Ethnographic Edged Weapons
  What constitutes a "good Keris Part two (Page 1)

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Author Topic:   What constitutes a "good Keris Part two
Naga Sasra
Senior Member
posted 03-01-2001 00:53     Click Here to See the Profile for Naga Sasra   Click Here to Email Naga Sasra     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
When I back in December mentioned that I would look forward to join the discussion on the subject upon my return from Europe at the end of January, little did I know that the discussion at that time had taken on its own life so to speak, as I am now counting over 100 type written pages on the subject, which has been very interesting reading and I applaude everyone that have taken part in the discussion so far, especially wong desa and DAHenkel who was steering the sometimes heated discussion alone for a while. The file however have grown to the size where on my slow computer it take a long time downloading just to read the most resent entry, I therefore apologize to everybody for posting a "topic" on a subject we already have open.
Having read the postings, it appear that most everything have already been said in great detail, and even risking me sounding like a broken record, I believe the number one point for a serious collector of keris would be to study and understand the culture that is responsble for the creation of the keris as well as an understanding of the method of manufacture. This is of cause where the first stumbling block exist, as we have to consider the many diverse cultures responsible for the development of the keris, I believe we all concur that the keris originated in Central Java, where we at least have the Pakem, but here we do not have any quality requirements seth forth, a keris is only made according to the pakem, but there are so many deviations and variations possible, many subject to interpretation by the maker, making it very hard to concisely construct a set of rules on what constitute a "good keris" strictly based on the Javanese standards. By doing that we will for the most part will disregard keris made outside Java, namely Bali/Lombuk, Madura,Sulawesi,Borneo/South east Kalimantan,Sumatra and the Peninsular. Should we still use the Javanese standard and make the other 6 regions deviations of the pakem, or perhaps develop a set of 7 standards of quality for our purpose, since these regions keris making evolved from the Javanese keris one way or another?
What may be a good keris to one, may not be to another, as a good friend of mine put it. "See I can say a BMW is a nice car, others say they prefer Mercedes or Jaguar and we can have 1001 different opinions. I can say Soloan keris are good, you can say Yogyakartan keris is better or I can say I like ornated handles, you say you like plain handles, and the list continues" Picture this, empu Supo created a keris and being one of the best empu ever in history, he put all his skills and knowledge into creating this keris. By the time he finishes his keris, it had gone through over more than a thousand foldings, perfectly forged and finished. He then show his keris to 4 different people. Some say it's nice, some say it needs to have a fancier pamor, some say it needs to have gold kinatah on it. All say what they think the keris is supposed to look like or to be. But empu Supo thinks it is one of the finest keris he has ever created and his opinion is actually solid and undisputed. He knows what he was doing and know his stuff well. Likewise the BMW,Jaguar and Mercedes, regardless of how they look, if they meet certain criterias such as safety, engine and comfort, they all constitute a good car. When we are talking about a keris, we are actually talking about "the blade" not the handle and not the scabbard, they are accessories, like leather seats and halogen lights to a car. We cannot live without them, but you can always replace them. In keris you can replace hilts and scabbards, but not "the blade".
With that in mind perhaps we should change the topic heading to read "What constitutes a "good blade part two". What makes up a good blade? I think wong desa and DAHenkel both has made some nice points, which I agree with, but it is time to try and consolidate the very basics of of this topic, once the ground rules are set we can continue on variations, deviations and precise details, I think we have most of the answers in past postings, and perhaps it would help a bit if all of us wrote down what we do not believe belong in a good keris, as a measure to separate the good from the not so good.
I will submit my list in a couple of days and urge you all to do the same, I do believe that it is possible to arrive at a set of standards that we can live with and that the creators of our beloved keris would be proud of.

