a good general-purpose keris, sturdy and utilitarian, and with non-selective and diversified magical powers. The wealthy individual however could afford to select a number of different weapons to suit specified purposes and roles. An individuals role and social standing within the community would have dictated to a large extent the number and type of keris in their personal possession.

While present day collectors are perhaps not necessarily directly affected by all of the criteria which I have mentioned above they are still important in a collectors appreciation of any given keris. Those collectors like Paul, and to a certain extent myself, tend to be drawn to the exoteric utility of a piece rather than it’s various esoteric roles or artistic qualities. This is probably the case with most modernized collectors who perhaps lack a truly deep appreciation for magic. Other collectors do however and I think they deserve a seat at the table. A preference for the keris as a weapon is a very personal and subjective one, however it is no more real or important than a preference for keris whose primary roles were as artistic ‘dress’ weapons or as magical talismans. In any event I think that role is an important factor, however I think other criteria that remain to be discussed (quality, age, materials, etc.) are rather more meaningful, but lets stick with the methodology.

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wong desa
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posted 12-18-2000 05:53     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
David has provided broad commentary on possible factors which may have influenced selection in previous times,and highlighted the fact that to evaluate a keris blade purely on its suitability as a weapon is to ignore the essential nature of the keris.I concur with this viewpoint.
Any further comments on this matter?Do you wish to put forward anything further, Paul?
I further agree with the viewpoint that there ought not to be an artificial division of the facets of the character of the keris.I feel it is valid to categorize certain sub-types,such as keris sajen,keris sombro,and keris buda as special cases,but I believe no attempt should be made to divide the mass of keris on the basis of supposed roles.I think it is sufficient to recognise that these various facets exist.
The fact of the matter is that the role of a keris can vary from owner to owner,generation to generation.The keris given to my grandfather by his first wife`s father and intended as a talisman,could well become my weapon,or alternatively,the keris I favour for wearing at formal events.

In respect of part B) of my question.The answer given is that "sturdiness and utility" are the main criteria for identification of a keris blade as having been made to serve as a weapon.
The meaning of "utility" is:useful,fit for a purpose,serviceable.
"Sturdiness" means:strong,resists destruction.
Thus,we identify a keris blade which was made to serve as a weapon because such a blade will be strong and fit for use as a weapon.
This is a circular argument.
There are many problems associated with identifying the purpose for which any particular blade was made.The way in which a keris was actually used as a weapon is one such problem.Don Draeger,who made a lifetime study of the way in which weapons were used,has been quoted as saying that it is not possible for us to know exactly how a keris was used during those times when it it was primarily a weapon.We know the way it was held,in some societies;we know the way it was worn,in some societies and during some periods.We know the way it is held and used in a dance application,similarly,the way it is employed in silat.We do not know the method of use during those times when it was actually being used as a weapon.
Since we do not know how to use it,how can we determine that it is fit for use as a weapon,and,in fact was made for that purpose?
Then there are the cultural differences.The keris is found across a fairly wide expanse of territory.It found associated with many different cultures .The people within these cultures do not have a uniform cultural ethic.Because of these ethical differences,and for other reasons,the method of use of the keris would have been found to vary from culture to culture.For example,Jawa and Bali are right next door to one another.Because of environmental ,cultural,and ethical differences ,the keris has developed into a very different form in Bali,than it has in Jawa.It is carried differently and the form of blade and handle,combined with the mode of carry,preclude it from being used in the same way that a keris from Jawa may have been used.
The keris blade which was considered as having excellent qualities for use as a weapon in Bali,would have been next to useless for such application in Jawa.
Even within Jawa,blades varied considerably in form over the 300 years from 1600 to 1900.It is reasonable to assume that most of the blades produced during the period up to about 1850 would have been produced with the primary function of use as a weapon in mind,most particularly so with the earlier pieces.Even allowing for the loss of material occasioned by repeated cleaning,it is obvious that earlier blades were never particularly robust.Nor did they need to be.They only had to pierce skin,not layers of clothing.Taking into account Javanese cultural traits,and what we know of Javanese strategy and combat,they would not have been used in any long drawn out fencing bout.One lightning fast surprise strike,and it was all over.
However,what happened with Javanese blades was that as time progressed they became more robust.By the second half of the 19th. century they were frequently big,strong,beautifully balanced examples of weaponry.Thing is that by that time they were almost never used as weapons.
So,I don`t think that it is as simple as saying:well, if it looks like a weapon,if it feels like a weapon,it must have been made for the primary purpose of being a weapon.
I submit that people raised in the 20th. century,in societies and against cultural backgrounds which are radically different to those which produced the object under discussion,are not really equipped to determine the purpose for which such object was produced ,most especially so if that determination is made on a purely instinctive basis.
However,notwithstanding this,I believe that by objective analysis,taking into account factors such as point of origin in respect of time and geographic location(and this brings us back to tangguh),and methods employed in production,it should be possible to nominate those keris blades which were produced with a weapon function in mind,with a reasonable degree of probability.
On the other hand,since learning the skills to put such analysis into practice is clearly beyond the resources of most western collectors,and since the point of this entire exercise is to assist western collectors,would it not be a valid approach to simply accept that :
A) Most old keris blades were made primarily for use as weapons.

B) Most recent blades were made primarily for dress purposes,or as
artistic endeavour,with the weapon function as a secondary
objective.

By using such broad division,old blades can still be recognised as having an art component,and more recent blades can still be recognised as having a weapon function.The particular blades that we may select can always be based on a personal preference,but we have eliminated the insupportable requirement that they should have been made as weapons.

Any further thoughts anyone?

As David remarked,everyone should have a seat at the table.We really need as broad an input as possible to make this discussion a meaningful one.

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Jan
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posted 12-18-2000 09:58     Click Here to See the Profile for Jan   Click Here to Email Jan     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
First of all: I seriously enjoy reading this current discussion, but I do not feel quite ready yet to fully take part in it.
To increase the input anyway, I would like to remark on a problem I had with at least two keris I own when trying to judge their function as a weapon:
"Hence a good keris for me is HOW IT FEELS IN THE HAND, how it flows with the arm and how it mergers into the hand and arm of the bearer as though it becomes a part of himself."(Paul)
"1. Must have been constructed as a weapon.
2. MUST FEEL AS IF IT HAS BEEN MADE FOR USE BY ONE'S SELF."(Wong Desa)

Both of the (Javanese) pieces mentioned above do give me that certain feeling, but in both cases, my hand is just too big for them. I mean, how could an averaged sized Westerner judge the feeling of an object which has been designed for an assumedly much smaller Javanese hand, and that maybe even a few generations back ?(taking into account here that to my knowledge average size in most ethnic groups has significantly increased during longer periods of time)
This might be a problem only some of us taking part in this discussion are facing when trying to evaluate the function of a keris by the feeling it gives us, but I think it worth to be mentioned.

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wong desa
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posted 12-18-2000 16:12     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hello again Jan.Been out to Prambanan yet?When you do ,have a very careful look at the balcony reliefs of Candi Shiva-up the steps,turn left,on your L.H.S.
The quote you have attributed to me is in fact Paul`s.The list of criteria running from#1 thru to #15 were all extracted from Paul`s submission and DAHenkel`s submission.My criteria start at #16.
I personally don`t have the hand problem.I am of Indonesian descent,and I am not a big man.Javanese,Madurese,in fact most keris except Balinese all feel just fine in my hand.Balinese keris are too big for me to manage comfortably.This emphasises the point I have already made about the manner of use.I am not physically big by western standards,in Jawa I`m probably bigger than about 70% of the male population,in Bali I`m just about in the middle.Based only on my physical size,Balinese keris should feel as if they were made for me,but they don`t.They feel clumsy and slow.Why? Because I`ve never been taught how to hold or use one.
The point you make about it being unreasonable to expect a weapon made for a 1.6M, 90pound man to feel as if it belongs in the hand of a 1.8M, 180pound man,is very valid ,and reinforces what I have already said on this matter.
However,that does not mean that a keris cannot feel wonderful in the hand of that 1.8M man.I know myself that sometimes a keris feels just as if it is a part of you;it gives pleasure just to hold and contemplate it.But I do not believe that this feeling that I,and many other keris fanciers ,have experienced is necessarily an indication that the keris in question is suitable for use as my personal weapon.I think that perhaps we are feeling something else.Perhaps this "something else" is a part of the whole business of being involved with keris.

Please do not exclude yourself from this discussion.You say you do not feel quite ready to participate.Man,you`re right there in the middle of keris country! I`m sure you have plenty to contribute.

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manteris1
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posted 12-19-2000 15:15     Click Here to See the Profile for manteris1   Click Here to Email manteris1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have not been collecting keris for too long and I'm not even sure of what I don't know. But when I started to add some keris to my collection fairly recently my criteria were not as esoteric. I studied the stadard references and formed the following guidelines of what would constitute a 'good keris'. No keris without sheath and I probably give a nice sheath more consideration than I should. Second, a nice real blade with a median ridge down the center of the blade. I have no particular interest in the dapor of the blade but instead look for a nice clear pamor and like to see some nice fret work [prabot]on the blade. Interesting wood on grip and sheath [wragka] are a plus as is the carving on the grip. As I collect more I may decide to expand my criteria. I do consider the keris as a weapon. Anyway thats my two cents worth..............jimmy

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wong desa
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posted 12-21-2000 20:49     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for your thoughts ,Jimmy.You appear to be making selection of keris for your collection on the basis of an artistic evaluation.Even though you say you don`t yet know much about keris ,the factors you identify are predominantly what I would consider to fall within the classification of art.You have specified a distinct odo-odo(median ridge),and well executed ricikan(prabot).We would expect to find these two things in a well made keris from Jawa,Madura or Bali from the period after, say,1860.Similarly with clear well contrasting pamor we are looking at more recent keris.
You specify that your keris must have a wrongko,and you again look for some artistic qualities in the wrongko and handle.
Even though you recognise the keris as a weapon-and of course it is-you are seeking more than just the weapon function in the pieces you choose to add to your collection.
In my experience,most keris collectors use broadly similar criteria to the ones you have outlined.The parameters of exactly what does constitute artistic value is different amongst collectors who have not been exposed to Javanese standards,as opposed to collectors in Jawa ,and those who have adopted Javanese standards.However,that requirement for art nearly always seems to be present.
So,if we can accept that we like to see some artistic expression in the keris we choose to collect,is it possible that we may be able to define more or less what we consider to be artistic expression?
Jimmy, you say that you like nice "fret work".To me this indicates that you have seen some "fret work" that you consider not to be so nice.Do you think it may be possible for you to specify those factors which would cause you to classify the "fret work" on a keris ,as "nice fret work" ?

I will add your criteria to our list.These will be:

A)No keris to be considered unless complete.

B)Wrongko and handle should be of attractive material.

C)Prefer handles with carved design.

D)Blade should contain good quality hand-work(garap).

E) Pamor should be clear and well defined.

If I have made any errors in the interpretation of your criteria, will you please make the necessary corrections.


You`ve commented that you probably give more attention to the wrongko than you should.I don`t think so Jimmy.The wrongko completes the keris,just as the keris completes the wrongko.Without the wrongko ,no keris is complete;without the keris no wrongko has any use.The nature of the keris is essentially male,the nature of the wrongko is essentially female;each without the other is an incomplete entity.
There is a school of Javanese thought which bases its ideas on comparisons of the keris with the world,and the human condition.The masters of this philosophy(?) can talk for hours ,drawing allegory from the keris and applying it to the state of matrimony,the political situation,the relationship between man and the Creator.The comparisons can seemingly go on forever.
The wrongko and keris handle are themselves art forms,and some collectors have built considerable collections of just handles.
Similarly the mendak is worthy of separate attention.My teacher,Alan Maisey,has a collection of only mendak,alongside his other collections.
Don`t doubt for a moment that you are correct in giving equal attention to the dress of a keris,as you give to the blade.Of course,the blade is the heart of the keris,and we must be able to identify the quality of a blade,separate from its dress,however,mostly ,in the West,we are presented with a complete keris when we wish to purchase.Under these conditions,it is absolutely correct that we assess each part of the keris first individually,and then in its totality.

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Jan
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posted 12-22-2000 07:14     Click Here to See the Profile for Jan   Click Here to Email Jan     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I earlier stated that I do not feel quite ready yet for several reasons:
1. My experience with and knowledge about keris is still rather low, I got into the topic less than two years ago.
2. I do not know anything about keris from outside Jawa from any personal experience.
3. I do not consider myself a serious collector yet (owning 5 keris, 1 tombak)

Having said this, I will try to express some of my own criteria for being interested in a keris.
After reading Jimmy's post yesterday, I tried to get some clarity about my own criteria which differ quite a bit from his. Leaving an internet cafe here in Yogya, I went to a night flea market nearby. In between lots of used motorcycle spare parts and second hand magazines, there sometimes is a guy selling single keris blades, wrongkos, and a few full keris. One of those had caught my attention about a week ago, so I thought seeing that blade again might help.
I do not mind if wrongko or ukiran have been exchanged or are completely missing, but even from my point of view this was a total loss: ill-fitting and heavily damaged wrongko, ukiran Yogya with bits of white and red paint all over the carvings, blade in a bad state of preservation. Still the only one I fancied out of his offer:
Simple and straight in shape (dapur Tilam Upih or Tilam Sari I suppose, descriptions vary), pamor with a low content of nickel and rather random looking. I had the impression again that this used to be a good traditional blade once, made as a personal weapon, which must have been neglected for quite a while. Nothing like an empu-made keraton piece, just a good example of a traditional Javanese keris for the normal guy.
OK, stop guessing, I ended up buying that thing for a rather nice price. Spent quite a few hours today repairing and refitting that wrongko and carefully scraping paint out of the ukiran. I might note that I was rather pleased to find out that all previous attempts of repairing the wrongko seem to have been done in a traditional way, using resin to fix a large crack, etc.
Apart from this being a nice "bed time story from keris country" for all you keris fanciers out there, what do we get from this about my criteria:
1. I put my emphasis on the keris as a weapon AND as an object of traditional culture.
2. Artistic value does not range very high on my list.
3. I prefer older pieces or at least their simple style, especially concerning pamor.
4. My criteria for a "good keris" range somewhere in between those of a Western collector and adopting some Javanese criteria.
Wong Desa, it might be interesting if you could help us to clarify the Javanese standards of evaluation a bit further. I just assume that my new acquisition would not qualify in that, given the state the blade is in. I am also thinking about getting a professional warangan job done on it.

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wong desa
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posted 12-27-2000 17:37     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Jan,thanks for your contribution.
I understand your previous reluctance to join in discussion,but I `m glad that you have decided to join us.Your contribution is of value because it provides an absolute base line upon which we can build.You have outlined your reasons for your interest in keris,and your criteria demonstrate your level of contact with them.
Since #1 in its present form,is applicable to all keris,and with #4 you have chosen to be non-specific,we are left with:
A) Artistic value is not important.

B) Prefer simple style.

C) Prefer older pieces.

D)Prefer simple style of pamor.

In order to make these criteria more specific,and to give us something that can be used by all,it would be valuable if you could tell us the following:

1)How do you personally define artistic value?You say it is not important ,but if we do not know what your idea of artistic value is,how do we know what is not important to you?

2)With your criterion #3 you have mentioned: a) older pieces,b)simple style, c)older,simple pamor style.
With a),we have previously discussed the difficulties with determination of age,so,I suspect that what you are really saying here is that you prefer keris blades with a bare minimum of ricikan,and random,low contrast pamor,or even pamor sanak.Is this correct,or not?
If it is not correct,will you be kind enough to clarify?

3)Your criterion#4 presents an idea,but no criteria.Could you expand on this for us please?


As I remarked earlier ,yours is a valuable contribution,because it provides perspective.It would be really wonderful if we could get some contributions from people who have collected keris for 10 or 20 years,as their contributions would expand the perspective in the opposite direction.
I`d really like to see some more input from Paul.Where are you Paul?How about joining our discussion?You`ve got experience,you`ve got a viewpoint,how about a bit of to and fro conversation?


On Javanese standards of evaluation.This is an incredibly difficult subject to address.I could simply list a number of factors ,and say:there you are,that`s it.The problem is that the words would not convey the same meanings and feelings to readers from a non-Javanese cultural background as they do to readers from a Javanese cultural background.
Jan,as a linguist,you are in a unique position to understand this.
Words are used to convey ideas.If the material to form the idea is not in the listener`s(or reader`s) mind ,the words mean nothing,or are corrupted by the listener`s learned data,and given a sense other than that which is intended.
Alan Maisey has been attempting for a number of years to write a paper on this very subject,ie.,the Javanese standards of keris evaluation.He has completed- to my knowledge- four attempts,all of which he has chosen not to publish,because of his belief that they do not adequately clarify the subject.
This difficulty with introducing Javanese standards into a western context is perhaps the prime motivator for this current discussion.
There are a lot of similarities in the ethic of Japanese sword study ,and keris study.But the Jap sword collectors have got it easy.Lots of good ,comprehensive books,exhibitions,up-front,certified experts.If you want to learn Jap swords,the material is all there;all you need do is access it.
On the other hand,people who have an interest in keris have got an up hill battle to even get to base one.There is a real dearth of info.,much of it is garbled,contradictory,deliberately misleading,or just plain wrong.People who are attracted to the keris ,and who want to collect them,really have no guides to assist in the determination of quality.They cast around for a rationale for their collecting,and identify factors such as 'weapon','magical','rarity'.If they think 'quality'-they have virtually no guide to assist them in identification of 'quality',in the context of the keris.The end result is that on a world scale of edged weapon collecting,the keris bounces around down near the bottom somewhere.And it should not.I could write another couple of thousand words on why it should not,but now is not the time or place for that.

What we need are standards.

As I see it we`ve got two choices:adopt Javanese standards,or construct our own.

The problem with adopting Javanese standards is that to appreciate them,you need to be able to adopt a Javanese cast of mind ,where mention of certain words will conjure up specific feelings,or where a certain form will automatically generate a mental cross reference to another form.It simply becomes too difficult for someone from a cultural background other than Javanese.
If we construct our own,we have the opportunity to identify and prioritise those factors upon which enthusiasts outside Jawa place value.But to achieve this we need input.

To return to the question of Javanese standards.What now follows applies only to blade appraisal.The foundation stone of the Javanese standard is tangguh,or classification in accordance with point of origin in terms of time and/or geographic location.The difficulties associated with this system were discussed in a previous thread.Apart from tangguh,the other factors involve the following:

A) An understanding of the method of manufacture.

B) An understanding of form.

C) An understanding of feeling.

A) above further devolves to :

1. An appraisal of the ferric material and pamor material used.There are many different types of both,and each type has indicators and a level of percieved quality.

2. An appraisal of workmanship.There are definite standards used for the evaluation of the degree of excellence involved in execution of each particular feature.

3. An evaluation of state of preservation.

4. An appraisal of overall visual impression.

B) above involves an appraisal of the form and colour,and an analysis of the feelings generated by this form and colour.

C) above is an appreciation and awareness of the feelings generated by the keris itself,as distinct from those feelings generated by A) or B) .

What I have given above is a precis and simplification of a lecture given by Empu Suparman to the Boworoso Tosan Aji (a keris society in Solo) in about 1978.I have made no attempt at explanations,and frankly,I consider such explanation to be beyond me at my present state of knowledge.Alan Maisey may one day be able to do it.I cannot.

This is why we need our own standard.

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DAHenkel
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posted 12-27-2000 22:24     Click Here to See the Profile for DAHenkel   Click Here to Email DAHenkel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I agree with Wong Desa in that the international community will never be able to strictly adhere to Javanese standards of evaluation. Most Javanese (and to a certain extent most ethnic Malays) have different priorities in collecting keris. Rather than generalize between Javanese or ethnic Malays and foreigners I think it might be a bit more instructive to look at it in terms of how traditional collectors and modern collectors approach the keris. Those approaching the keris from the traditional standpoint, (individuals more likely to be native to the archipelago but not exclusively so) apply criteria which take into account talismanic and magical values to a much greater extent at the expense of more artistic and historical values. Modern collectors (more likely to be foreign but again not exclusively so) are looking for "museum pieces." That is, an exotic, antique keris, which is traditionally correct in form and materials and preferrably in "original" condition. Neither side ignores the criteria of the other completely though. It's merely a question of priority. Traditional collectors focus first and foremost on the blade. Can one "feel" the blades "semangat" or power? Does it have "tuah" (good fortune or luck)? Can the blade be connected definitively (using less than scientific critieria I might add) to a powerful historical period or individual? The dress (sheath, hilt etc.) of the keris is of secondary concern. It most certainly should be attractive but the criteria for attractiveness are again somewhat different. Older dress, which a modern collector sees as attractive for it's antique value may be ugly or worn out to the traditional collector. I have seen hundreds of wonderful old blades dressed in new, heavily shellacked, chrome and paste accessories. To my eyes keris like this are an abomination but to their owners they are things of beauty. Likewise, these same collectors might appraise some of the pieces in my collection as long overdue for a new set of clothes! The assorted chips, scratches and wear of history mean very little to them.

Anyway, I am running short for time just now so I'll end my thoughts on this here. I've just come back from Kelantan with a bunch of interesting material, pictures and a few new goodies which I hope to post up in the near future. In the meantime, I hope everyone had a nice holiday season and wish you all a very happy and prosperous new year.

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manteris1
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posted 12-28-2000 22:33     Click Here to See the Profile for manteris1   Click Here to Email manteris1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
First let me say that thanks to these keris threads I am now learning what I don't know about the keris in great detail and of course what I don't know is considerable but thanks to this forum its less than it was. I guess I should not have said poor fret work because on re-examination I find my keris either have fret work or don't. A couple have very little fret work on only one side so I guess that [to me] is less desirable. In spite of my critria I find that of 9 keris all are complete except one which is missing half of its 'ganja' and has been rehilted [with white thread holding the blade in] but a great sheath and feel. Of the 9, 3 do not have any or much fret work and one has a dark unusual pamor [that I don't particularly like. I've included a picture of the dark pamor and the broken keris perhaps you can tell me something about them. The one factor which has not been adequately discussed is a intangible. I find that I have aquired some of these keris because I liked the way they either felt or looked and did not absolutely follow my criteria..............jimmy




[This message has been edited by manteris1 (edited 12-28-2000).]

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DAHenkel
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posted 12-29-2000 06:24     Click Here to See the Profile for DAHenkel   Click Here to Email DAHenkel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Jimmy, the two keris you have posted pitures of are actually quite interesting. The one on the left is a central Sumatran piece commonly known as a keris Palembang. The hilt though is quite interesting as it has a very unusual head shape. On most of these hilt types the head is rounder cf. the keris Palembang in my Photopoint album
http://albums.photopoint.com/j/AlbumList?u=1157164

Would you be able to post additional pictures of this hilt for me?

The other keris is a Bugis form which most likely originates from Sumbawa or perhaps from Sulawesi. It is incorrect to assume that this keris has been re-hilted simply because it has been fixed with string wrapped around the pesi. In many Sumateran keris the hilt is indeed fixed with some form of resin effectively gluing the hilt to the blade. However in many areas the use of string, cloth or hair was the usual method of securing the hilt to the keris. This made it easier for the keris owner to adjust the position of the hilt for maximum comfort and visual effect. In the case of this particular piece the hilt is of correct form for this type of keris. On the other hand to say that the hilt is original to the keris would also be making an undue assumption in that as I have already mentioned in an earlier post many older blades would have be completely re-accessorised when and as deemed necessary. It is therefore as likely as not that the current hilt and scabbard are indeed replacements. We don't know and there is no real way to find out in this case. What is clear though is that the blade, hilt, pedoko (hilt cup) and sheath all appear to be correct for a Sumbawa Bugis keris.

The color of a keris blade has as much to do with the method of patination used as the inherent properties of the metals in the blade. In patination the use of various substances causes the metals in the blade to oxidize gradually blackening them. The contrast found in patinated keris blades results because different metals oxidize at different rates. Thus metals that oxidize quickly darken quicker than those that oxidize more slowly. The skilled practitioner thus can bring out the pamor of a blade by keeping the blade in a patinating solution for a particular amount of time. Patination using warangan, a naturally occurring form of arsenic, when done properly creates a high contrast pamor in the blade as appears in the case of the Sumateran piece you've posted. Other forms of patination have different effects because of the rate of reaction which they cause. Sulfer, bannana tree trunks and even whale oil have been described as having been used in the many various patination methods I have encountered.

[This message has been edited by DAHenkel (edited 12-29-2000).]

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wong desa
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posted 12-29-2000 17:19     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Real quick comment on patination of blades.Yes, different methods of patination do produce different colours,however,you cannot produce colours from pamor which are not there in the first place.Done correctly,patination will maximise the contrast between pamor,iron,and steel,and will additionally allow identification of extent of heat treat.However,you cannot produce a high contrast pamor from a blade which does not contain nickel.Other methods of producing a pamor effect,such as using different types of iron, or relying on weld joints,will invariably produce low contrast pamor.
Professor Jerzy Piaskowski of Poland has produced several detailed papers on this subject.Alan Maisey has collaborated with Prof.Piaskowski in the production of these papers,and I have been fortunate enough to be permitted to read them.When they are published they will shake many of the fondly held beliefs on the nature of pamor.
One paper which is already available is Bronson`s "Terrestial and meteoric nickel in the Indonesian keris",this was published in the Journal of the Historical Metallurgy Society,in 1987.
The Palembang keris shown by Jimmy does appear to have a high contrast pamor,which would indicate nickel content.

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manteris1
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posted 12-30-2000 11:50     Click Here to See the Profile for manteris1   Click Here to Email manteris1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Sure, here are more pictures, this keris is a good example of what I mentioned in my last post. While not meeting all the criteria that I had decided on, this piece caught my interest because of its grip and overall form. On the scabbard is a tag
reading, 'keris palem, pamor boros utah.'





hope these pictures are ok. Its ironic I guess that the patinated pamor that I dislike is probably very desirable. The fact that only 3 of my 9 keris meet all the criteria that I imposed on my self, must mean that to me at least, I like what I like and I'll bet most collectors are the same......thanks...........jimmy


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DAHenkel
Senior Member
posted 12-30-2000 14:09     Click Here to See the Profile for DAHenkel   Click Here to Email DAHenkel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Interesting hilt Jimmy, thanks for posting additional pictures. Rather odd for a hilt of this form...which of course leads to the inevitable question of is it authentic? Unfortunately I can't handle the piece and thus it's difficult to truly get a feel for it. The fact that it is made for a selut type hilt ring, while the piece now sports a mendak suggests that the hilt was salvaged from another piece. Anyone else seen a hulu Palembang like this one? At any rate I think its safe to say that if it is a traditionally made piece it's a rare one. Thanks again.

As an aside, don't be surprised if your tastes migrate over time as you get to experience more pieces and pieces from different regions. I can hardly look at most Javanese keris I come across anymore, largely due to the poor harvest to be had these days (authentic and complete old weapons in good condition are getting harder to come by and the level of craftsmanship and quality of new and restored old pieces is rapidly declining) but also because my tastes seem to be migrating toward Peninsular and Bugis keris. I guess the old adage, people change really does mean something.

[This message has been edited by DAHenkel (edited 12-30-2000).]

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wong desa
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posted 12-31-2000 18:16     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think I like the concept of "traditional" and "modern "collectors.The problem is ,I don`t think I`ve ever come across a "traditional" collector of keris.I`ve met plenty of people,mostly in Jawa,who had as a prime concern the magical/mystical properties of a blade.In fact ,I had an uncle ,who was a paranormal,and an advisor to the Government,who had a lot of keris,which he had accumulated on the basis of their (supposed) mystical qualities.But these people,uncle included,are not really keris collectors.Their prime motivation,as far as I can see,is the accumulation of mystic power.The fact that they believe that keris contain such power is incidental to its accumulation.If belt buckles contained this power ,they would accumulate belt buckles . These people collect power,not keris.The keris they surround themselves with are simply vehicles of power.
In my experience,the further you get away from the centers of keris knowledge,the greater the belief in tuah and isi and magic power.Mostly village people have a pretty high level of belief in the magic power of keris in general,and some keris in particular.
This is not to say that there have not been some peculiar and inexplicable incidents associated with keris,but then,there have always been such incidents in that area of the world,and keris have not always been involved.The common factor has been people.
I know of several incidents where a dukun has purchased a keris from a dealer,re- sold it complete with a manufactured story,and that same keris has later been credited with some extraordinary event,such as the cure of an illness ,or a promotion in the workplace.There is incredible power in the human mind.

The collectors that I know,and know of ,in Jawa today,do not collect on the basis of supposed supernatural power in a keris.They collect on the basis of quality and art.But of course these elements of quality and art are based upon the means of appraisal that I have previously outlined.I personally understand these criteria,and I sometimes use them,but it is beyond my ability to explain most of these criteria in English, using the values and ideas that I have grown up with in Australia , and in a way that people from a western culture would understand.
In my previous post,when I quoted Empu Suparman,the criteria which mentioned "feeling" had nothing to do with isi or tuah .The nearest I can get to an explanation of the "feeling" that Empu Suparman was talking about is the feeling that someone from a western culture would experience upon being confronted with a great work of art.For example,a work by Botticelli.Its not the same,and my explanation is inadequate,but its this sort of feeling,not a feeling about supernatural power.
Empu Suparman himself was primarily concerned with the art of the keris.I only had the opportunity to meet him twice,but Alan Maisey knew him very well and over many years.According to Alan,discussion of the magic powers of keris very rarely entered their conversations,and Empu Suparman was sometimes bitingly critical of people who held themselves forward as keris experts upon the basis of ability to devine magic powers in a keris.
So, although I like the concept of "traditional" and "modern" collectors, I can`t make it fit my experience.

It is certainly true that in Jawa when a keris is appraised it is the blade that is given primary consideration.All of the dress items-wrongko, ukiran ,mendak, pendok, are also appraised,but more with a view to establishing their market value ,rather than as works of art.If it is possible to draw a line between "art" and "craft",the blade is considered to be art,and the various dress items are considered as craft.
Mr. Henkel`s comments on the standard of new dress in the area with which he is familiar may well be true.I`ve seen some pretty horrible interpretations of dress myself,however,chrome and similar modern abominations only exist at the bottom end of the market.The better quality dress which has been produced recently in Jawa,and also in Bali, is at least as good,and often better,than anything that has been produced in the past.It is simply a matter of getting what you pay for:pay a low price,get low quality;want top quality,be prepared to pay a top price.

Something that many keris fanciers in the western world fail to appreciate is that the keris,unlike most other edged weapons,is not an object frozen in time .It is a living entity that requires attention and maintenance.Within those cultures where it still forms an element of the culture,it is incorrect,and perhaps disrespectful to the keris to allow it to remain in damaged or inferior dress.Similarly,it can be seen as ridiculous for a young man to wear a keris ,inherited from his father,and with the same wrongko as his father used.It would be more fitting for the son to re-dress the keris in a style more in accord with his age,and status.

So, we find a somewhat different ethic ,as regards dress,amongst Javanese collectors,as compared with western collectors.Collectors in Jawa will still appreciate unusual,or good quality ,old dress,but more as a curiosity,rather than as something which is vital to the appraisal of the keris.Similarly,during the life of a keris,it is probable that some,or all,of the items of dress have been changed at least once in every generation.This being so ,just exactly what does old dress mean?I agree ,it would be nice to have a 200 year old blade in the original dress that was made for it.The only way I know to obtain such an item would be if it had been bought new 200 years ago ,taken to Europe,and now came onto the market.Not a real lot of keris like this around.

Moving away from the whys and wherefores of evaluation,the principal difference I can see between the way in which a Javanese collector will evaluate a keris,and the way western collectors evaluate a keris ,is that the Javanese collector focuses primarily on the blade,and evaluates it as a work of art.The dress is of interest ,and helps to determine the value,but is not a factor which will influence purchase if the blade is not up to scratch.Again,because the blade is evaluated as a work of art,more recent work is not automatically excluded from evaluation.Of course there are collectors with preferences for historic blades,or even for blades which all fall into one classification(tangguh),but these collectors are balanced by others who have a preference for more recent work.In fact,the best work by current makers is sold at extremely high prices,and is frequently sold prior to it being completed.

This factor of cost probably brings us to the crux of the matter.It is a fact of life that good quality keris achieve higher prices in Indonesia than most collectors in the western world are prepared to pay.Since about 1980 good quality keris coming up for sale in the western world have been finding their way back to Indonesia.The recent Indonesian monetary crisis has had virtually no effect on this,for the simple reason that the people who collect keris in Indonesia are in most cases doing better since the crisis.True ,some have suffered ,but all the exporters and manufacturers with contracts written in $US are doing very nicely indeed.

So, if the bulk of what collectors outside Jawa come in contact with is ,at best, fairly low grade material it is perfectly understandable that they have not yet developed an appreciation of the keris blade as a work of art.Mr. Henkel`s recent comments on Javanese keris re-inforce what I am saying here.It is very difficult to develop an appreciation for anything if all you encounter are extremely low grade examples,and regretably,because of the pressure on the market inside Jawa itself,these days about all you see with most dealers are pretty rubbishy examples of Javanese keris.I know of one dealer who is a notable exception to this generality,but he has lines of supply that are not open to most people,and additionally holds an extremely large stock that dates back a number of years.
It is a sad fact of life,that mostly,we only get what we pay for.Because the best of Javanese and Balinese keris are the epitome of the keris as an art form,and because Indonesian collectors are prepared to pay the prices necessary to secure these prime examples,whilst,for the most part,collectors outside Indonesia are not,it is not surprising that the better Javanese keris follow the money,resulting in only the dregs being left for collectors in the rest of the world.
I believe that many,if not most collectors outside Jawa have a suspicion that art is involved with the keris,and I am certain that many build their collections upon the basis of what they ,personally,see as art.For these people the keris satisfies many needs ,and artistic appreciation is one of them.However,this is where the difference between the Javanese collector and the western collector becomes apparent.The western collector also evaluates the keris,but in that evaluation he includes all of the items of dress,and bases his decision to purchase ,or not,on the totality of the keris.On the other hand,the Javanese collector would normally base his decision to acquire ,on the blade,and his decision as to what is a reasonable price upon the totality of blade plus dress.
I also frequently purchase using this western approach.I have even paid outlandish prices for keris which by Javanese standards were not much more than pieces of junk ,just to obtain a handle I wanted.In such an instance ,a western collector would probably envy me my good fortune in acquiring such a wonderful piece,whilst the Javanese collector would consider me a fool because I paid such a price for a piece of junk with a rare handle.