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wong desa
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posted 03-01-2001 17:50     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Welcome back Naga Sasra!You`ve certainly come back with a belly full of fire.
Can`t disagree too much with anything you`ve said.The download takes forever,and even though I`ve been following and contributing,it is very difficult to try to find anything,so maybe the time has come to regroup.But first ,let me work through your revolutionary post and comment.
Quote "---everything has already been said in great detail---"
I do not agree.In my opinion the surface has barely been scratched.
However,I think that perhaps the recent contributions by Tom Anson demonstrate the direction that the interests of the bulk of modern collectors follow,and this direction seems to be more or less the same as the direction that David supports.
This direction places emphasis on the totality of the keris rather than the blade alone.
If you take the time to go back through the posts,you will find that I consistently attempted to put forward the same view as yourself:keris=blade;everything else is a "bolt-on".But it seems to me that perhaps you and I are the only ones who hold this view.
What I would have liked to have seen develop was a dispassionate discussion on the elements of quality to be found in blades firstly,and then in the various items of dress.
This did not happen.One of the reasons it did not happen was that I found it virtually impossible to convey in words that which can only be appreciated and understood by handling a blade,or perhaps more correctly,a number of blades.
Photos and pictures could maybe help a little,but I think only a little.
Now,if you want to start up a new thread which more precisely targets the heart of the matter,you most definitely have my support.But I suspect that most collectors who will read our contributions will have a greater interest in the total keris,rather than the blade alone.
Further,although I agree totally with your statements in respect of approaching the study of the keris from a cultural base,and with an understanding of manufacturing techniques,I suspect that the bulk of people are simply not prepared to undertake this study.Sure,they have an interest in keris,as an ethnographically odd weapon,with a lot of mystique and magic riding along on its shirt-tails,but take a short course in anthropology in order to understand it?Forget it baby!

"Good" is a bad word.I think I`m probably responsible for its initial use,and in a general sort of conversational context ,its O.K.As the basis for a discussion as serious as this one appears to have become,it sucks.
I`m happy to stick with "good" as the banner,but let us define exactly what we are seeking to discuss when we use "good".
May I suggest :
"A discussion of the elements which contribute to the quality of a keris blade."
If you think this does not capture the spirit of what we are trying to do,please restate our objective more exactly.Lets all try to start on the same foot.

In so far as the construction of a set of "rules" as to what is and is not "good" in a blade.
Within the Javanese tangguh(classification) system,the standards used to judge excellence in a blade of one tangguh do not equally apply to judgement of excellence in a blade of another tangguh.
That which constitutes excellence in a Surakarta blade,will simply not be found in a Pajajaran blade.This does not mean Pajajaran blades are sub-standard;it does mean that Pajajaran blades are judged by a different standard to Surakarta blades.And similarly so with the blades of all other tangguh(or classifications).You expect to see certain standards met,as applicable ,to each tangguh.

As an example:in a keris which has been determined to be of Pajang classification,the sogokan is correctly rather short.Some keris of Pajang classification can be considered to be of high quality,and all of these will carry this shortish sogokan.However,the sogokan of a keris of Surakarta classification cannot be short,it should fall within a fairly specific range of length.So,a Pajang keris with a long sogokan,or a Surakarta keris with a short sogokan,are immediately devalued because they have not conformed to type.

Using the Javanese system,there are about a dozen major classifications(tangguh) which apply only to Javanese keris.Some of these major classifications are further sub divided into another two or three classifications.Keris from outside Jawa are classified only as to Geographic point of origin,and because they vary in style from the Javanese ,are not seriously evaluated for artistic content.
And make no mistake about it,when a Javanese keris is appraised,it is appraised as an art object.
In other words,the same rules do not apply to all.

So,Naga Sasra,we cannot use the same Javanese standards to judge all keris.In fact, we cannot even use the same standards to judge all Javanese keris.
Even to apply these Javanese standards we need to be able to first classify a keris.There are probably less than six people in the Western World who can do this correctly,and it is a skill which must be learnt with a hands on approach.It cannot be taught in writing.
So,if we are to construct a set of guidelines which are to be of use to collectors who are outside the Javanese keris ethic,we must move away from this Javanese ethic.
Perhaps it may be possible for a collector outside the Javanese ethic to appreciate the elements of this ethic,but I do not believe it would be possible for him to apply it.

To summarise:don`t worry too much about what they do in Jawa;to understand it you need to become Javanese,and this is too big an ask for the average collector.
Let`s make our own rules.

This said,how do we determine what most collectors value?
I would suggest ,only by diverse input.
We have already tried to get this,and could not.
My personal opinion is probably not a lot of use,because I`m already a part of that Javanese ethic that I said we should move away from.