But when we start to talk about "quality",and seek to define it ,we come up against a problem,and that is,that it is extremely difficult to find quality keris in the marketplace,in the western world today.I know personally a number of people who deal in keris,both in Indonesia,and in the western world,of all these people,I know of only one who consistently offers good quality keris,correctly stained and presented,for sale.I know this person well,and have been permitted to peruse his records of items sold over the last 10 years.What I have noticed is that the bulk of his customers consistently select the most beautiful keris.In each of his catalogues there will be maybe three keris that perhaps as many as 8 or 10 people wanted to buy.These keris that everybody wants are invariably the most beautiful.
Not the oldest,not the most unusual,not the ones with little bits of magic pamor tambal in the blades, and certainly not the cheapest ,but the most beautiful.
Another thing I have noticed from my perusal of these catalogues,is that these prime examples of keris nearly always seem to be purchased,or attempted to be purchased, by experienced and well known collectors;people whose names are instantly recognisable by the international collecting community.
This seems to again be re-inforced by Mr. Henkel`s statement "--- your tastes migrate over time as you get to experience more pieces---".I know my tastes have altered as I have learnt more.I`ve only been collecting for about 15 years,so although I have a little experience,I really don`t know so much.I actually started to learn keris when I was about eleven,but couldn`t start to collect until I started to earn money from an after school job.The keris that I acquired during my early years are quite a bit different to the sort of thing I purchase these days.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder,but I think we can all recognise a beautiful woman,or a handsome man.In recent years analyses have been carried out to find out what the universal factors are that cause us to identify people as handsome or beautiful.What I would really like to see is a similar analysis carried out so that we could identify the factors that collectors find attractive in a keris.
My perusal of the records mentioned above did reveal that collectors appear to place an almost equal value on a beautiful pattern welded blade,as they do on good quality dress,or on rareities,such as unusual handles.But what they appraise is the totality.The appearance and appeal of the keris as a whole.
As Mr. Henkel and I have pointed out,Javanese collectors pay much more attention to the blade.This blade is recognised as an art form.In a previous contribution I mentioned Javanese criteria including "feelings" as a part of the appraisal process.For someone from a Javanese background,this is not a strange,unusual or mystical criteria to apply.Javanese people are very sensitive to other people ,and to their surroundings.The culture itself demands this sensitivity in order to function within it.When you meet a person for the first time,part of the process of mutual acquainting is a "feeling out" to assess exactly what your status is,relevent to one another,and how you "feel" with one another.It is only natural to extend this "feeling" appraisal into the evaluation of a cultural icon, such as the keris,even more so ,as the keris is not regarded as a "dead" object.
It is not reasonable to expect that people from outside Javanese society can apply a similar analytical "feeling" process in their evaluation of a keris,however,I believe it is reasonable that we should be able to quantify the measures that we use when we contemplate a keris.
I thought that we made a pretty fair start to this analytical approach,however,the analytical ideas seem to have dried up ,and we now seem to be engaged in general discussion.Well,maybe this is an easier way to go.It doesn`t really matter what road we follow,as long as we arrive at the same destination.But to arrive anywhere,we need input,ideas,opinions,suggestions.In this sort of exercise nobody is right,and nobody is wrong.Its a matter of getting the input up there in front of us so we can(hopefully)come to a concensus of opinion.
I would really love to see some more opinions.

And a very happy first year of the new millenium to all.

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DAHenkel
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posted 01-01-2001 00:37     Click Here to See the Profile for DAHenkel   Click Here to Email DAHenkel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
First off thanks to Wong Desa for further clarifying some of the points which I tried to make. I agree entirely with him in his appraisal of the difference between the way most local and most foreign collecters appraise a keris. I want to take a moment however to clarify my point in identifying "traditional" and "modern" collectors. Wong Desa is correct to point out that true "traditional" collectors don't really exist any longer. When the peoples of the Archipelago stopped wearing keris as an everyday item truly traditional criteria began to be lost. What Wong Desa identifies as "Javanese" criteria is in effect modern in the sense that it is currently the generalized criteria used by many of the people in the Archipelago in evaluating keris. These criteria are different than those used by previous generations but they are the direct decendants of those criteria. What Wong Desa identifies as western values is far more ecclectic. They are rooted, for the most part I believe, in a hodge-podge of Western traditional weapons criteria and a fascination by Western peoples with the art and craft of the "exotic East." However I have a terrible time with the label "western" because to a great extent, what most people identify as "western" has little to do with Western culture. It is an accident of history that the West was the first civilization to become what we now term as modern. Thus, modern culture is to a great extent mis-labeled as "Western." This I think is a great falsehood. Most of my Asian friends, indeed all of them, are to greater or lesser extent creatures of the modern age. Radical conservatives may label folks as "Westernized" but they are no more western than I am eastern. They're simply modern. My selection of the term traditional is to place emphasis on those values which are direct decendants to the culture that created them; not as values or criteria that are necessarily old. On the other hand my use of modern was to focus on the core of values which has come to represent the global perspective on the keris. Many non-westerners collect the keris using these criteria including no small number of ethnic Malays.

Next I would like to again underscore (as a surrogate outer-islander) the importance of maintaining an Archipelago wide perspective in our discussion. Javanese criteria are certainly different, but I don't think irreconcilably different, from the criteria used by other keris collectors in the archipelago. I also object to Wong Desa's assertion that the best of Java and Bali represent an "epitome" of the keris as an art form. Wong Desa is entitled to his opinion but I would assert that the craftsmanship of non-Javanese empu and various other craftsmen associated with keris making were every bit as accomplished as thier Javanese counterparts. Perhaps you have yet to be exposed to the very best of the outer-islands Iwan.

Quality is a word which we have been slinging around here for some time now without adequately defining it to everyone's satifaction. Leaving aside any interpretation of beauty which, I think we can agree is irretrevably lost in a sea of beholders I still think that there is a level of craftsmanship, of materials and of artistic interpretation which we can use to define whether a keris is a quality piece. Indeed I think that was one of the original goals of this whole exercise. I would agree with Wong Desa that there isn't a whole lot of quality out there right now but I think we might disagree as to a matter of degree. Whereas I think you might see one good keris for every ten junker's Wong Desa might see it as more like 100-1. Perhaps this difference is the beholder's eye and we all know we can't do anything about that. Still lets do what we can do and get back on subject here.

Finally I would also like to take a few moments to try and help Wong Desa explain the "feeling" which he describes in his last post. In the Malay world keris fanciers often use the word "jodoh" (a term which is best defined as "suitable," "meant to be together," or "the part that makes a pair." It is commonly used when describing a spousal relationship.) when describing how one feels about a particular keris. Indeed many of the terms used in keris collecting are derived from simmilar terms. (price negotiation is described as "meminang," a process of negotiation in arranging a marriage, and "mas kahwin" or "bride price" which is the traditional term used for the agreed upon price. So in addition to a general feeling of artistic appreciation there is also often a feeling not unlike the feeling one gets when one meets an attractive potential mate. I must admit that I do get this same feeling in my collecting habit (often much to the detriment of my bank account). I have seen many wonderful and very well made keris which did not move me to desire them. Also interestingly, I have only on the rarest occasions had such a feeling for a keris which is already part of another person's collection (and this is also closely followed by a feeling of guilt not unlike that which one feels for lusting after another's significant other!) However, when the feeling does come (and the item is available) its very difficult to resist its temptation to acquire it. I suppose that this is part of the magic of the hobby to me but it also might mean I either need to get a life or therapy I hope this helps you Wong Desa, I'm quite sure what few shreds of credibility I had left with this forum are safely destroyed.

[This message has been edited by DAHenkel (edited 01-01-2001).]

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DAHenkel
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posted 01-01-2001 08:59     Click Here to See the Profile for DAHenkel   Click Here to Email DAHenkel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I've taken the liberty of posting a few pictures in a new topic folder "Quality non-Javanese keris." Please feel free to comment.

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wong desa
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posted 01-03-2001 16:11     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Destroyed your credibility David? I would say rather you have enhanced it.You have raised a number of points,with which for the most part I am in agreement. Moreover, your post of photos shows some beautiful items,and I think demonstrates very well what I said previously about the quality of today`s craftsmanship.

Your reference to the concept of "quality" I will address last,as I believe it is the most important,however I will first respond to the other matters under discussion.

The classification of collectors.I have used the terms "Javanese" and "western".I have also used "collectors outside Jawa".Quite frankly I`m not really happy with any of these terms.I`ve used them because they come close to encapsulating ideas which would otherwise use perhaps 1000 words to express.Your terms of "modern" and "traditional",given the definitions in your most recent post,I am probably marginally more happy with than I am with my own terms.I did not like what I took to be your original sense ,but given this latest clarification,I`m quite happy to stay with "modern" and "traditional",the main thing is that we all know to what we are referring when we use one of these terms.I`d probably be even happier with something like "collector type A","collector type B","collector type C",and so on,with appropriate attached descriptions,but perhaps for the purposes of the present exercise this may be a little too definitive.We are,after all ,attempting to draft a standard for keris,rather than for those who collect or study them.
So,if we are to use "modern" and "traditional",would you be kind enough to provide us with a fairly precise definition of each,so that we all stay on track.

In respect of the treatment of the "feeling" concept ,I am totally familiar with everything which Mr. Henkel has raised,and I would agree that in the selection of a particular keris to add to a collection ,the idea of "jodoh"does indeed play a part in determining if you want it or not,but again this idea of "jodoh" has no place in the criteria quoted in the Empu Suparman reference.Empu Suparman was speaking in terms of appraising a keris .He was not giving advice on the selection of a keris for addition to a personal collection.I`ve already said that clear explanation is beyond me;Alan Maisey has made a number of attempts at explanation and to date has not succeeded.In respect of this "feeling" business,I personally am quite happy to recognise its existence ,and then ignore it in the determination of standards for use outside the Javanese collecting community.

Now,regarding the concept of quality.Firstly,let me make it clear that to the present I have been talking in terms of keris blades only.I did earlier state that this was the direction I was heading,but perhaps I should have reiterated my intent.I am talking "quality" in terms of keris blades only .I am not discussing,at this time ,quality in terms of handles,scabbards,pendok,or mendak.I am only talking blades.
The reason that I have stated that in my opinion Javanese and Balinese keris represent the epitome of keris art is that :

Only blade makers are honoured with the title "empu",as distinct from the
designation for a person who makes keris dress,which is "tukang".The difference
in these two words is the difference between "craftsman" or "tradesman",and
"master craftsman".Within the societies relevant to this discussion,these master
craftsmen were expected to be able to make more than a mere weapon;they
made symbols of power,and works of art.
If we are to identify one particular group of keris as being of superior artistic
value to another group of keris,then logically the nomination of one above another
must place more weight upon the component of the total keris which is regarded
as art as distinct from craft. This component is the blade.

Objective evaluation of excellent examples taken from all groups of keris,using a
geographic/time matrix, will demonstrate that the art of the keris reached its
peak in late 19th. century Bali and Surakarta. At this time,and in these places
the management and forge manipulation of pamor ,the rendition of cross-sectional
contours,the achievement of harmonious balance,the application of gold
encrustation,had all been mastered,and true works of art ,equal to,and in many
cases better than can be found in examples of the art of armoury from other
places thoughout the world,were being produced.
Within each classification of keris,be that classification based on geographic
location ,or on the Javanese concept of history there are to be found excellent
examples of the art of the armourer.However,using a totally objective evaluation,
based upon the principles of art and armoury,all classifications are able to be
hierarchically ranked.
This brings us to the concept of what we actually mean by the word "quality".
Oxford gives "quality",in the relevant sense, as "The nature,kind,or character of
(something);hence the degree or grade of excellence,etc.possessed by a thing."
Excellence means to excel,to excel is to be superior in some respect.Since we are
considering the blade of a weapon ,which can be regarded as an art form,then in
determination of the quality of excellence which shall apply to the object under
consideration,we do need to consider two factors: excellence as a weapon,and
excellence as a work of art.
If we choose to deny that the blade of a keris can be regarded as an art work,
albiet applied art,then we need consider only one factor,and that factor is
excellence as a weapon.If we choose this route,then we automatically remove
from consideration all keris which contain a feature which cannot be justified
in terms of weapon function.To do this would be to deny the very nature of the
keris.A body of documentation exists which conclusively proves the nature of the
keris;this nature is more than that of a mere weapon.
So, although I maintain that it can be objectively demonstrated that the art of the
keris reached its peak in 19th. century Bali and Surakarta,this does not at all
mean that very fine examples of keris blades cannot be found in other
classifications.However,in appraisal of the degree of excellence applicable to a
particular blade,that blade should be appraised against the standard within the
relevant classification.For example,it would be senseless to eliminate from
consideration all Peninsular blades,simply because they they are deficient in the
execution of sogokan,kruwingan ,and kusen.These features are obviously not
material to the excellence ,or otherwise ,of a Peninsular blade.So we judge the
excellence of the blade against the standard for the blade.But when we come to
judge the standards themselves of these classifications,one against the other,then
it can be demonstrated that some require a higher standard of excellence in some
respects ,than do others.


Now, if we opt for an evaluation of the totality of the keris,as distinct from an evaluation of only the blade,and if at the same time we choose not to recognise that only the blade is considered to be art,and then we become blind to distinctions in point of origin in respect of time and place,I would suggest that we have created for ourselves a problem which has no answer.If this is the way to go ,it is clearly impossible to establish any standard.We are back where we started,with each individual saying:"Hey,I like it!So it must be good."
Rather than being stuck with universal subjectivity forever,may I suggest that we acknowledge that excellence can exist based upon individual requirements applicable to each separate classification of keris.

In summary,I submit that if we are to establish a standard against which keris can be measured for the purpose of appraisal,that standard must recognise the nature of the keris.This being so,a keris should be appraised,both as a whole,and in part, in respect of at least its excellence as both weapon and art work.

Mr. Henkel is clearly knowledgeable in the subject of Peninsular keris,so at this point I would like to invite him to set forth for us the standards which should be applied in judging the excellence,or otherwise ,of a Peninsular blade.I emphasize:blade only.We can deal with items of dress at a later date.


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DAHenkel
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posted 01-05-2001 10:35     Click Here to See the Profile for DAHenkel   Click Here to Email DAHenkel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I am somewhat hesitant to write definitively on this subject at this point as, lacking time and resources, I have not done a lot of primary research on the Peninsular keris. I will however briefly attempt to relate to this forum what I have learned secondhand from my visits to Nik Rashidin and his circle of friends in Kelantan and my own experience in examining keris of the region. I do this while explicitly stating that I can in no way speak authoritatively on the subject.

Collectors and researchers of Peninsular keris types are at a distinct disadvantage to their Java-centric bretheren. This is mainly because of the poor state of available research on Peninsular and other “Malay” keris variants. Court records, if they ever did exist and there is no definitive way of telling whether they did or not, no longer exist or are not available at the present time. It is possible that some records have been stored away somewhere or another but these have not yet come to my attention. The gradual and occasionally violent demise of Malay centers of power in Sumatera, Sulawesi and the Peninsula prior to the 20th century led to the destruction or dispersal of much information and material evidence. Dutch agression against the Bugis; the Tai invasion of Pattani and successive waves of Portugese, Dutch and British colonialism in the Peninsula, natural disasters (specifically a major typhoon which devastated Kelantan in the 19th century), the generally transformative influence of Islam on original traditional forms, the highly secretive nature of traditional craftsmen (Nik Din told me that most of the last generation of craftsmen chose to go to their grave without relating their knowledge or expertise rather than relate special information to unqualified individuals), the equally secretive nature of modern proprietors of court keris (To my knowledge only the Johor royal family allows regular and open access to its collection. For a number of complicated and not always very apparent reasons other important collections are rarely if ever exhibited.) and the generally more mobile, less densely concentrated nature of Malay centers of power were all factors in this general lack of concrete information and evidence.

In my somewhat limited experience it is possible to discern three major streams of keris blade forms in the Malay Peninsula. Bugis influence quite clearly played an important role throughout the region with additional cross-fertilized influence arriving through Sumatera. In terms of blade production this stream of influence is most strongly felt only up into Terengganu where strongly Bugis influenced blades are more norm than exception. Bugis dress forms are common right up to Pattani (though not, to my knowledge, to Singora (Songkhla), the Northern-most Malay state). Sumatran influences, including Palembang/Riau/Lingga, Minangkabau, and North Sumatra, appear to have been most strongly felt primarily on the West Coast and Johor. It is however quite clearly the case that there was strong cross-fertilization at some point between Pattani/Kelantan and Palembang/Riau/Lingga. These would of course most likely have taken place through ties between Sri Vijaya and Langkasuka. This is most apparent in hilt development rather than in blade technology and form and manifests itself in motif and form similarities between Tajong and various “birdlike” Palembang forms and even more clearly in the ubiquitous Jawa Demam hilt. To summarize, Bugis-like blades manifest themselves throughout much of the Peninsula but are most common in the South and up into Terengganu becoming more rare the further North you go from there. Sumateran blade forms pretty much kept to the West Coast although panjang forms are common even in the Northeast. The third stream, which I suppose can best be termed the Northeastern or Pattani/Kelantan keris, can perhaps best lay claim to a domestic heritage.

According to rather sketchy historical records and popular tradition early Peninsular keris production obtained its most important infusion of technology some 500 years ago with the arrival in Pattani of a Javanese empu by the name of Pandai Saras. Pandai Saras is well known to keris fanciers I have met in Kelantan, as the father of golden age keris production in the Northeastern-region of the Peninsula. Pandai Saras however is perhaps probably only the most important of a procession of Javanese empu who came and offered their services to the courts of the region. What is more or less apparent is that the standards and technological expertise of Javanese keris production were imported to the region by these empu. It is likely that the social and spiritual role of the empu (known locally as pandai) was probably also similar to that of their Javanese counterparts at least until the coming of Islam began to erode their position. What also is clear is that rather than effecting a wholesale introduction of the Javanese keris, these empu adapted themselves to available local materials and tastes. This is readily apparent on examination of local keris types. Only very rarely will one encounter regional keris that are in any clear way attempts to replicate Javanese forms or standards. In simpler terms, the “quality” and “craftsmanship standards” of Java are quite apparent in an objective survey of fine regional keris however, keris forms, features and materials remain very distinctive, sharing only those generalized features common to all keris. As Wong Desa hints at in his most recent post, this distinctiveness does not lend itself to any real, objective comparison. It is I would submit, a matter of apples and oranges.

With the exception of sogokan, (which I have seen only in locally made Javanese copies) other generalized features of the keris all manifest themselves with a fair amount of regularity in Northeastern keris blades. In general, the greneng (grendeng) and janggut represent perhaps the most distinctive feature of these keris, being, at their finest, deeply and finely chiseled and of distinctive form. The kembang kacang (belalai gajah) are also distinctive, being most commonly long, thin and sharply curled at the tip. Belalai gajah occur more often than not though bare gandik are not rare. The ganja (aring) is a regular feature and more typically straight although waved varieties (aring kedut) do occur on occasion. I cannot recall ever having seen an aring iras in a Northeastern blade although these are curiously quite common and popular in Bugis stream varieties. The pesi (putting) is most distinctive for its long length but comes (at least) in round, oval, twisted and square varieties. I have encountered examples of singobarong, naga, pendita, pudak setegal, kuda laut and other unusual carved features known to Java and these are sometimes very well executed indeed. Kinatah work (as opposed to mere gold leaf) was also done though I have yet to encounter a well-preserved example so I really cannot speak as to the quality of such work in the region.

As I have already insinuated a number of times, little is known about the classification and sub-classification of blade types. I am fairly confident that regional pakem, if they ever existed, have long since been irretrievably lost. That being said, Northeastern Keris can at least be classified into several sub-types. The keris pandai saras, keris malela/keris carita, keris debek, keris beko/daun budi and keris panjang (sub-divided into 3 length types) are the most common although I have seen a few other much rarer types and there are probably others which I have not yet encountered. The pandai saras type is the blade most commonly associated with the tajong (see my tajong site for pictures). It is more typically straight but also includes luk varieties (almost universally odd numbered of course) and has a characteristic diamond cross-section. The malela/carita variety are best characterized by deep sorsoran which go the length of the blade. Straight versions of this type are known as keris carita (charita) while luk versions are termed keris malela. The keris debek is a short fat keris type that generally comes dressed in a distinctive and specialized sheath. The blade shape is not unlike that of the Balkan jambia being straight but slightly curved to the front (gandik) side. Popular belief states that this type was favored by elephant drivers, who required a more compact keris in order to sit comfortably on their mounts while remaining adequately armed. I have also been told that this keris type gained in popularity when British Colonial regulations abrogated the carrying of weapons. Being shorter and generally smaller they were much easier to carry concealed. The keris beko, known also as the keris daun budi is the regional equivalent of the Javanese bethok/buddhi and is quite simmilar. It almost certainly served a simmilar, primarily esoteric function. The keris panjang is not distinct to the region although regional varieties tend to be quite readily discerned, principally by means of materials and ricikans.

Fine quality keris are distinguishable in a general way much the way that Javanese keris are. Crisp execution, balance and detail in dapor, ricikan and pamor most clearly distinguish high-class keris from more common pieces. Nik Din has also pointed out to me that noted keris pandai would leave distinguishing marks (odd lines) or place small silver, bronze or copper inserts on blades to identify them as their own work. Nickleferrous pamor is less common than in Javanese keris, probably due to rarity, expense or both but is hardly rare. That said finer keris are more likely to have pamor and the pamor in the finest keris is well executed and of the most complex types. Other than that, an experienced eye and personal tastes are the only way of truly identifying uncommon quality in Northeastern blades.

Perhaps I’m just being a bit lazy but I think we can leave my definition of modern and traditional pretty much as I have vaguely stated them for the time being. Indeed, I think we should take it as one of the ultimate goals of this discussion to move toward a more precise definition rather than distract ourselves with a confining definition at this early stage (it is becoming apparent that this project is going to take a while). For the record however I stand by my stated definitions as; Traditional – present day collectors, generally but not exclusively native to the Archipelago, who uphold as most important, standards which are the direct descendants of, though not identical to, traditional standards of keris evaluation. Their artistic standards are based upon an appraisal of traditional keris forms and standards, backed when available by documentation from traditional sources (pakem). Esoteric (and pseudo-historical) considerations play a far more important role in an interpretation of a keris’ value. Overall condition, fit and finish of a keris is of secondary concern to the condition and finish of the keris blade. Traditional collectors are not averse to the replacement of worn or damaged parts and will commission new dress when warranted. Modern – present day collectors, generally but not exclusively foreign to the region, who uphold standards typified by the same standards general to modern antiques collecting. These are encompassed in an holistic approach to the blade and dress of the keris. They qualify as most desirable keris where all components of the piece are genuine, antique and preferably but not penultimately in a good state of preservation. Modern collectors maintain the exotic “Eastern” nature of the keris. Esoteric information regarding a piece is generally considered as interesting but of secondary importance to exoteric considerations.

By the way, for the record the only item I posted pictures of that could be classified as “today’s” craftsmanship is the ivory tajong hilt made by Nik Rashidin. Most of the other items are 19th or perhaps early 20th century.

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DAHenkel
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posted 01-06-2001 01:36     Click Here to See the Profile for DAHenkel   Click Here to Email DAHenkel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Oh and another thing...

In a previous post Wong Desa wrote:

Only blade makers are honoured with the title "empu",as distinct from the
designation for a person who makes keris dress,which is "tukang".The difference
in these two words is the difference between "craftsman" or "tradesman",and
"master craftsman".Within the societies relevant to this discussion,these master
craftsmen were expected to be able to make more than a mere weapon;they
made symbols of power,and works of art.
If we are to identify one particular group of keris as being of superior artistic
value to another group of keris,then logically the nomination of one above another
must place more weight upon the component of the total keris which is regarded
as art as distinct from craft. This component is the blade.

To a certain extent I suppose I should defer to your greater familiarity with keris related craftsmanship in Java. However I do recall that in Garret Soyom's study hilt carvers and sheath makers also were regarded as craftsmen of varying gradation and held titles much as blade smiths did. I believe the term for sheath makers was "mranggi." I don't have my copy of Solyom to refer to so I'm working from memory here. What I do know though is that my friend Nik Rashidin would strongly object to your placing of blade smith, and the keris blade on a higher plateau in relation to other related keris craftsmen and thier works. Nik Din would be quick to point out that hilt and sheath makers take thier craft just as seriously as their metal smithing counterparts. The technical knowledge; selection of wood, processes, selection and use of tools etc., is at least as involved as those observed by blade smiths. Nik Din also spoke at length with me about the passion and mystical connection which he has for wood and for his craft. He also had a great deal to tell me about the spirit (semangat) of wood. He insists that he can "feel" this spirit and that it is this spirit that moves and inspires him. If anything Nik Din is perhaps the anti-pandai. He has a great deal of respect and appreciation the smith's craft and its results but only as a very well informed layperson. His passion is for wood and for the craft of hilt carving. His spiritual energies are directed toward the persuit of perfection in that craft. He becomes indignant at the overwealming attention that most keris fanciers and researchers have for the keris blade. A touch of sour grapes perhaps? However I suspect that many traditionally inspored hilt and sheath craftsmen both modern and in the past would agree with Nik Din's position. The message here I think is one of balance. I think if we pay greater attention and homage to the keris blade we lose something. Keris people can all pretty much agree that a blade without dress is an incomplete entity. I really think we need to maintain a wholistic approach and attitude toward the keris. We will need to focus on the various components separately of course, but we need not forget that there is an equal amount of power, art, and craftsmanship in all the components of the keris and that all of these components and the skills necessary to make them are of equal importance.

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wong desa
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posted 01-06-2001 18:56     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That`s a tremendous amount of info. you`ve managed to get up in your most recent post,David.I value it greatly,because of my deficiencies in knowledge related to Peninsular keris.However it does not really address my question.Since I believe that you do,in fact, have a considerable level of knowledge in matters related to Peninsular keris,I can only assume that the definitive standards for which I was hoping simply form no part of keris appreciation in the areas where you have experience.I guess I was hoping for the existence of Peninsular pakems,as these form one of the foundation stones of an artistic appreciation of the blade of the keris,but what I had in mind when I posed the question was more in the order of what present day connoisseurs of Peninsular keris use as their standards of evaluation.From your answer it would appear that there are no definite standards that people seek compliance with to measure excellence.This being so I can now understand the reasons for your espousal of the subjective approach.
This I believe brings me to what I consider to be a pivotal question at this point in our discussion:
Do we want to establish standards ,or not?
I believe such standards would be an immense boon to the collecting fraternity,but maybe my opinion is not shared by all.
If we do want to establish standards,we must be able to lay down those factors which cause one component of a keris to rise to a standard of excellence.
We do not need endless comparisons of how"good" one classification of keris is compared to another.Keris must be compared within their classifications.I`ve previously stated this,and Mr. Henkel would appear to agree("apples and oranges").Now, David tells us that there are at present no defined standards to which he can refer.O.K.,lets accept that in respect of Peninsular keris these standards have not yet been formalised.What I would now suggest is that you,David, draw upon your experience and observations and try to identify the factors used,perhaps subconsciously,amongst the connoisseurs of your aquaintance to identify the level of excellence of a Peninsular blade.No need to hurry this.Your work place is currently placing pressure on your free time.But if we are ever to judge the level of quality of a Peninsular blade,we need points of reference.We do not need to know that certain features merely exist.We need to know how to judge the excellence of execution of those features,individually,and in combination.Please give this matter due consideration,and answer at your leisure.But we do need the input.The result is important,not how long it takes to achieve it.I emphasize once again,blade only.We are not going to establish how to judge the excellence or otherwise of a Peninsular keris blade by talking about the cross fertilization of dress forms.Let`s just take one step at a time.
It may assist,if we were to commence by consideration of some of what you have already stated are indicators,if not standards,for identification of better quality keris blades.Let`s just take one feature: greneng,and examine this feature.You have stated that"---greneng---represent perhaps the most distinctive feature of these keris,being ,at their finest,deeply and finely chiseled and of distinctive form."

Questions:

Is the form of the greneng supposed to represent anything in particular,or is it simply random,artistic carving?

If it is supposed to represent something ,what is it supposed to represent?

Does the form of the carving in the greneng change according to where the blade was made,or when it was made,or is it the same for all Peninsular keris?

The greneng is comprised of a number of individual carvings.What are the names of these individual parts of the greneng?

Are these individual carvings within the greneng permitted to occur randomly,or is the combination prescribed according to the form of the keris,or where it originated or according to some other rule?

We normally view the greneng in silhouette,however,it does have another dimension.Are there any requirements for the cross sectional execution of the greneng?

In the absence of definitive answers for any or all of the above,how do we know if a greneng has been well,and correctly ,executed?

If you can come up with definitive answers to the above,we have the start to a standard for Peninsular blades.

I do not understand the reference to keris daun budi "---is the regional equivalent of the Javanese bethok/buddhi----served a similar,primarily esoteric function."I don`t know of a keris buddhi;I know keris buda(budo),these were most definitely a weapon form,were not esoteric,and not the same as keris bethok,which were also a weapon form.Can you clarify this for me please David?
Incidentally,I also haven`t previously heard of keris daun budi,I`d love to see one.My primary interest these days is origin and development of keris.If a form of what we know as the keris buda exists amongst Peninsular keris,this would be of great interest to me.
On the subject of "modern" and "traditional".This has now been made a little more definitive,and,I agree ,it is sufficient to work with for the present.
However,I must disagree with one statement you have made;"---Esoteric( and pseudo-historical) considerations play a far more important role in an interpretation of a keris` value.---" I can assure you David,that noted connoisseurs such as K.R.T. Harjonegoro,and Haryono Guritno do not pay out the sums they do for fine keris on the basis of folk beliefs.They pay for works of art and they appraise these works of art in accordance with definite principles.The folk beliefs are for a different segment of the market,and the prices paid for this sort of keris,although sometimes not inconsiderable,do not remotely approach the prices paid in the sector of the market where artistic value is of prime import.
I realise that the bulk of what was shown in the pics.are older pieces,and what I had in mind as I wrote was in fact the unpatinated ivory tajong with filigreed selut.Beautiful,beautiful,beautiful.However,I admit ,I thought at least one of the other tajong handles was also current production.Still,all this is really not relevant,one excellent handle,or twenty,the point is still made:today`s craftsmen are as good as any in the past.

Goodness,gracious me! I was just about to post the above,and I find I have to address the question of the social position of the empu.This has been written on extensively,and over many years,by the most notable anthropologists,and ethnologists working in the related cultures.An understanding of this position is basic to an understanding of the nature of the keris,and to the keris itself.A forum such as this is not the place to attempt a complete explanation of this matter,I can only suggest that a little more time be spent on study of the above mentioned writings,and on the traditions of these cultures.
Having said this,I am prepared to address some of the minor matters which have been raised.I intend to address these matters in the context of Jawa as I have only a general knowledge of traditions and history of other keris societies.

The term "mranggi" is a generic term for people who look after keris.It is usually applied to the people who stain blades,rather than to the people who make scabbards(warongko,wrongko).Wrongko makers are called"tukang wrongko",handle makers are called "tukang jejeran","jejeran" being one of the words for "handle",and so on.
Now,these craftsmen are sometimes invited to join the hierarchy of the Kratons.If they accept this invitation,they automatically must be given some form of title.You can`t be a part of a hierarchy without an hierarchical marker.This is the way in which the Kratons attempt to foster and maintain these essential traditional crafts.However,even if an invitation to join this hierarchy is extended,it is not always taken up.Being a part of a kraton hierarchy is a two edged sword ;not everybody is prepared to accept the obligations.
The level to which a low born tailor,who has joined the hierarchy, can rise,is not the same as the level to which a noble born person can rise.This same rationale applies to all people,and all classes of people within the hierarchy.
Within Javanese tradition,the Kings of the Land of Jawa,and the Armourers of the Land of Jawa all descend from a common ancestor( I don`t want to take the time to check references,but I suspect the Poets also can trace back to this common,mythical,ancestor).So,when an armourer becomes a part of the Kraton hierarchy,he is given the designation"Empu".This same designation is also bestowed on the court poets.Naturally these people rank higher than a mere tradesman.
I am quite certain that all these lower ranked tradesmen feel very hardly done by that their efforts are not accorded the respect given the efforts of literary people and keris makers.Certainly their skill is often considerable,and they probably think that life is just not fair.However,we are talking traditional social structures here.The current caretaker of this structure,at any time, doesn`t make the rules,he simply ensures they are correctly applied.

I recognise that I have been attempting to promote a separate standard for use by collectors who are not a part of the Javanese tradition.
I further recognise that such a collector may place equal,or perhaps greater ,emphasis on the various parts of keris dress ,than on the blade,in his consideration of an individual piece for addition to his collection.I don`t have any problem with this.I sometimes do the same thing myself,and I freely admit that I am caught between two cultures.
However,in view of the people who form the societies from which keris come,the blade is the keris,the items of dress are changed in accordance with prevailing conditions.Again I point in the direction of the afore mentioned academic writings.
To suggest that an equal amount of power can be found in the items of dress for a keris,as can be found in the blade,is at total variance with any keris tradition I`ve ever heard of.Given the nature of keris dress,as opposed to the nature of the blade,it is also at total variance with the wider traditions of the culture.
"Power",in the sense of "artistic power",yes,I agree."Power" in the sense in which this word is usually applied to the keris? Never happen man!
A keris blade is of equal importance to a wrongko,handle,mendak,pendok?To some collectors perhaps,and again,I have no problem with this.But as an all embracing concept?Never,never,never.

A question David.You mention that keris makers are called "pandai" in your area.Is this just"pandai",or is it "pandai keris"?We use the word "pandai" to indicate a craftsman in metal,so we have "pandai besi","pandai emas",and ,of course,"pandai keris".A pandai keris is simply someone who makes keris;he does not have,nor is he expected to have ,the same skills as an empu.In our thought,the two words "pandai" and "empu" are not interchangeable.Is this the same in the Peninsular,do they not have court ranked keris makers(either current or historic),or are the two words completely interchangeable?

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DAHenkel
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posted 01-06-2001 23:36     Click Here to See the Profile for DAHenkel   Click Here to Email DAHenkel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
You ask a lot of relevant questions for which I fear there are no answers. In Malaysia and Southern Thailand today, elite keris craftsmen, both pandai and tukang ukir, can probably be counted on your fingers. Indeed there are no pandai today who can make a blade to the standard of the old craftsmen. Most of the so-called craftsmen today make tourist crap. The knowledge of the old craftsmen is, as I have endeavored to point out to this forum, all but lost.

Nik Rashidin is fond of saying that the old keris hilts in his collection are his textbooks (rujukan). He recieved no formalized training but rather leaned through a process of research, comparison and trial and error. Whatever traditional knowledge he has was gotten through associating with other wood carvers. Chief among these was Tengku Ibrahim, who sadly recently passed away. Nik Rashidin is the only wood carver working today who can make a "real" tajong. Others try but their works can really not even be called reasonable facsimiles. It's sad to contemplate, but the tajong today is a tragic car accident away from oblivion!

The state of the Peninsular keris is nothing like that in Java. There are no records and there are no true traditional craftsmen. As such it would be impossible to find adequate answers to Wong Desa's questions via traditional sources. The only methodology we have left is the process of observation and comparison; and by at least loosely, and I stress loosely, comparing Javanese standards to our observation of Peninsular varieties. This is why I intend to start a keris database.

Wong Desa writes "I must disagree with one statement you have made;'---Esoteric( and pseudo-historical) considerations play a far more important role in an interpretation of a keris` value.---' I can assure you David,that noted connoisseurs such as K.R.T. Harjonegoro,and Haryono Guritno do not pay out the sums they do for fine keris on the basis of folk beliefs.They pay for works of art and they appraise these works of art in accordance with definite principles." I have two points to make here. First off, I would submit that this type of collector would not be a "traditional" collector but rather a "modern" collector. One of my main reasons for using traditional and modern is to highlight the belief systems involved in the selection of the keris as opposed to the ethnicity of the individual collector. Just because these individuals are Indonesians does not mean that they are not modern, rational (that is, they have been trained in and use the modern scientific method in their thought processes) people. I would submit to you that modern collectors are by definition "art" collectors. The individual’s you name above may well be using traditional standards of art appraisal, however they appear to have divorced these standards from traditional esoteric ones. I’m not sure if that is possible for “traditional” collectors as I’ve defined them. These people are apparently acquiring fine keris in the same manner that a European art collector acquires a Piccaso. Secondly, it is my impression that we were looking for a generalized set of standards on which various kinds of collectors use in their interpretation of a keris. Dozens of different collectors walk into Adni Aljunied's shop every day. Most of these I would classify as modern. Of these all of them would agree with my definition of modern standards as an ideal. At the same time each of these people are individuals with individual tastes and buying power. Each of them has a slightly different set of priorities for the building of their collection. One might have a penchant for Bugis se-iras blades and might gladly accept a fine se-iras blade with a sub-standard dress. They’d like the piece to comply with the ideal standard but if it doesn't it won't kill them. I'd like to suggest that we think in terms of a two-dimensional graph where on one axis we can chart exoteric considerations and on the other we chart esoteric. If we do this we actually get 4 different kinds of collector. High eso-high exo/high eso-low exo/low eso-high exo/and low eso-low exo. What do you think of this?