However I do have one advantage,and that is that I have access to more than 20 years of sales records of a fairly well known dealer in keris.Analysis of these records shows fairly clearly what collectors outside the Javanese ethic value.
Put as concisely as possible,this comes down to : nice pamor;well carved figural handles;well presented,undamaged wrongkos;blades which display well carved features;the extreme,the rare,the unusual.
These same collectors appear to not be particularly attracted to any keris simply on the basis of age,or quality as a weapon.
Old,recent,or new all appear to be evaluated equally,and the keris which invariably wins the "catalogue beauty contest" is always a work of art.This particular keris,in any catalogue, will have the greatest number of people wanting to buy it.

Now,before I follow your request and state the indicators of blade excellence as a group of negatives,which I shall do,based upon analysis of the records referred to above,can you confirm our objective as :
"A discussion of the elements which contribute to the quality of a keris blade."
If this is unsatisfactory,please provide another.

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Naga Sasra
Senior Member
posted 03-03-2001 00:36     Click Here to See the Profile for Naga Sasra   Click Here to Email Naga Sasra     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you wong desa for the welcome back greating, I must admit that my trip exposed me to so many hot spices, which is properly the reason for a "belly full of fire"! but fun aside, I appreciate your comments and will in turn reply starting at the end of your post. I agree that your suggestion to add " A discussion of the elements which contribute to the quality of a keris blade" would indeed better describe the our objective and capture the spirit of what we are trying to accomplish.
Regarding my statement to study the culture that created the keris and to get a clear understanding about manufacturing method's, my thoughts are that the beginning collector will eventually advance both in knowledge and in selection of keris, if the beginner do not stand still, or say stop with 4 keris and call himself a collector, he must advance to become a serious collector with more or less knowledge, I believe that human nature and couriosity would dictate a need for advanced knowledge for the serious collector, and this is where the study of the culture and manufactoring methods come about utopia perhaps, but maybe the reason for the direction of the bulk modern collector is the lack of concise information and standards on keris, which is why we are having this discussion in the first place. I would also like to think that there are many more collectors out there, that we just have not heard from, and really would hate to think that most just like the keris to hang over a bar as a conversation piece.
I wholeheartedly agree that we cannot use the Javanese standards to judge all keris, which was why I suggested a set of 7 standards, but even that many may be too much for the average collector, so we can construct a set of generalized guidelines based on geographic point of origin, which you touched on in your first post of 2-20, once they are finalized we can continue building on the generalized guidelines with details, and thru the process of elimination we should be able to arrive at a set of standards we can all live with.
The generalized guidelines should satisfy what most collectors value, and the further discussion of the important details, once organized and correlated would satisfy the rest.
But for us to get to that point, you are right we will need as many diverse inputs as we can get from South-East Asia and the western world as well and I would encourage everybody to get invelved. Here your "goldmine of information" sales records of 20+ years of a well known dealer will be extremely important as reference material once properly analyzed.
Before I submit my list of what I do not think belong in a good keris, let me just mention that I was tought long ago to when handling a piece of art, (yes, I also believe that the keris is not only a national treasure but a highly developed art form as well) you look for what should not be there, rather than what is there.
Again I think we all can do this if we approach the task in an organized manner, and try to finish one part before we start the next.

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wong desa
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posted 03-03-2001 20:03     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you for your continuing interest,Tom.Since your questions are mostly about blades,and since this new thread is to deal with blades,I thought it more practical to post the reply to your questions raised in the "Good Keris" thread,to this new thread.
I think perhaps your "rubbish keris" question was addressed to David,but I`d like to answer also.Yes,I do know of experienced collectors who have made unwise purchases of keris which were essentially rubbish.They have been misled by being presented with something they have not previously seen,and being unable to judge quality in the absence of familiarity,they have been blinded by the rareity and /or low price.I have made such errors,as I`m sure we all have.
But look at it like this:any education costs money,no learning comes free.However,interchange of information can assist in shortening the time of the learning process.