I would not claim that the status of the keris blade and of keris smiths was anything other than what it was. Indeed it is almost certain that the same standings were observed in the Peninsula in traditional times. Nik Din is the anti-pandai but I take a much more balanced and holistic view. My point is that we, as rational scholars, not make the mistake of over-emphasizing any one aspect of the keris. Our stated goal after all is to present a list of standards for “modern” collectors. These standards should encompass the keris in its entireity as well as in its component parts. We should impartially examine every facet of the keris as the component parts of the whole. This includes impartially examining traditional standards and social values. We are here, I hope, to make observations and comparisons in a bid to help keris fanciers make an informed analysis. Not to “impose” any one set of standards.

Wong Desa has caught me in a minor flub as well. He writes that: “I do not understand the reference to keris daun budi ‘---is the regional equivalent of the Javanese bethok/buddhi----served a similar,primarily esoteric function.’I don`t know of a keris buddhi;I know keris buda(budo),these were most definitely a weapon form,were not esoteric,and not the same as keris bethok,which were also a weapon form.Can you clarify this for me please David?” I mis-spoke in referring to the “Javanese Buddhi.” This is I believe a modern Malaysian term for the keris buda. When I presented my list of categories I should have made it more clear that these were very generalized. What we find in the Northeastern Peninsula today is a system of classification based on these basic forms. Whether there were specific dapor categories at some point is mere conjecture. Yes, we have no pakems today! The daun budi refers in Northeastern terminology to a leaf shaped straight blade. The category includes both weapon keris and talismanic/esoteric ones. Here’s a fine example.

These blades are very similar to the debek however according to Nik Din the daun budi broadens slightly at the mid-point of the blade whereas the debek is straight or slightly tapered toward the point. They also apparently differ in their cross-section. The daun budi being and eight faceted diamond shape while the debek is either flat sided or slightly eliptical.

Also, in modern-day usage the term pandai keris is used to distinguish these smiths from plain ‘ol tukang besi.

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wong desa
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posted 01-08-2001 17:24     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
David-I`m going to address these remarks to you ,because it looks to me as we are the only two people involved in this discussion.We got off to a good start,I thought,but it looks like the thread is of very little interest to most people,or maybe there`s just not many people interested in keris.Paul made a statement,and then decided not to engage in discussion,which is a pity,but to be honest,if I had known the direction this discussion was to take,I also would probably have abstained from comment.I guess Paul has had a lot more experience than I have in the way this forum operates.
The topic was posted as "What constitutes a good keris?"
So far we have discussed almost everything except what it is that constitutes "goodness" in a keris.I thought we were really running on rails when we started to home in on the concept of excellence,but this appears to have died a natural death.
Why do I think it has died? Because whenever I try to direct discussion towards the factors by which people with anything more than a rudimentary knowledge of keris evaluate them,I find that we move towards the categorization of collectors,or descriptions of keris types,or almost anything except the analytical evaluation of what it is that raises one keris to a level of excellence above another.

There is one sentence in your most recent post that I think probably accounts for this disparity in objectives:"---it is my impression that we were looking for a generalised set of standards on which various kinds of collectors use in their interpretation of the keris."The use of this approach would certainly require the categorization of collectors.However,the question is directed at keris,thus it is keris we need to categorize,not collectors.I initially tried to use input from collectors in an attempt to draft standards for the items they collect,however ,this approach has failed because of the paucity of input.Thus we are left with a situation where only a couple of people are to decide exactly what drives the greater body of keris collectors.Clearly,this approach is not statistically supportable ,and thus,not viable.However,an approach which uses informed opinion,which can be defended in open debate is a valid one to use in the establishment of a standard for the object.

In my last post I raised several questions.Some were very basic ,simple questions that I was sure I`d get nice clear answers for.One question was the catch all ,just in case,these simple, basic kindergarten questions in fact could not be answered from a Peninsular base of knowledge.
The catch all question was:'In the absence of definitive answers for any or all of the above,how do we know if a greneng has been well,and correctly,executed?'
The answer to this question was the same as the answer to the rest of the questions:"---I fear there are no answers."
From what I have seen of your previous posts,I have formed the opinion that you have a very good knowledge of Peninsular keris.If you say there is no answer,I accept that there is no answer.Again,your personal opinion of the qualities of excellence in a Peninsular keris have been invited,but you have declined to answer.
So,in respect of Peninsular keris it would appear it is not possible for us to establish any guide lines as to their excellence ,or otherwise.If nothing has been preserved of the culture of the keris in the Peninsular,and if a man-yourself-with intelligence, and experience in the field cannot form an opinion then it seems to me that the Peninsular keris is really a lost cause.An interesting artifact,sometimes skilfully made,occasionally very beautiful,but in essence,a hollow artifact,as nobody either within,or outside the culture,appears to know much about it,except for some names.

I really do not want to get bogged down in the idea of classifying collectors,however it appears that once again I must comment in this area.
You posted as your definitions of two suggested groups of collectors the following:
Traditional:
Apply standards which are direct descendants of,though not identical to,traditional standards of keris evaluation.
Standards may be backed by documentation in form of "pakem"
Esoteric or psuedo-historical considerations play a far more important role
in interpretation of the value of a keris.
Condition of keris dress is not important.

Modern:
Apply same standards general to modern antique collecting.
Apply holistic approach to blade and dress of keris.
Most desirable keris is that where all components of the piece are genuine,antique ,and preferably in a good state of preservation.
Esoteric information regarding a piece is interesting but of secondary importance to exoteric considerations.

I did not,and do not, find a lot to disagree with in these definitions.My own research relevant to the preferences of knowledgeable collectors has produced a different profile,which I previously advised,but we`re talking keris ,not collectors,so I`m prepared to let that go.I accept the colloquial usage of "esoteric" and "exoteric",I`m sure everyone knows what is meant.In any case,I`m really not all that interested in classifying collectors.My own designations were made in the first place,to point up the difference between collectors living in a place where much is known about keris(Jawa),and collectors living in places where little is known about keris.
Now,as it happens,the actual,rather than the figurative application of the words "esoteric",and "exoteric" describes these two classes of collectors quite well.
"Esoteric" means:intelligible to the initiated only.
"Exoteric" means:intelligible to outsiders,suitable to the uninitiated.
To my mind this is a close to perfect description of the difference between those people using Javanese standards ,and those coasting along on subjectivity.

In my previous contribution I mentioned two Javanese connoisseurs with world wide reputations.By any definition these men apply traditional standards.Certainly they are collecting keris much as a European connoisseur would collect Picasso.This is precisely what identifies them as traditional collectors.Within the Javanese art ethic
the blade of the keris is recognised as one of the highest expressions of the Javanese plastic arts.The collecting of keris in Jawa is on a level with the collecting of art on canvas in European society.This is a long standing tradition,with old manuscripts to re-inforce it,and physical evidence of artistic endeavour in this field stretching back hundreds of years.However,as with any art form,one needs a relevant education to appreciate it.Those who have had this education have been initiated into the field of keris art,thus when they apply the knowledge gained from this education they are most definitely applying an esoteric standard.

"Traditional collector (of keris)" does not mean,and I emphasize this,a person who collects on the basis of the supposed supernatural powers of keris.I`ve said it before,I`ll say it again: people who accumulate keris on an occult basis are collectors of power.They are not collectors of keris.This is so both at the present ,and in the past.Examine the old literary sources and you will find that people who accumulated keris because of the supernatural powers supposedly inherent in those keris,accumulated various other disparate objects for precisely the same reason.
A "traditional "collector,at least in Jawa ,is a person who applies traditional standards in an attempt to gauge the excellence or otherwise of a keris blade,and to a lesser extent,its dress.

Now,when we evaluate any creation of man,we don`t establish the standards by looking at the stuff bouncing around on the bottom of the heap.Rather we look at the very best,make that the bench mark and measure the rest against it.A person may really like spray-can graffiti,but in the context of the western art tradition,nobody will rank spray-can graffiti above the work of,say,Matisse.So,if we are to establish a standard for use in the evaluation of keris,we need first to define excellence in a keris.If we are unable to do this,then no standard can be drafted.

Thus it is that we must understand that keris art is Kraton art.The standards come from the Kratons,and,as a general rule, the further you move from kraton influence, the less the evidence of art.Move far enough in time , distance ,or social position and what you are left with is an artifact,rather than a work of art.
What I had initially hoped for was that we,as a group,could make some sense of all these disjointed artifacts and suggest some good solid guidelines that would help collectors who are not a part of the Javanese cultural ethic ,to make reasoned and balanced evaluations of keris,which could be defended in the face of criticism from people with traditional knowledge.
It would appear that since Jawa,and perhaps Madura and Bali are possibly the only societies where a keris ethic remains,and since people with knowledge and experience are not prepared to put forward an opinion and then debate it,that collectors who are not a part of the Javanese cultural ethic must forever struggle in a vacuum of subjectivity.
O.K.-that`s enough bitching.I just hope it stirs somebody up enough so that we can either start talking sense about keris excellence,or else put the whole thing to sleep.

Just to try to get the ball rolling again,I`ll pose another question:
In the evaluation of Peninsular keris,are keris which carry pamor,as compared to those which carry no pamor more highly regarded?Similarly, are those which carry forge manipulated pamor(pamor miring) ,as compared to those which carry pamor laying in the same plane as the core(pamor mlumah) more highly regarded?


Thanks for the pics David.They clarify what is meant by the terminology,and demonstrate that we are not looking at archaic pieces.Although not archaic,profile closely approaches Mojopahit era temple relief carvings of keris.
On pandai-so your usage is the same as ours?Pandai keris,or pandai does not mean the same as empu?

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DAHenkel
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posted 01-09-2001 09:20     Click Here to See the Profile for DAHenkel   Click Here to Email DAHenkel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I too am a little disappointed that this discussion has degenerated to a two-way conversation. I would have liked to see more input from other sources but Nagasasra is gone until the end of the month and Paul has a family to attend to in addition to his currently more than substantial workload. I frankly would be better off right now putting together my class syllabus’ and lesson plans but I’m enjoying this too much.

As I have been at pains to point out, we only have the surviving examples of the Peninsular keris to judge. The old guys are long gone and they have sadly taken with them their artistic intent and standards. Dead men tell no tales and dead empu can’t point out a well executed from a poorly executed set of greneng. In the absence of original standards we are left to, rather subjectively, judge what was intended by the original craftsman. My opinion of what constitutes an excellent Northeastern Peninsular keris is mine alone and might not be shared by even a majority of keris fanciers. I thought I’d been fairly explicit in laying those out but for convenience sake I will summarize those standards. As regards ricikans in general and greneng in particular I look for fretwork that is deep, clean, and crisp. Heavily worn blades of course have the appeal of great antiquity, but aesthetically at least a traditionally forged blade that is in good, well preserved condition is more pleasing to my tastes. Pamor, when present should be well controlled and not “messy.” Dapor shape should be well balanced and not out of proportion. This is of course one area where subjective interpretation can creep in I realize, but an experienced eye can generally spot a nicely balanced (aesthetically as opposed to how the weapon feels in your hand) from an awkwardly executed blade. In general however one should notice that the mid-line of the blade will arc slightly towards the front or gandik side of the blade. In curved blades the luk are proportional with the line of the outer curves, following the mid-line of the blade and most commonly decrease in amplitute (see Hill, The Keris and Other Malay Weapons, sec. 2 (p. 6 in the reprint)) toward the point of the blade. Hybrid luk/lurus blades (damar murub etc.) are rare if they exist at all in Peninsular blades (I can’t recall ever seeing one).

To the best of my knowledge there is not a specific ordering or terminology for the features which make up the greneng a-la the Javanese keris (ron-dha, ri-pandan etc.). Based on my observation however it appears that typical greneng of Northeastern Peninsular blades commonly differ most crucially from typical Javanese greneng in two aspects. One is that the points of the (ron-dha/thingil) commonly splay at the ends (making four sharp points per-set rather than the Javanese two). (this might make more sense if you look at the images of bilah_bunga02 and bilah_carita01 in my Photopoint album. Look in the Odds and Ends folder.) This is not always the case either nor is it always readily observable in older, more heavily eroded blades. The other difference is that the deep depressions in-between sets of points are deeper and broader than their Javanese cousins. Most commonly there is a progression of three or four sets of points separating two or three depression but this is only generally the case. The distinctiveness of the N.E.P. blades is perhaps better observed than described however and once recognized they are rarely mistaken. (Okay, so once or twice I have seen people mistake N.E.P. blades for Balinese ones – the carita/malela variety in particular does have a Balinese flair to it. Indeed, given that N.E.P. blades were influenced by Majapahit era empu this isn’t entirely surprising.)

Pamor, given that it is rarer in N.E.P. keris is generally more highly prized (in a modern context) perhaps. Pamor miring is rarer than pamor mlumah and thus would naturally be more highly sought after (a basic case of supply and demand). That being said however, non-pamor blades are still of course well appreciated and have a unique N.E. charm to them. The distinctive color (when patinated correctly) and texture of non-pamor blades is in my humble opinion quite unique and attractive and the lack of pamor perhaps allows the admirer to focus more on the perabot aspect of the blade. Finally, It has also been my observation in the field that blades that show a definite sepuhan mark (a difference in color on the blade caused when the blade is quenched during the final tempering) are also regarded more highly.

Empu is a term which I think was not known in the N.E.P. in traditional times, we can’t know for sure but the term has not survived in modern colloquial usage. Malaysian collectors who do use the term empu are people who have been exposed to Javanese knowledge and literature, either directly from Javanese sources (Bambang, Hamzuri etc.) or from modern Malaysian academic sources (who regularly defer to Javanese knowledge rather than go to the trouble of doing proper fieldwork. My academic training was partly in ethnographic research and it bugs me when people don’t do their fieldwork ). In local colloquial usage however the term is, based on my observation, pandai keris and there is no reason to think that this was not the case traditionally. It also seems reasonable to suggest that pandai keris was and is essentially synonymous with the Javanese term empu. Now that this has come up though I will definitely try to clarify this issue with my sources up North. We all know that assuming is a deadly sin in the academic world and I would dare not publish an assumption (sharing on this forum is a slightly different matter).

I suppose we will have to agree to disagree on the nature of the traditional Javanese collector. (Maybe we can get a fresh point of view here?) My last word on the subject is that I feel it is a mistake for our purposes to divorce esoteric and exoteric (in the colloquial sense) standards, especially as these relate to the traditional collector.

Wong Desa writes in his last post that:

“Now, when we evaluate any creation of man, we don’t establish the standards by looking at the stuff bouncing around on the bottom of the heap. Rather we look at the very best, make that the bench mark and measure the rest against it. A person may really like spray-can graffiti, but in the context of the western art tradition, nobody will rank spray-can graffiti above the work of, say, Matisse. So, if we are to establish a standard for use in the evaluation of keris, we need first to define excellence in a keris. If we are unable to do this, then no standard can be drafted.”

I agree that “excellence” should be defined. Wong Desa points out a valid demographic amongst Indonesian collectors but it seems to me a rather rare one with a lot more buying power than mine. It is no leap of faith to say (and I mean this with absolute sincerity) that everyone here would love for you write more about these standards Iwan. You are clearly well informed on such matters and such a perspective constitutes an important, if ideal perspective. At the same time I suspect that the majority of the people here in the forum have much more modest budgets and collecting goals. This is not to suggest however that we are aiming for the bottom of the heap. I think somewhere in the middle is much closer to the truth. While a solid knowledge of fine keris would be very valuable to an appreciation of the keris as a work of art and a useful perspective I do feel though that it isn’t necessarily an imperative. Indeed I think it might be more important to the goals of the majority of the keris collectors in this forum to define “crap” than it would be to define “excellence.” We’ve already established that the lion’s share of the keris market is much more modest than the relative handful of extant kraton pieces. It’s also patently true that there is a great deal of absolute garbage out there masquerading as collectible stuff. I would suggest that it would best serve the members of this forum if we were to share information on, our experience with and concrete examples of good, collectible keris. The kind of keris most of us are collecting or would like to collect. I think if we can assist people here in avoiding the many pitfalls of keris collecting and the, often-blatant falsehoods of unscrupulous keris dealers, it would help all of us in making our hobby a more satisfying one. (And finally, I also think that if Nouvelle Spirit wastes my bandwidth with his absolutely horrific “Authentic” keris auctions on e-bay one more time I’m going to start screaming and throwing things around the room!)

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Adni Aljunied
Senior Member
posted 01-10-2001 12:00     Click Here to See the Profile for Adni Aljunied   Click Here to Email Adni Aljunied     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I hope you guys would forgive me for not giving inputs to this thread. It has been a hectic Ramadan and Hari Raya for me, and I’m also in the midst of changing my site server. I must admit that I am a little reserved in giving my views on what is considered a good keris for fear that I may offend others. I am not at all against the intent of this thread in trying to establish some kind of “standards” for the benefit of those who are not well exposed.

This thread starting off very promisingly, but after trying to absorb all the various inputs, it becomes quite confusing, and it is not really having any proper directions. I hope to maybe try and give my overview of what has been discussed and hope we can continue with more clearer path.