Yes Tom,harmony is extremely important.Martin Kerner has apparently carried out analyses which demonstrate that the concept of harmony in the keris blade is related to a whole number constant,and Pythagorian philosophies.I have yet to see his work on this.
Your questions are well thought out,and to do them justice would require more time than I currently have available.I will answer as concisely as possible,and if you have a further question on a specific aspect,please put it.

Pamor mlumah:the word means "lying down",as on your back on a bed.Thus,this pamor is one in which all the material is lying down on the bed of the blade core.Put another way,the pamor material is in the same orientation as the core material.
It is made by forge welding the contrasting material together with the iron,putting the resultant bar through a series of foldings until the desired number of layers has been produced,and then forge welding half of the resultant billet to each side of the core.This composite billet is then forged to shape.Examples of this type of pamor are wos wutah and kulit semangka,which are random pattern pamors.

Pamor miring:the word means "sideways,or at an angle".Pamor miring starts as a billet of pamor mlumah,which is then forged to alter the orientation of the pamor so that it can be welded to the core with the layers of pamor at a 90 degree angle to the core.A simple pamor miring pattern is adeg;a complex pamor miring pattern is something like blarak,or lawe setukal.The complex patterns are produced by forge manipulation,prior to,and/or after, welding to the blade core.This is a very difficult process,and is extremely wasteful of material.Because of the difficulty,complexity,and high failure rate for pamor miring ,these blades are considerably more scarce than blades which carry pamor mlumah,and are correspondingly more expensive.

Pamor tambal:the word means "patch",as in a patch on a pair of pants.Thus, a keris with pamor tambal has a piece of pamor material forge welded to the blade .This can occur when the keris is still a billet,or it can be added at a later stage of the forging process.Pamor tambal does not have a variety of names,it is simply "pamor tambal",but as an example,something like an alip,or a naga symbol,could be applied to the blade by use of a pamor tambal technique.

These are the three basic techniques,however, specific pamor patterns can be produced by variations,or combinations of these techniques.For example,pamor panca warna uses tambal technique to incorporate five different pamor patterns ,which could have been produced by either mlumah or miring techniques,into one keris blade.
Pamor such as hujan mas,or ndok iwak,are produced by the surface manipulation of pamor mlumah.

In my opinion,no pamor pattern is any better,per se,than any other.An expertly produced and controlled wos wutah is more desireable than a badly made blarak,any day of the week.However,it is probable that the single most difficult pamor to produce is ron duru.This is a pamor miring pattern comprised of spaced chevrons of pamor material and black iron.Really good examples of this pamor are as scarce as hen`s teeth.The East Jawa variation of this pamor is called bulu ayam.

Well controlled in the context of pamor means that the pamor pattern which the maker set out to produce,has,in fact,been produced,and that it covers the entire blade,except for a narrow border of exposed blade core.This ideal is almost never met.
It is not always all that easy to determine if the pattern attempted has in fact been achieved.Mostly you need to know how various patterns are made ,in order to analyse what the maker has attempted.How well it has been achieved is another question,and falls into the area of artistic appraisal.

Pamor is created by welding contrasting materials together,in the forge.These materials can be ferric material of varying composition,or ferric material and nickel,either pure ,or alloyed.
Old keris(say,pre 1800.This is not an accurate date,it is just to illustrate what I mean by old) frequently carry pamor of low contrast.This type of pamor is made by welding ferric material of differing composition.
In one type of this pamor,the contrast is so low as to be almost non-existant.This type of pamor is termed "pamor sanak"."Sanak" means "related".Some pamor sanak displays a chatoyant crystalline structure which has been created by a forging technique.
Some meteorites contain nickel.It is probable that a very few old keris have pamor which has been welded to incorporate nickel.However,the very large number of old keris carrying nickelous pamor,and the scarcity of nickelous meteoritic material seems to preclude general use of this material for use in pamor.
In fact,it is probable that most nickelous material used in pamor came from Luwu in Sulawesi.
The only keris that we know for certain to contain meteoritic material in their pamor are those keris made after about 1800 for some people with connections to the Kraton Surakarta.This material came from a meteorite which fell at Prambanan in about 1742.It split into two pieces which were some years later transported to the Kraton.By the 1790`s the Kraton empus were achieving some success in welding it,and soon after that it started to be used in keris.The remnant of this meteorite is still in the Kraton grounds in Surakarta.
Meteoritic material is not easy to weld.In fact,to weld it as an uncontaminated material,with the technology available to Javanese smiths ,is probably impossible.There is a manuscript in the Kraton library,a copy of which I have seen,which explains how to weld meteoritic material by incorporating it in an iron "pocket".This is probably how it was done.
A number of researchers have carried out work on pamor,amongst them Bennet Bronson,Haryono Arumbinang,Dr.J.P.Frankel,and Prof. Jerzy Piaskowski.Bronson`s paper"Terrestrial and meteoric nickel in the Indonesian Kris"is especially interesting,and can be found in The Journal of Historical Metallurgy,Vol.21,No.1,1987.
Prof.Piaskowski has been working on an analytic project involving keris since about 1988,and when his findings are published they will shake the foundations of beliefs about pamor.
So,Tom,yes we do know a little bit about pamor.We also know that a lot of the fondly held beliefs on the subject fall into the category of "items of faith".
Sorry my answers are so brief,but to go any deeper is really into book territory.If you follow through on the references,I think your questions will be totally answered.

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wong desa
Senior Member
posted 03-04-2001 17:12     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Seven standards,Naga Sasra?Only seven standards?To adequately appraise only Javanese keris,you need more than a dozen.Then there is everything that is not Jawa.I pointed this out in my first post to this thread.But to institute such a plethora of standards,you need to be able to tell the difference between a Javanese keris from the Surakarta period,and a Javanese keris from the Kartasura period;a Javanese keris and a Madurese keris;a Javanese keris and a keris from South Sumatra;a Balinese keris and a Lombok keris;a Bugis keris from Sulawesi and a Bugis keris from Sumbawa.
What collector can do this?
In Jawa there are many people who can more or less classify a Javanese keris,but move to keris from outside Jawa,and the bulk of these people are in just as much trouble as the average collector anywhere else in the world.
I really don`t think we can use an approach structured on the basis of an identification of point of origin.Either geographic,or in terms of time.This gets very close to the Javanese tangguh thing,and this would,in my opinion,not really work for most collectors.
I don`t think this should be an elitist thing,where only a couple of us understand what we are talking about,and waffle on all day long about poyuhans and penitises,not to mention penatases and gandus and ucu-ucus.What I`d like to try to do is to adopt a fairly broad brush approach that could be applied to just about anything,with an absolute minimum of type based division.
At the moment I don`t know quite how to do this,and suggestions would be very welcome.
Before I wrote my first response,I spent a couple of hours going through those records I mentioned.I made notes ,and I do have a very good idea of what appeals to most collectors of keris.I am not going to carry out a detailed matrixical analysis of those records.We`re talking more than twenty years,more than 1000 keris.Sorry,I`ve got a living to earn.
I have another avenue that I intend to explore:an elderly friend with a massive general collection,a large part of which is keris.This man knows very,very little about keris,but the contents of his collection reflect a very high level of quality.When I get a chance I`ll go and visit him and see if I can extract his guidelines on acquisition.
I don`t have a problem with the identification of negatives approach,if you feel it could be useful,however,I suspect that it will bring us full circle back to a Javanese style of appraisal.Fine for Jawa,not so wonderful for everywhere else.

The keris originated in Jawa as a weapon.In Jawa it developed during the course of centuries into something else.It is now appraised as an art work.
At a time when it was primarily a weapon,it spread to other regions.In most of these other regions it remained a weapon and did not follow the Javanese line of development.
The classic Bugis keris is still very close in form to what it was when adopted by seafarers from Makasar 600 years ago.
Is it legitimate to evaluate a pure weapon as an art work?
I rather think not.
Thus,as I have already said,the same standards cannot apply to all.
If the same standards cannot apply to all,then the same negative factors cannot apply to all.

I`ll try the negative approach,and I`ll base it on those records I mentioned.This will at least give us an idea of what most collectors appear to value.

I`m going to revert to Jawa for just a moment.One of the classic guides for appraisal of a Javanese keris is: "morjasirapngun"=pamor,waja(steel),wesi(iron),garap(workmanship),wangun(form).
Thus,we appraise material,workmanship and form.
This may not be too bad a base to give us the broad brush approach I espouse above.