A point to note about the role of the krises. Many are aware of the krise’s other roles which includes showing status, a kris replacing a groom on the day of the wedding, a kris used as a “warrant”, a kris used for execution and of course a kris used in cultural attires and ceremonies as well as a companion for the owner. In the days of old, a man does not leave his house without his kris for he feels incomplete without it, not at all because he is always fearful or always “wanting” to fight.
To better understand the roles that krises play, one should understand the reasons why and when a kris is commissioned. When a boy reaches puberty, his father would go to a kris smith or empu and commissions a kris for his son. He explains to the empu what kind of a personality the boy has, and whether he shows any ambitions of sorts. This will not be the boy’s first an only kris, for when he is about to get married, he himself goes in search of an empu to commission for himself another kris. It does not stops there. When a person has a new piece of land for agricultural use, he commissions a kris for his new endeavor. When a person is forced to be away from home because of work or migrating, he again commissions a kris. When he is going into a new business venture, he again does likewise. A king commissions krises for many reasons; not all for himself, but also for his court subjects status wear. In general, when there is going to be a change in someone’s life, that is the time he looks for a kris. With this understanding, the role of the kris as a weapon falls far below other roles. It is not like a good luck charm or talisman, but it is a kind of representation of oneself or one’s personality into a blade.

An empu when making a kris for anyone, will ask questions on his present well being, his status or role in society, his birth dates and even mother’s name, what are his plans and ambitions, whether he is a temperamental or timid person i.e. his personality as a whole which is what the keris should reflect. Never an empu raises the question about whether he is aware of using the kris as a weapon or what kind of self-defense school he comes from. I do know of many “Silat” gurus, and all of their school of thought introduces the keris only after a disciple had mastered the other weapons first, like a parang or a golok i.e weapons that are more practical for warfare. No doubt the keris must function as a weapon also, but it’s role as a weapon of war, falls below it’s other functions. Wong Desa mentions of Don Draeger:- “Don Draeger,who made a lifetime study of the way in which weapons were used, has been quoted as saying that it is not possible for us to know exactly how a keris was used during those times when it it was primarily a weapon. We know the way it was held in some societies; we know the way it was worn, in some societies and during some periods.We know the way it is held and used in a dance application, similarly, the way it is employed in silat. We do not know the method of use during those times when it was actually being used as a weapon.”


If we are to keep this in mind as we go on to the other aspects of the keris, it should make it easier for us to understand the endless variations to fit all the different personalities and ambitions of the people.

Another quote from Wong Desa will be more appreciated if elaborated further. The points made are not that hard for a seasoned “keris man” to understand, but needs further explanations to be useful for anyone.

“Apart from tangguh, the other factors involve the following:
A) An understanding of the method of manufacture.

B) An understanding of form.
C) An understanding of feeling.
A) above further devolves to :
1. An appraisal of the ferric material and pamor material used.There are many different types of both,and each type has indicators and a level of percieved quality.
2. An appraisal of workmanship.There are definite standards used for the evaluation of the degree of excellence involved in execution of each particular feature.
3. An evaluation of state of preservation.
4. An appraisal of overall visual impression.
B) above involves an appraisal of the form and color, and an analysis of the feelings generated by this form and color.
C) above is an appreciation and awareness of the feelings generated by the keris itself, as distinct from those feelings generated by A) or B) .
What I have given above is a precise and simplification of a lecture given by Empu Suparman to the Boworoso Tosan Aji (a keris society in Solo) in about 1978.”
You consider it is beyond you to try and explain the above and I myself am aware of the vastness and depth in each evaluation, but from all of your previous postings Irwan, I’m sure you can explain them in the simplest manner.

Another input from you with regards to the way Penisular krises are evaluated. You posted questions to Dave about the forms and features;-
“Questions:
Is the form of the greneng supposed to represent anything in particular,or is it simply random,artistic carving?
If it is supposed to represent something ,what is it supposed to represent?
Does the form of the carving in the greneng change according to where the blade was made,or when it was made,or is it the same for all Peninsular keris?
The greneng is comprised of a number of individual carvings.What are the names of these individual parts of the greneng?
Are these individual carvings within the greneng permitted to occur randomly,or is the combination prescribed according to the form of the keris,or where it originated or according to some other rule?
We normally view the greneng in silhouette,however,it does have another dimension.Are there any requirements for the cross sectional execution of the greneng?
In the absence of definitive answers for any or all of the above,how do we know if a greneng has been well,and correctly ,executed?
If you can come up with definitive answers to the above,we have the start to a standard for Peninsular blades.”
Dave answered yr questions well and as best he cud with the limited resources available. I find your questions very interesting and quite definitive of the way Javanese perabots are looked at. I think you can make it very useful if you can answer these same questions with regards to the Javanese pakem.

Again I must apologies for not getting involved earlier. Trying not to be boastful here, in my many years with krises (my dad started collecting when he was a teenager and he eventually started dealing in them in 1972), bringing in at least 20 pieces each trip and making at least 4 to 5 trips a year, at the same time washing at least 50 pcs of krises each time during Muharram, there have always been many a good kris that I came across. In “good”, I do not mean the top end (keraton pieces) of things, but good in all the basic aspects of a keris. Finding a good kris is not that hard, but bearing in mind that a keris is commissioned for non-conflicting reasons and reflects the personality and status of the owner, can we not say that a good keris is made good only when the commissioner’s or personality, status and well being of the owner reflects it.
Hoping that I’m not too late in pitching in here, but will be eagerly awaiting yr responses.

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wong desa
Senior Member
posted 01-10-2001 16:52     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you David.Looks like we`re running again.
Also looks to me as if you are using artistic criteria without knowing it.Or at least,some artistic criteria.Subjectivity?Crapola David.You`re a connoisseur ,but you won`t admit it.If you could penetrate the Javanese keris environment,you would find that the subjective feelings you have already developed would be magnified a thousand fold and refined and you would tune right in to what Javanese keris art is all about.It might take you a few years,and you`d have to expand your sensitivities into things like an appreciation of bedoyo dancing,but you are already awake to what keris art is all about.
Your opinions are certainly yours alone,however,I am certain that under cross examination you could defend those opinions.The opinions of one person with knowledge are worth more than the opinions of a thousand people with no knowledge.This is why we have universities,and professors and the whole academic clap-trap.Maybe this forum is not a university,but in the absence of even a kindergarten with a keris syllabus,this is all we have.

Your most recent contribution has set forth some fairly definitive criteria.Big improvement on the generalised ones you posted previously.You have demonstrated that the Peninsular keris can be considered as an art object,and at least a few people recognise this.Great!
Probably a lot of fine tuning to be done,but the foundations are there.
For example,your description of the characteristics of a well formed greneng translate (I think) almost exactly to the requirement for a well formed Javanese greneng.Certainly you cannot achieve a splay on the tips of a ron do without executing kruwingan on the sides of the gonjo.Fine keris from most tangguh with artistic pretensions require the side of the gonjo to carry kruwingan.By the sound of it ,you`ve only seen pretty ordinary Javanese keris.If you are fortunate enough to see a fine Surakarta period keris-that`s second half 18th.century ,thru to the present-you`ll find the same,or similar ,splay of the greneng tips.Yeah,O.K., we require certain definite shapes which are in concord with the tangguh,and maybe something similar applied in the past in the Peninsular,but put that to one side,you`re still using an artistic approach to gauge excellence.
At this point one of us really should list out your criteria in a point form,for ease of future reference.I don`t feel like it .How about you?You put them up in the first place.

I reckon with a little bit of massaging ,the criteria-all the criteria- you have listed,could be aligned to Javanese criteria.
There`s possibly only one major difference that I can so far identify between your criteria and hard core Jawa criteria,and that is your antipathy towards recent and modern pieces.Given that you have never seen good quality recent Javanese work,and that there are no modern quality makers in the area you are familiar with,I can understand this.
I agree with you that old stuff is nice,however ,if our criteria are based in artistic tenets,and as much as you may deny it,it is apparent to me that your`s are,we cannot turn our backs on recent and modern work.Sure, everybody can have personal preferences,but this does not mean that they need to denigrate pieces which fall outside their specific area of interest.As I have previously remarked,some of the finest work ever done has been done in the recent past,or is being done today.

You make the point that it could well be of more use to collectors in general to identify true inferiority in a keris,rather than to identify true excellence.I think that perhaps I might agree with this,but I really dislike negativity,and once we start pull apart all the stuff on Ebay,its a bit hard to know when to stop.In any case,nobody could actually believe that they are acquiring national treasures at Ebay prices.In this world you mostly get just about what you pay for.You want quality,you gotta pay for it.Simple as that.
No,on balance I`d much rather state negatives as the presence of positives.
Of course it is true that most decent pieces are around the middle some where.There`s only a very finite number of super you-beaut royal keris,and people like me can`t afford them.In fact,they don`t even get offered in the direction of people like me.But they do set the standard,so what you do is see how close you can get on your budget.
This probably comes down to what you want to do: define acceptable mediocrity,or define excellence.I really don`t want to tell people what they should collect,but rather what some of the elements of excellence are ,and let them make up their own minds on the direction of their collecting.
This is possibly one of the reasons why I`m just not interested in categorising collectors.To my mind there are really only two types of collectors: people who know a bit about keris and people who don`t.The people who already know should be no concern of ours.Its the ones who don`t know that we should be concerned with.

I suppose this brings me back to those legendary "traditional" collectors again.O.K.,we`ll agree to disagree,however if you should ever consider changing your stance on this matter bear these facts in mind:my opinion is based on long and close personal contact with members of my own family who accumulate keris for occult reasons.They also accumulate semi-precious stones,birds,odd shaped pieces of wood,and rice cooking pots(yeah,that`s right:rice cooking pots)for the same occult reasons.This opinion is re-inforced by the content of a number of Javanese literary works,and by the personal note books of Empu Suparman.How did I get access to these note books?When Empu Suparman passed away he left all his books,all his tools,and his stock of pamor material to Alan Maisey.I have been permitted to peruse most of his books.I can understand how you have come to form your opinions.All the half baked stuff in the generally available books that we all read, the fact that your knowledge is based in an area where keris culture is (apparently)dead .It would be difficult not to have such opinions in these circumstances.So,for now we`ll agree to disagree.Let`s talk about this matter again in about ten or fifteen years.

You have invited me to set forth an explanation of Javanese standards.I shall be happy to do this ,to the best of my ability,in respect of almost everything I have been taught.As you would understand,some of my knowledge is not mine to be free with as long as my teacher is still alive.It is his knowledge which will not be mine until he has moved on.However, this restriction is a minor one ,and will not materially affect anything which might transpire here(not unless someone gets real smart and starts to ask the hard questions).
In the transmission of keris knowledge it is important that ideas and concepts are not presented which are beyond the capacity of the student to absorb
and/or comprehend.For this reason,the way in which such knowledge is transmitted is by way of question and answer.Ask a specific question:get a specific answer.This technique virtually gaurantees that the person transmitting the information does not get ahead of the person to whom he is transmitting it.
The general ideas involved include :harmony,balance,symmetry,proportion;execution of features in accordance with definite requirements;management of the forging during the carving process;management of the manipulation of the material during the forging process;selection of the correct material to achieve the desired result;identification of alterations made to a blade since its birth,and appraisal of the reasons for these alterations;appraisal of state of preservation.Other considerations exist,but this is more than sufficient to get started with.
So,(almost) everything I have is yours.Just ask the right questions.David,or anyone else,ask specific questions.If I possibly can,I will answer.
What you have said about examples is inarguably true.It is a total impossiblity to learn from just words.During his life Alan Maisey has owned thousands of keris,and seen tens of thousands.I am not talking loosely here.He still sees somewhere around 2000 different keris every year.According to what he has told me,virtually all of his instruction from Empu Suparman was backed up with actual examples.My own instruction has followed pretty much the same direction,but my experience does not begin to approach Alan`s.An example held in the hand is best,that way you can gauge all dimensions,percieved weight,appearance from different angles,lots of things that you can`t pick up from a photo.However in the absence of this ,a photo or drawing can also be of use.If I ever get my scanner up and running again,I promise,there will be examples.
This undertaking is always subject to availability of time.As you have pointed out,David,we all have another life.I work a normal week of at least 65 hours.My boss,and my clients seem to think I`m on call 24 hours a day.Weekends?Effectively they don`t exist.Paul is not the only one pushing it uphill with the point of his nose.I get out of bed an hour early every day to write this stuff.First couple weeks I was at it,my wife thought I had a girlfriend stashed in the office.
Adni Aljunied-just read you post.I think I`ve addressed a couple of the things you`ve raised in the above.I`ve run out of time for today,but will post a reply within a couple of days.

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DAHenkel
Senior Member
posted 01-11-2001 09:17     Click Here to See the Profile for DAHenkel   Click Here to Email DAHenkel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Why Wong Desa, of course I am a keris conneseur I haven’t spent the last 15 years collecting keris because I plan on arming a deadly gang of silat merecenaries. Nor do I require them as magical talismans. I am after all a product of a rational “modern” education. I don’t believe in ghosts, the bogeyman or flying keris and I’m quite certain that the wos wutah blade of my pretty Gayaman Yogya hasn’t helped add a cent to my earning potential. The only chance of that happening would be if I were to sell it at a profit. Fat chance of that happening though. My collection is a black hole for keris; keris go in and they never come out. In short, I'd starve before I parted with one of my jodoh.

I do however admit to collecting keris as ethnographic art and so of course many of my criteria are artistic ones. But those criteria were derived through experience examining and handling a fairly large number of keris. I sincerely believe that, at least in the case of older, traditionally crafted keris, even rather ordinary ones, the artistic qualities are fairly self evident. The balance, flow, selection of materials, craftsmanship and attention to detail of even fairly humble older keris (these as opposed to the majority of keris made, perhaps only in last couple-few decades) are immediately apparent once one has had the opportunity to handle and examine a fair number of pieces of varying “quality.” The reason why I claim that my standards are subjective and pretty much my own are that they have been formed by and large through experience. Books, as well as informal guidance from various persons have enhanced that subjective “eye” for “goodness,” but in the absence of formal standards my own subjective ones have become my guide.

Nik Din and I talked at some length about the spirit of craftsmanship in good keris. We tend to agree that much of that comes from the environment in which traditional craftsmen worked. That is, in the kampungs and the comparatively small towns of the pre-modern Peninsula. Nik Din can hardly stand to go to town. Not even the fairly modest city of Kota Baru, the state capital of Kelantan. To Nik Din the city is an environment that dulls the mind and deadens the senses. Indeed, he insists that spending time in the city tends to makes him physically ill. According to him, there is a poison in “modern” living. The chlorine in the water, the stench of diesel smoke, the frantic pace of urban life. These things, he asserts, are not conducive to good craftsmanship. I have no reason to doubt him. There is a sublime-ness to a well-crafted keris. It manifests itself in an attention to detail that can only come through slow, careful, patient work. There is a level of dedication to getting - that flow, that shape, that balance, that smoothness - just right, that is uncommon in the world which mankind has made for themselves today. That doesn’t mean that good craftsmanship doesn’t happen these days but it is no wonder that most of the really good craftsmen that survive in this modern world have retreated to the fringes of it. Pauzian, Djeno, Nik Rashidin; all of them practice their craft in the kampung. Their’s is a craft that requires sensitivity. A sensitivity, to material and form, which is too easily distracted by the unnatural sights, sounds and smells of the urban world.

One afternoon on my last trip to Kelantan, Nik Din set me to work cleaning up a sheath for a keris I was in the process of restoring for my collection. At one point he got up and disappeared into the house. He was gone for four hours, taking a nap and when he emerged he found me where he had left me, diligently sanding away. I would have sworn he was gone for only a few minutes. “You see,” he said to me. “Now you know what the wood can do to you.” It sucks you in and holds you. Goading you to bring the spirit of the wood out, but at the same time soothing you. Pushing you but ever so gently. There is no impatience, only a spellbinding, slow burn. This feeling tends to be enhanced in quiet places and, while still there to some extent, is less apparent when I do work here in the city. I have experienced it in fishing and in working on keris. Nik Din had only helped me to recognize it for what it was. I can only imagine though, the spell that it must have on a dedicated craftsman like him. I after all am only good for sanding and other such mundane persuits.

That being said, I don’t really think I have any “antipathy” toward recent pieces per-se. I have yet to see a Djeno keris but a collector friend here has one and I will get around to seeing it someday. By all accounts it is a wonderful piece of work and I have no doubt that I will be suitably impressed. Rather my antipathy, and perhaps antipathy is too strong of a word, is toward the vast majority of commercially produced keris of which I have seen not a few. These are the products of what Goldenkeris (of e-bay fame) refers to as the “empu in t-shirts and jeans.” I freely admit these pieces into the classification of keris, I am no keris snob really, but I don’t really admire them much. They lack that sublime-ness which one finds much more readily in older pieces. Add to this the fact that, dollar for dollar and virtue for virtue, old keris are actually cheaper than new pieces and you can see I suppose, part of the reason for my preference for older keris.

I must admit a sense of alarm at your suggestion that I might “refine” my tastes in the keris. For much the same reason that I would be rather hesitant to add a keris of extraordinary quality to my collection, even if I could afford one. I have visions of coming home one day to my rather modest little collection and being confronted with a silent accusation that “you don’t love us like you used to Dave!”

Once, not too long ago Adni and I were looking over pictures of magnificent kraton quality keris and I suddenly told Adni, “You know, if I had a keris like this I’d have to sell it.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because, not only would a keris like one of these make the rest of my collection look pretty plain, but, with the kind of money I could get out of one of these keris, I could buy a ton of the kind of keris that I like.”

I am fond of my keris for many reasons. They are a total package. There is beauty in my keris as objects of artistic expression and in the marvelous natural materials used to make them. They contain the mystery of antiquity and the exoticness of the old Archipelago. Not the Archipelago of Asia Rising, but the Archipelago of Conrad, of Diponegoro, of the Pandawa’s. And there is of course my own, very personal, attachment to each piece. Only taking one of them up brings back the experiences I gained in acquiring it. The hunting around in dozens of towns and cities across the Archipelago. The rides on the back of a stranger’s motorcycle, in some kampung backwater, searching for some friend of a friend of a friend who might have an interesting piece they’d be willing to part with (This has happened to me more than a few times. I well suspect I may meet my end at the hand of some rogue promising to take me to a really neat keris!). The dusty corners of old antique shops, in Yogya, or Pattani, or Kuantan, dark, cluttered and rank with History. History with a capital “H.” The pleasant hours talking keris with like-minded individuals in coffee shops (Nik Din is an avid proponent of this kind of methodology, the keris seems to lend itself readily to it), on porches, even here on the world wide web. The countless long hours spent; scraping, sanding, scrubbing, picking, rubbing, buffing, oiling, waxing, polishing, brushing. Even the rather furtive excitement of going through customs with a keris or three in my backpack, wondering if, this time I’m going down for smuggling national treasures! The books, the keris people, craftsmen, collectors, dealers, the philosophy, the history, the ethnography of the Malay world, past and present. If a hobby can define a person then the keris certainly defines me. Yes, I know a little of the magic of sublime quality but there is much, much more in it for me. The keris is my lifeline to God’s great earth, to History, to Tradition, to the values of a long gone age. It is no more and no less than other things that people come to be passionate about, but it is what I am passionate about.

There are all sorts of keris out there and we can only collect what we can afford and what is available to us. I hope perhaps that by sharing my little knowledge and great passion with those of you who care to listen, I can help you make better informed choices and perhaps put some dent in the great blasphemy that the commercial world is committing against the keris. I have no disdain for the humble keris of the marhein, only for the abominations which some would pass as “quality” keris and the lousy scholarship of many so-called “experts.” These things do not enhance the keris, they are, in my humble opinion, a crime.

I don’t see the necessity at this point to further refine the criteria that I have laid out above, nor can I afford the time to do so, frankly speaking. I think perhaps that it might be more helpful to collect more input first anyway. I’d especially like to see more concrete input from you Wong Desa. We’re in no hurry here. As he has already pointed out there will be considerable overlap and we can dicker over details and sub-categorizations when we get to the end of our list of topics. We have, I think, a sound methodology and a good, solid framework on which to hang our little nuggets. We can afford to be patient, to carefully tease out the threads of our tangled little mess. If we retreat, like our hero’s, to the kampung, to the coffee shop, in a sense put ourselves in that frame of mind, and share, as freely as we can, our ideas and experiences we will get where we need to be. (I realize this all sounds a tad melodramatic but it is in any case quite sincere and I've been reading Conrad again!)

I also see little need to put forward my own questions for you Wong Desa. You’ve already asked them well enough yourself and Adni has seen well to put them to you anyway.

By the way Adni, thanks for jumping back in here buddy. You are entirely too modest about your knowledge and ability to add perceptive insights to this discussion. Yours is a valuable perspective as well. You are a keris dealer, and while that profession is sometimes much maligned here, not least of all by myself, dealers are hardly universally dishonest and I certainly count you among the good. Dealers serve a role in the collecting community that Interpersonal Communications theory refers to as a gatekeeper. Dealers bridge the divide between collectors and sources. This is a position that clearly can be abused, but also offers a broad insight into both communities.

I will only pose one additional question, which has been inspired in part by Adni’s recent posting. Adni has quite rightly pointed out that the keris played a very significant role, even a primary role, in Javanese society as a talisman. You have dismissed a great deal of the available popular Indonesian resources (lets call them non-academic resources) as “half-baked” and I have no reason to disagree with you on this but perhaps for different reasons. I dismiss them mainly because they are incredibly inconsistent and contradictory thus exposing themselves as, frankly, not very academic. You however seem to disdain them for reasons of content. I am struck however with the almost universal focus at least in part on esoteric (again the popular usage here) concerns. It seems that these concerns must have been of some significant import to at least a large portion of the traditional Indonesian community. It is certain that different pamor and dapor had some sort of defined magical properties which Indonesian collectors placed a great deal of stock in. This is why I am so dead set against ignoring, or even relegating to secondary status, such concerns. They were clearly very important even if they are very much popular and subject to interpretation and regional variation. My question is, how much do we know about such things from reliable sources (ie. pakem) and what was the significance of such concerns in the commissioning of new keris? Perhaps you could elaborate on and add further clarification to Adni’s comments on this.

I think I’ll leave things at that for now. I really need to get an early night tonight. I’m running on fumes.

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wong desa
Senior Member
posted 01-11-2001 18:29     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you Adni Aljunied.Thank you for getting right up there in front of us a few words relating to the nature of the keris.In previous posts I have tried to make the point that unless you come from a cultural base ,you got a snowflake`s chance in hell of understanding what the keris is all about.
However,it is really more complex than your explanation.
During the period of its existence the keris has evolved not only in form ,but also in function.Examination of early Javanese monumental evidence,and Javanese literary sources demonstrate very clearly that the keris was without argument a weapon.But it was also much more than a weapon.The nature of the keris changed and evolved throughout its long history.In some places,and at some times it would appear that the weapon function was paramount,in other places,and at other times,different elements of its nature gained ascendancy.Alan Maisey has an article ,that comments on some elements of this evolution,in the process of publication at the moment.I`ll advise when its available.
So when we talk about the nature of the keris ,we need to place this "nature"within the context of a time frame,and location.
Adni Aljunied`s explanation of "nature" is as good as I have heard,and lacks only the context of time,which I think would perhaps be quite difficult to determine with any degree of accuracy.

I agree,this discussion has wandered all over the ship.Quite frankly,I have sometimes felt quite frustrated with the way we`ve been talking about almost anything but keris,however,on the positive side,we have managed to get a lot of pretty interesting stuff out on the table,that otherwise would not have seen daylight.
Probably the major factor that has caused us to wander around is that no clearly defined objective was stated at the outset.Now,I would be the first to agree that if we were being paid for these writings,or if there was a prize for finishing quickly,our efforts to date have been less than ideal.However,there are no prizes for fast results,and speaking for myself ,I really don`t care if this discussion wanders on for a couple of years,provided we continue to learn things we did not previously know.

My original idea ,in a different thread ,was to try to find out what the factors are that attract each of us to the study and collection of keris.
Paul picked this idea up and posted it as the idea of coming to a consensus on what constitutes a good keris.
The whole thing came unstuck when we could not get sufficent contributions from interested people to allow us to analyse what the bulk of collectors like,and what they don`t like.
So,not being able to carry out any sort of analysis of collectors tastes,we moved towards an attempt to define standards of excellence.I suspect that right at this moment we`re all moving in the same direction-well,more or less in the same direction.

Actually,the keris never was a weapon of war.It was a personal weapon,and a weapon of last resort.They were carried into battle ,certainly,but not as a primary weapon.Spears, swords,clubs were the weapons of war.

Now then Adni Aljunied,your request for me to elaborate further on the precis of Empu Suparman`s speech.Some of it I can explain;some of it I cannot.However,I do not have either the time ,or the inclination to write what would be necessary to impart even a basic understanding of the concepts involved.There`s simply too much ground to cover,and I would have to go into too many seemingly irrelevant explanations for people to understand it.This forum is definitely not the place to publish this.
However,in my previous post I did undertake to give specific answers to specific questions,if I could.By playing the oldest game in the book,you have provided me with these specific questions.Play a good game of tennis Adni?

Q.1.,2.
The "ron dha"in a Javanese keris is generally accepted as being a representation of the Javanese letter "dha".The form this takes in different tangguh reflects the difference in the way this letter was written at the time the particular keris was made. There is a deeper meaning which in my opinion should not be openly discussed.

Q.3.
Yes,greneng shape changes in accordance with tangguh of keris.

Q.4.
Not much point in an answer to this without an illustration.Most keris literate people know this anyway;I was looking for alignment.

Q.5.This is a pakem/tangguh answer.Again I was looking for similarities.

Q.6.David has actually half answered this,and his answer pretty much lines up with Javanese requirements.The various shapes that the ron do takes varies,as noted above.We know what the correct shape for,say, a Surakarta ron do is;if a keris of tangguh Surakarta did not display the correct form of ron do for the tangguh,it would not conform to type,and would be seriously devalued as an art work.
The gonjo itself also has requirements for curved surfaces and rounded surfaces,again,principally in accordance with its designated classification.The upwards curve in the top of the gonjo is also prescribed,and this is important, because it governs the curve of the top of the wrongko,and if the curve of the top of the wrongko is not correct it makes for a pretty ugly complete keris which detracts from elegance for purposes of wear.
Not all keris are recognised as having a high art potential,but in those which are so recognised,many will carry the requirement for curved in sides of the gonjo(kruwingan).This results in the widening of the tips of the greneng features,as noted by David.The spacing of these features along the greneng should be equal.If the greneng carries two ron do,these should be of equal size,depth,shape.Since there is only a single kanyut,it is O.K. to use this to pick up the residue of greneng space.The greneng should flow smoothly from the line of the blade;it should not appear to have been added as an afterthought,but as an integral part of design.It should not disturb the harmony of overall appearance.To achieve this it is necessary for the gonjo to gradually increase in width(cross section),on its lower edge,from the point where it meets the blade edge,at the end of the wadidang,to its end at the buntut urang.This increase in width must be proportional to the width of the top of the gonjo,and must provide a smooth transition from the curve of the sebit ron to the lesser curve of the lower edge of the gonjo.
Study of the flow of lines in a finely made Javanese gonjo will demonstrate that the artistic execution of the the gonjo and greneng is actually an incredibly complex piece of work.

The answer I`ve given above has precious little to do with pakems.Pakems list features,they don`t explain how they should be executed.What I`ve written above draws on the learnt lessons of Javanese keris art appreciation.

Adni Aljunied,you have written:"---can we not say that a good keris is made good only when the commissioner`s or personality,status and well being of the owner reflects it."
Yes,of course we can.I totally agree with this measure for the"goodness" of a keris.But only for the person who originally commissioned it.As students and collectors of the keris,we clearly have different requirements.That`s what we are talking about here.My personal view tends towards the evaluation of artistic excellence.
Why?
The type of keris that you talk about in your posts were not made by village blacksmiths.They were rarely made by pandai keris.They were nearly always made by empu.The work of an empu is nearly always of a higher standard than the work of a pandai keris;he follows the standards,and his execution is of a higher quality.Village blacksmiths made a lot of keris,but they did not know the mantras,and their execution produced an "empty" keris.Not all empu made keris were made as keris with isi or tuah,but when you encounter a keris of superior quality, you have a better chance of having found,in this keris,a keris with isi or tuah.So, if your goal is the collection of "power" keris,you are wasting time and money by looking for such keris amongst low quality pieces.
The "goodest" keris were made by the "goodest" makers.
How do we identify the "goodest" makers?
By identifying the "goodest" work.
How do we identify the "goodest "work?
By application of the standards used to judge "good" work by the people who made this work.This means the application of the standards of keris art.

Thus,no matter what we may personally regard as a "good" keris,whether it be a power keris,an art keris,a fighting keris,a talismanic keris,whatever kind of keris,the best examples of any of these would be empu made=superior workmanship=artistic content.For this reason it is important that we have at least a small understanding of what "art" means,as applied to the keris.With this understanding we have the tool to find the type of keris we want.

David-about to post the above,and there you are.Funny thing ,I`m reading through your post,and saying to my self "this guy`s been overdosing on Joseph Conrad".Next thing I know,who pops up?The same old romantic Joseph.I must be physic(or is that psychotic?).
Anyway.We`re wandering around again.I just hope this doesn`t upset Adni too much.However,I think I can answer your post pretty quick.

The quiet mind.When an empu undertook to make a keris he had to follow certain laid down procedures in respect of preparation.He could only work on certain days.Offerings were made.The end result of all these procedures was that when he worked,his mind was at peace with the world,and he could tune in to what he was doing.Alan Maisey was taught to make keris by Empu Suparman.Alan does not live Jawa,but in Australia.When he makes a keris I know he prepares himself by periods of meditation.During the actual forging process he prays and makes offerings.Not in the way an old time empu would have,but in his own way.When I`ve talked with him about why he does this he has told me that he needs to do it so that his mind is totally focussed on what he is doing.Seems to reinforce what you have written David.

Re concrete input from me.Ask a specific question,you`ll get a specific answer.If I am able.
To dive in and try to put the lot out in front of everybody is just too big a job.If I felt inclined to undertake this job,it would be in book form.Currently I do not feel so inclined,and in fact,would not even consider this undertaking as long as my teacher is still alive.Apart from that,viewed objectively,both I and my understanding are still too "green".This forum is different.Its pretty informal and I personally view it as casual conversation amongst people of like mind.In conversation ,when we want to know something,we ask.Don`t ask,you don`t get told.Its that easy.

I haven`t dismissed only Indonesian writings as half baked.I`ve included the bulk of popular keris writings in any language.By doing this I am not rubbishing myth,magic and folk belief.I could write another 20,000 words on the supernatural in the Javanese context.All through my family I`ve got seers,paranormals and at least one dukun.The occult?I`ve been close up and personal to it all my life.My own Mother dreams things before they happen,and they do happen.The thing is that the people who have the gifts don`t write about them,and the people who write about the gifts don`t have them.
No,the keris and "the other" are closely interwoven,but how to reconcile?See what I wrote in response to Adni.
The big problem with forming opinions on the basis of what is written in most books about keris,is that ,by and large,these writers knew that certain things were so,but did not have the knowledge,or perhaps the wish ,to clearly explain how they operate.The result is that people with even less knowledge read these books and form opinions on the basis of incorrect,misleading ,or false information.End result:a lot of garbage floating around disguised as knowledge.

Wanna read a good keris book? Try :Visible and Invisible Realms,Wiener,Uni. Chicago Press.

I`ll make a further comment on those Indonesian books.
They were not necessarily written for "collectors",the way we understand this word.The keris is a cultural artifact in Jawa.Previously,and although to a lesser extent,still today,it was/is necessary for any real Javanese man to have some understanding of the nature of the keris.These books were written not for the exclusive use of collectors,but more for the general market.The true collectors were off somewhere sitting at the knee of a teacher,who had never written a book,and only passed his knowledge to those he deemed fit to recieve it.

Don`t make the error of believing that what you see happening is in fact happening,most especially in so far as Jawa is concerned.

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Adni Aljunied
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posted 01-14-2001 06:32     Click Here to See the Profile for Adni Aljunied   Click Here to Email Adni Aljunied     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My brief explanation of the commissioning of a keris was correctly noted by Wong Desa as not really based on any time frame. It occured to me that to specify a certain period of time will make our endeavours with this thread here more simpler. I would suggest that we stick to the time where most krises had already evolved with all the basic features that needs "artistic" appreciation i.e a keris dapor's features. Wong Desa's elaboration on the refinements of a greneng is very usefull and I think we shud concentrate more on these finer points.

If grenengs have those fine refinements, what about other parts of the dapor. What kind of refinements shud we look for in a kembang kacang, picetan, sogokan ect? Let's concentrate on the blade features first.

A comment from you about written works on keris Wong can make a "foriegn" person who wants to get interested in kerises "run away";

Quote:
They were not necessarily written for "collectors",the way we understand this word.The keris is a cultural artifact in Jawa.Previously,and although to a lesser extent,still today,it was/is necessary for any real Javanese man to have some understanding of the nature of the keris.These books were written not for the exclusive use of collectors,but more for the general market.The true collectors were off somewhere sitting at the knee of a teacher,who had never written a book,and only passed his knowledge to those he deemed fit to recieve it.

Don`t make the error of believing that what you see happening is in fact happening,most especially in so far as Jawa is concerned.
Unquote.

Thw last paragraph is puzzling to me too!

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P.deVries
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posted 01-16-2001 00:22     Click Here to See the Profile for P.deVries   Click Here to Email P.deVries     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I really do wish that you experts would get to the point of what a good keris is.I sure have learnt a lot from this discussion,but the reason I`ve finally joined in is because I`m fedup with reading about coffee shops and meditation and magic wood.I been collecting keris and other oriental weapons for about 20 years and about the last 10 years I been concentrating on keris. I`ve read just about all the books in English on keris,but there`s still lots I don`t know.When this thread started it looked like I was going to learn a heap.Sure,I`ve learnt a few things but I sure havn`t learnt too much about what constitutes a good keris.
when I summarise what the experts have said,it comes down to just about this:
Mister henkel promotes Peninsular keris,puts down Java keris,tells us he`s been collecting keris for 15 years but still can`t tell us what a good Peninsular keris is and not only that but anyone who might have been able to tell us is dead and did not leave any instructions.
Mister desa tells us the keris in Java is an art form,and he knows all about this art form,but he can`t explain it to us,because we`re all too igorant.
Mister eljunid says the way to tell a good keris is to look at the well being of the person who ordered it in the first place.These people are all dead mister eljunid.Doesn`t say much for how good their keris were does it?
So mister henkel can`t tell us anything,mister desa will only answer questions,and mister eljunid wants us to talk to dead people.
Not only this,but the English these people use to get their message across leaves my head aching.Who ever uses words like "eseteric"and "exerteric"?How many times in your life have you ever heard these words?Can`t these experts use simple English?I tell you,any my people used English like this in my organisation,they`d be reading job adds the next day.
Okay,so Igot to ask questions to learn about keris,I`ll ask questions,but first Iwant to tell you what I like to see in a keris.
I probably think the blade is more important than the other parts ,but if a keris has a real neat handle,carved like a god,or a bird or something,I probably won`t pay a real lot of attention to the blade.
In blades I like clear black and white pamur,and I like intricat patterns.I like blades that have gold work on them.and I like all the features to be neat and clean.
I like gold and silver and ivory and unusual materials.I like cut stones in the fittings.Ilike the way nice fittings are like jewelry.
Ilike my keris to be complete and for every thing to fit proper and to be from the same place.
I do not like rusty blades,ragged edges,chips,cracks or anything less than perfect.
In short I like good keris,and this is my idea of good.
Why can`t the experts give us theirs?
Any way ,Isaid I`d ask questions.
Mister desa:
You tell us we need to know the manufacturing process before we can identify a good keris.
Why?
Why can`t we just make our judgement of what is good on the basis of what we see?If we see nice attractive pamur and neat forging why can`t we say that is a good keris?
Thank you for your attention.