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posted 03-05-2001 12:00     Click Here to See the Profile for DAHenkel   Click Here to Email DAHenkel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have to agree with Wong Desa here. It would simply be waaay too much work to put together rigorous standards that encompass all keris types in the archipelago. Much better and more practicable to come up with a good generalized standard, with the Surakarta period keris as the centerpiece, and various caveat's which focus on key features and the major differences of other regional varieties. Using Surakarta period as the baseline makes things easy because it's a period with a high level of development, there's a lot of diversity, plus there is relatively tons of info available. Also, in a generalized form the standards of the Surakarta period can be fairly safely applied to other forms. Imagine though trying to apply Bugis standards to Surakarta keris. You wouldn't get very far without holding up some pretty ugly Surakarta keris as ideals. Yikes! that's scary.

Anyway, if we can do this I think we can come up with a useful guideline for most collectors without putting anyone on the outs with their boss for neglect of duties.

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wong desa
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posted 03-05-2001 17:01     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My aversion to a multitude of standards is not because of the work it would involve,David.If I thought we could do it,I`d be happy to contribute to the work.It`s just that I don`t think we could accomplish the structuring of guidelines in this way,because of the problems of identification.And that is without getting into fine detail such as the shape and cross section of a sogokan.
If we were to use Surakarta as the base line,how many collectors can identify a Surakarta keris?
I feel that we`ve got to get right away from the Javanese ideas altogether and try to put together something that is of use to Mr. Average from More or Less Serious Street in Collectorville.
Bear in mind ,I`m saying this as someone who does understand the Javanese approach.In Jawa it works,but people outside Jawa are not in a position to gain the knowledge they need to make a similar system work for them.
To my mind,we really need to try to see a keris blade the way that most collectors outside Jawa see a keris blade.If we can do this,we have a chance of constructing a set of guidelines that could be of use to these collectors.
David,what you have previously touched on in regard to fit ,finish,craftsmanship and so on,is probably very relevant to a generalised standard.
For example,is it possible any keris blade to be considered "good" if you can drive a truck through the gap between the bottom of the gonjo and the base of the blade?
I really do think we`ve got to start thinking in a very general way.
If ,along the way we want to throw in a few Javanese standards for comparison,that`s probably not a problem.
In so far as division into types goes,I think this should be kept to a bare minimum.
As a starter,I`d like to suggest a basic division of:

Jawa-all Javanese blades and including Madura.

Bali-to include Lombok.(inclusion of Lombok does raise problems,but I feel they can be accomodated)

Bugis-all Bugis style blades,whether from Sulawesi or not.

Malay Peninsular ( David,this is your area of expertise-want to add anything?)

Blades of unknown origin,but with the salient features of one of the major types listed above,would be appraised in accordance with the guidelines for that major type.

The above is a suggestion only.I can defend my reasons for this division,but at the moment I`d really love to get other peoples ideas on a basic division.

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Naga Sasra
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posted 03-05-2001 22:16     Click Here to See the Profile for Naga Sasra   Click Here to Email Naga Sasra     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
When I mentioned 7 standards initially it was simply to apply the KISS princible, as there are both visual and physical similarities that are distinct for the areas that I mentioned, we all know the area where a keris originated just by looking at it with the blade still in the scabbard, this of cause do not have much to do with the blades inside, but for the most part the blade follow the dress, the exception is the wondering blades, for example a Madura blade in a Solo dress etc. etc. as well as different blades from within the same area.
I never implied that this should be an elitist thing as I tried to keep things simple initially and once we get something together that can be of use for Mr. Average in Collectorville,and I think this is important, we can continue in more detail. I do not believe the average collector must have nor need a degree in metallurgy in order to collect keris, that would in my book be rather absurd as this hobby of ours should be accessable to all, therefore I mentioned a set of generalized guidelines that would be usefull for most collectors in my second post. The negative approach that I suggested was also with the intend to keep it simple, as if we could identify the negative in a mounted keris in a general way consistant with certain areas, theoretically we should end up with the "good" left over.
May I suggest at this point we keep the fine details out of the discussion altogether as we will be getting nowhere by including them, and work on useful guidelines that will fit most collectors. I do like wong desa's further simplification with the suggestion of 5 basic divisions which is 2 less than I suggested, but I would like to hear why the all Javanese division also include Madura. May I also suggest once the basic divisions have been laid out, that we approach them in an organised manner, with other words, one division at the time without deviations.