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wong desa
Senior Member
posted 01-16-2001 17:20     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have been fortunate enough to be able to handle a number of keris buda and other very old keris.When you study these old keris,you find that in some of them, features that we now recognise as evidence of artistic endeavour are apparent.I have handled one superb keris buda that has beautiful cross sectional contours that would not be out of place on a Surakarta keris,and also has well executed sogokan.
In the context of Jawa,it is very difficult to determine with any degree of certainty a time frame into which we can place keris at the various stages of their development.However, we do need to recognise that as they developed ,and as more and varied forms(dapur) appeared,the nature of the keris was also developing.Alan Maisey has told me that he suspects that this development had just about come to an end with the end of Mataram.But there is still the question of the reasons for the development of multitudinous dapur.
So,Adni,although I agree with your viewpoint which relates the excellence or otherwise of a keris being reflected in the condition of the person who commissioned it,I don`t think that for our purposes here,that is relevant.If it is not relevant,there is really no need for us to establish a time frame within this context.
Rather ,the approach should be to appraise the excellence of a keris blade within its classification.By doing this you automatically introduce a time factor,although you may not know precisely what the relevant period is.
Thus,if I comment on artistic criteria for a blade,my comments will relate to blades of the Surakarta style.This means blades made in and around Solo,Central Jawa,during the last(approx.)200 years.The reason for this selection of time and place is that in these blades we are seeing the highest expression of the keris blade as an art form. If we then use these standards to measure keris of other classifications,we will find that these other keris blades do not always comply;this does not mean that these other blades can be down graded because of this,but it does mean that we need to judge each of them according to the overall standard of that classification as compared to the classification which is the benchmark.
Adni,you have asked me at least three questions in one.Perhaps as many as four or five.Additionally,you have given me no feed back from my greneng answer.One of the big dangers with trying to impart information like this in writing is that what I write may not be clearly understood by the person who reads it.Any manager will tell you that if he gives exactly the same instruction to six people,unless he gets feed back to ensure that everybody has recieved the same message,he is likely to get six different results from those six different people.If you think about this,you will realise that this is possibly one of the reasons why ahli keris in Jawa have always been reluctant to put their knowledge in writing.
May I suggest that you summarise what I wrote about greneng,and throw it back at me?

In respect of your multiple part question,let us consider these things one at a time,and let us also be specific with our question.Will you accept an answer to:

"What are the indicators for excellence in respect of the execution of a kembang kacang?" If so,please confirm.

When we consider written works on keris,we need to consider such things as where,when ,and why the book was written.All of these factors affect the content of the book.Just because something is published in a book does not mean it is correct.For example,Edward Frey`s book has recieved its fair share of criticism.However, if you knew the story behind the writing of that book,you would understand how the errors that have generated the criticism occurred.However,even accepting the errors,it is still a good book for a newcomer to the study of keris to cut his teeth on.Similarly,Solyom`s book is recognised universally as being an excellent work.If you knew the story behind the production of Solyom`s book you would understand the reasons for its excellence.
Sometimes we need to recognise that a book on keris may not have been written with the motive of dispassionate transmission of information.There are a number of other reasons which have generated the production of keris books.Regretably we need to have already achieved a level of expertise before we are able to discern this.
I would hope that one of the functions of this forum would be for those of us with a little knowledge to provide guidance in respect of written sources to those of us who are trying to learn more.

To explain my last paragraph I will tell you a story.Please read it and tell me what it means.

A carpenter and a high born girl fell in love.They decided to marry.In accordance with Javanese tradition the carpenter`s parents made arrangements to visit the parents of the high born girl to ask for her hand in marriage for their son.Upon arrival at the home of the high born girl`s parents,they were greeted by a servant,and given seats in the visitors room.The servant then served them tea and bananas,and told them that the girl`s parents would be with them shortly.After a short time the parents came into the room,greeted their guests,and both sets of parents engaged in light conversation.After a while,the carpenter`s parents excused themselves and returned home,without ever raising the question of marriage.

What happened and why?

If you can understand this ,you will understand my the last paragraph in my previous post.


Well hello and welcome to our discussion Mr. De Vries!I find it difficult to express my delight in having the assistance of such an experienced and perceptive collector ,in our humble efforts to understand the keris in greater depth.The criteria that you use for appraisal of a keris indicate a very fine appreciation for the artistic elements of the keris.Taking into account your finely honed artistic appreciation,and your obviously cultured and refined character,I sincerely doubt that I and my colleagues have the capacity to add much to your existing level of knowledge.However,your comments are like a breath of fresh air,and I thank you profusely for bringing to my attention the deficiencies which you percieve in my approach to both this discussion,and my use of the English language.I perhaps should not speak for my colleagues,but I am certain that they will equally appreciate the direct and polite manner in which you have expressed your concerns.
I have noted your question,and although I do not have time to answer at the moment,I will post a reply within a couple of days.
Thank you again for joining us.

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Adni Aljunied
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posted 01-17-2001 01:52     Click Here to See the Profile for Adni Aljunied   Click Here to Email Adni Aljunied     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My inputs on commisioning of kerises was not to take it into consideration as a determining factor. I joined this thread late and was giving my overview on things already said and was just to adding to the knowledge of the non-weaponary role of a keris, and it being made not primarly for physical/fighting reasons only.

Welcome to the forum Mr.P.deVries. Your quote:
" These people are all dead mister eljunid.Doesn`t say much for how good their keris were does it?"
Yes, dead man say nothing, but knowing that certain features, especially pamor patterns, is made for diffrent purpose or roles of a person in society; examples like "hujan mas" made for a bussinessman, "blarak ngirid" made for a person with status ect. We can in a way reflect the person who first commissions the keris.


Determining a certain time frame/period is rather quite difficult as you've noted Wong Desa, but your following remarks should set us a certain parameter.
"Thus,if I comment on artistic criteria for a blade,my comments will relate to blades of the Surakarta style.This means blades made in and around Solo,Central Jawa,during the last(approx.)200 years.The reason for this selection of time and place is that in these blades we are seeing the highest expression of the keris blade as an art form."

Summary of the finer points to note on grenengs and other features of the gonjo;
Observing the grenengs not only two dimensionally to note the spacings, shape, depth and sizes between the ron-dhas, but also cross sectionally to observe the widening at the tip of the grenengs, because to achive this, the gonjo needs to have a kruwingan and has to gradually widen towards the tip or buntut urang. One cannot achieve a splay on the tips of a ron do without executing kruwingan(curved sides) on the sides of the gonjo. Grenengs should also flow smoothly and in harmony with the overall dapor appearance. Pls readdress these points if they are not accurate and is there anything else that need to be noted on the features of a greneng.

"What are the indicators for excellence in respect of the execution of a kembang kacang?" Correctly phrased Wong Desa!

If you have nothing more to add to the refinements in the grenengs, we can move on to the next features. The kembang kacang is one which should have many refinements that shud be observed.


The carpenter's son is not in the same status as his lover. His parents were not invited into the house but rather in the "waiting area" and maybe that's a signal to them that thier intentions will not be fruitfull. This seems to sound more like a riddle to me, but it still does not make yr comments less puzzling. Yr last pragarph again;

"Don`t make the error of believing that what you see happening is in fact happening,most especially in so far as Jawa is concerned."


Ball back in your court Irwan.



[This message has been edited by Adni Aljunied (edited 01-17-2001).]

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DAHenkel
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posted 01-17-2001 05:33     Click Here to See the Profile for DAHenkel   Click Here to Email DAHenkel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I must admit that I am a bit puzzled that a person who has read so extensively on the keris would not have at least a working understanding of the meanings of exoteric and esoteric much less an ability to spell them correctly. That said I see no reason to engage, in this particular forum, in an unpleasant flame war, particularly as it is to be taken up apparently with dull weapons. There are I believe, societies for the prevention of cruelty to such creatures gentlemen. I suggest therefore that we maintain the level of decorum which the majority of our community presents itself and refrain from schoolyard antics, of which I see more than enough each day in my role as a middle school teacher.

I am all for the detailed examination of the standards used to judge the late period Central Javanese/Surakarta keris. This would, I hope, later allow us to distill a more generalized set of criteria which could be applied with informed modification to all keris types. Certainly more is known about the late period keris Solo than perhaps any other variety and as long as we are careful not to use these keris as a measuring rod with which to judge keris from other regions and time periods there can be no harm in such an undertaking.

There is a danger though in getting bogged down in an excessively minute level of detail particularly as it regards the Central Javanese keris. With hundreds of dapor and pamor, not to mention the many variations in perabot to sift through, it would be nearly impossible to examine everything quite so minutely. I would prefer personally to focus more on matters of technical execution and materials in blade form and pamor. That said however I think perhaps we might select a list of key blade features to elaborate on - this list might include, greneng, kembang kacang, picitan, sogokan, gandik, ganja and aring, as well as a discussion of more general things such as amplitude of luk, blade angle, blade profile and cross-section. Perhaps others amongst us might flesh out this list further?

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Adni Aljunied
Senior Member
posted 01-17-2001 10:41     Click Here to See the Profile for Adni Aljunied   Click Here to Email Adni Aljunied     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Finding the forum somewhat similar to school Dave? Funny, I face it almost everyday with the kind of people that come by the shop. Please pardon some of my spellings or sentence structure somtimes. I know my English is somwhere in the high school grades.

Your quote on using late period Surakarta as a "guide";

"as long as we are careful not to use these keris as a measuring rod with which to judge keris from other regions and time periods there can be no harm in such an undertaking."

Point very well noted. I myself do wish that we have widely accepted refrences from other areas, but as Wong Desa said, what do we have, except from these present Javanese refrences. Although other areas have thier own disticnt features and even ways of evolving, I will always look for the similarities that each area has with the other, at the same time the diffrences.

We have mentioned the refinements in grenengs and I can't help but noticed the ron-dha present in most all areas. (I hope Wong desa has yet to reply my last posting). The kruwingan, splay, spacings ect. is very pronounced in a good Patani blade as well. The ron-dha on some Patani blades I've seen is very well executed. Maybe Dave has pictures of some good Patani greneng works to post. The similarities in the shape and profile of the ron-dhas are very notable and I truly wonder what the term ron-dha is outside of Java. It is said to be from the Javanese alphabet, but this may not be the case outside Java.

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wong desa
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posted 01-18-2001 16:46     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well,I asked for it,and I got it,didn`t I? Got enough questions to keep me busy for a month or more.However,as with Adni`s first question,I`ll only take one at a time,and
wait for feed back before moving on.Presently we have queries on kembang kacang,and method of manufacture to addess,and picetan,sogokan,gandik,gonjo,aring,luk form,blade angle,blade profile,cross section,have been mentioned as heads under which future questions could be raised.In a minute,I`ll start in on the k.k.,but first there are a couple of things I`d like to comment on in the most recent posts.
Adni,I think I`m tuned in to what you were doing,but I thought I needed to mention the time factor to provide a dimension for people who are perhaps not quite as involved in keris as we are.
To your feed back:yes,we always need to be aware of cross sectional contours,similarly symmetry,proportion,and the matching of shapes and sizes,where applicable.Flow and harmony are tremendously important.Students of the keris have been sent by their teachers to watch bedoyo dancers in an attempt to instil this feeling of flow and harmony into them.
The actual shape of the ron do is vital.I must emphasize this.Vital.If ron do shape is incorrect it interfers tremendously with attemps to classify the blade into its relevant tangguh,and without this classification we find difficulty in applying the correct standards.
The carpenter story is supposedly a true story.Alan Maisey told it to me,and he himself was told the story,more than 30 years ago, by the daughter of a famous Dutch Javanologist.As I`ve remarked previously,I am originally from Jawa,but my family is ethnic Chinese,and from a different strata in society to that where the story would be either applicable,or understood.I have needed to learn as much about Javanese behaviour as anybody from outside the society.
You did not understand the message of the story.The status difference was obvious from the outset.The visiting parents were correctly seated in the correct part of the house(I won`t go into an explanation of Javanese house design).However,they made arrangements to visit,which means the girl`s parents were aware that they would be arriving,and at approximately what time,but they were not ready to welcome them themselves,rather, a servant welcomed them,and they were kept waiting.This indicated to the boy`s parents that they were not going to be treated as equals.Then they were served tea and bananas.Tea and bananas do not go together.This was the girl`s parents way of saying that a girl of noble birth and a carpenter do not belong together.
So you see ,it wasn`t about hospitality at all.What you saw happening was in fact not happening,something else was going on.
If you pay any attention to modern Indonesian politics,or to Javanese business relationships,or interpersonal relationships,you will find repeated time and time again situations that you can relate back to the carpenter story.In anything at all to do with Jawa,do not believe that what you see happening ,is in fact happening.What you see may be about something else entirely different.
Now, if we apply this reasoning to the writings of a very well known author of recent books on the keris,which encompass such subjects as dapur and pamor,a volume on questions and answers,and a hardcover book arranged in alphabetical order,and we reread these books with the fore knowledge that the motivation for these books was the promotion of keris commerce,perhaps we may gain a slightly better understanding of some of the content of these books.

David,I have noted your concerns,and I assure you they are unfounded.It would appear that I have been insufficiently explicit in what I have so far written.On several occasions,and with several different choices of language I have attempted to get this message across:

In the appraisal of a keris ,we need to appraise each keris in accord with the standards which are relevant to its own classification(tangguh).

However ,each classification of keris is able to be ranked in terms of artistic potential relevant to other classifications.As an example of what I mean :Javanese keris which would be classified as Surakarta are of superior artistic worth to Javanese keris which would be classified as Tuban,however,we can still find some Tuban keris which are of superior artistic content when compared with some other Tuban keris,just as some Surakarta keris will be of superior artistic content when compared with some other Surakarta keris.


I`ve already explained the reason for the selection of Surakarta.This classification establishes a bench mark.However,within most other classifications,excellent work can also be found.Simply,you do not expect Surakarta work in a Madiun keris.

Regretably David,the study of any art form involves attention to minute detail.I do realise that what I`m talking about with these details on execution of a keris blade is not particularly familiar to most people,even serious students of the keris,such as yourself,and for this reason I have attempted to make my "greneng"explanation as basic as possible by staying away from the more explicit detail.Similarly,with any future explanations I may give,I will try to keep them down to a generally palatable level.
You have written:"---I would prefer personally to focus more on matters of technical execution and materials in blade form and pamor."
That is just about the direction we are moving in David.
An examination of specific features of the various dapur does not form a part of an examination of the artistic rendition of those specific features.
It could be argued that an examination of the process of manufacture of each individual pamor could fall within the area of enquiry,however,in respect of these processes I myself am not at liberty to be completely open,so you can put your mind at rest in that regard.
You have also written"There is a danger of getting bogged down in an excessively minute level of detail particularly as it regards the Central Javanese keris."
David,I would be absolutely delighted if we could see some of this excessively minute level of detail in respect of keris from any area.It is a matter for some regret that apparently such detail is not available from any other areas.

So,let`s talk about the kembang kacang.The restrictions on the execution of this feature are not as stringent as for the greneng.There are a couple of different ways in which a k.k. can be formed.Basically these involve either drilling or forging.A superior k.k. should have been forged rather than cut.This forge process will be revealed by paying close attention to the flow of material grain.
If the construction of the blade is such that the core of the blade penetrates the k.k.,this core should be evenly centered with equal areas of pamor on either side of the exposed core.The same overall principles of flow and harmony apply,and the side surfaces of the k.k. should show evidence of kruwingan(concavity) which achieve a continuation of the sculpting of the tikel alis.
Rarely ,this kruwingan effect will also appear on the inside surface of the k.k.,ie.,the side facing the edge of the gandik.
The k.k. should be quite wide thru its base,and the line formed by its inside edge may continue as a flow into the defining line of the lower edge of the blumbangan,forming a cross with the continuation of a line extended from the inside edge of the gandik.I have written"may"in the preceeding sentence,because the arrangement of line flows in this area of the blade is open to the artistic interpretation of the individual artist,however,whatever flows have been used should be harmonious and not cause a disruption to other continuities.
There are several different styles of k.k.,but here I am only talking about the normal external curled form that we all recognise as a k.k.In this form of kembang kacang the k.k. should flow and taper gently,with no sudden changes.
Where the front of the gandik displays a concave profile,the curl of the k.k. should follow the line of this concavity.
If the k.k. carries a jenggot,this must be of precisely the same form as the ron do in the greneng.
This is possibly sufficient,however,if you have a query on some particular aspect of the k.k. that I have not covered,please raise that query.
Again,please supply feed back.

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Adni Aljunied
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posted 01-18-2001 22:16     Click Here to See the Profile for Adni Aljunied   Click Here to Email Adni Aljunied     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Very elaborate explanation on the kembanng kacang Wong Desa and I have learned a few new things from it. Following are my "counter feedback";

1)"Rarely ,this kruwingan effect will also appear on the inside surface of the k.k.,ie.,the side facing the edge of the gandik." - I've yet to see one done this way, but again maybe I was just not looking.

2)"the k.k. should show evidence of kruwingan(concavity) which achieve a continuation of the sculpting of the tikel alis." - If there is no tikel alis, does the concavity at the k.k reduces or maybe none at all?

3)"Where the front of the gandik displays a concave profile,the curl of the k.k. should follow the line of this concavity." - This is looking at it three-dimensionally or cross sectionally. Please elaborate more on what do we look for when seeing the k.k from the front. I have observed some of them revealing a face like with the lambei gajah forming the mouth (very prominent in Balinese pieces). And how do we look at the jenggot aside from it's profile that has to match and blend with the ron-dhas.

From Bambang Hrinuksmo's encyclopedia (pg 91) there is a mention of four types of kembang kacang;
1) Nguku Bima
2) Pogok
3) Gula Milir
4) Nyunti
Sadly there is not much explanation as which is which. Can you please help identify these diffrences?


In Malay, the kembang kacang is called a Belalai Gajah (Elephant's trunk). They differ from Javanese k.k in more ways as compared to their diffrences in greneng and ron-dahs(I see more similarities here). Maybe Dave can chip in here and give his view on the Malay belalai gajah (can we use b.l for short just like k.k for Java?)

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