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posted 03-06-2001 07:12     Click Here to See the Profile for DAHenkel   Click Here to Email DAHenkel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I would never suggest that anything like the rigour of Javanese standards be used in our project here. Way too complicated for the average collector and a bit unecessary in light of the fact that what is most important to most modern collectors is antiquity and preservation. Some indication of the rigor used in judging Javanese keris should be included though. If for no other reason than to make it clear that at least in the case of Jawa such standards were and are still used. And, that these standards make a huge difference in terms of the desirability and value a piece may have. I for one don't see how we could ever develop such a level of detail here in this forum though. For Jawa because much of the information is obscure and often confused and for the outer-islands because much of the information has been lost.

I agree with Wong Desa that we need to get away from Javanese ideas. I however think that we need only focus most rigorously on Central Jawa and most specifically on Surakarta. We have more information on Surakarta keris after all however we can leave out Surakarta specific information and focus more on generalized categories. I also think we would do well to heed Naga Sasra's call to take note of negative factors. This goes back to what I said earlier about noting what is bad about a keris as a way of pointing out what is good. As a start though I think the generalized categories of FORM(what to look for in terms of ricikans, blade shape, length, width and thickness, luk amplitude, cross section ect.), FIT AND FINISH (what to look for in terms of workmanship), MATERIALS (pamor and iron types typical to the region being examined), and CONDITION (how the preservation of a particular keris affects its value and perhaps more importantly tricks to spotting artificially aged keris blades). All of these categories can also be applied in turn to dress as well. Will we be able to include a large amount of information in these general categories for all keris? Not likely and we may well get some things wrong but by doing this as a committee I think we can avoid making too many mistakes. We will do well to consult outside sources and experts whenever possible. Also, could we try and invite some other informed individuals to contribute. I know at least some of you out there are in touch with folks who may or may not want to participate. I've invited a couple of individuals to join us but as yet they have not replied.

Anyway, all keris blade forms can be treated in turn once we have developed a reasonable methodology and a fair amout of detail for the Surakarta keris. Bali, Madura/Jawa Timor, Bugis and Northeastern Peninsular keris developed quite early on from old Jawa (mainly Majapahit) influence and have come to be quite distinct. These need to be given especial attention. Lombok is heavily influenced by the Balinese keris but points east of there, Sumbawa etc. are increasingly more Bugis influenced. Banjar keris' have developed through Majapahit, Madurese, Balinese and Bugis influences. South Sumatera has a fairly clear Central Javanese heritage but as you go North from there things get mixed up with Bugis and Northeastern Peninsular influences. Peninsular keris are just as difficult to sort out properly with wave upon wave of influences coming throughout the period of keris development. Early Majapahit influences seemed to have taken root in the center of the old Langkasuka empire (Pattani and North Kelantan) and spread out from there. Bugis influences worked their way up both coasts of the Peninsula via Riau. Considerable sharing seems to have existed between Sumatera and the West Coast Peninsular states as well. All of these regions also include some indigenous developments as well and then of course there are the presence of numerous trade blades and imports. Is it Bugis? Is it Semenanjung? Is it Sumateran? Sometimes it really is difficult to tell. Finally we mustn't forget that cross-fertilization occurred as well.

This all begins to get very complex but I think if we can develop a fairly good standard of evaluation for the Surakarta form, leaving out excessive and Surakarta specific detail, we can modify these for all other keris'.

Before we start we would do well to take especial care to note at least the major centers of power and the period in which they had their greatest influence on the development of keris types. We should keep in mind the various waves of influence and counter influence as well as the various indigenous developments and the key differences which these produced. Also tracking waves of migration, tributary relationships and major trading routes will help inform our work immensely. Once we have completed this we can go on to work on dress as well.

We can make this as detailed or as general as we need it to be but should of course keep in mind that no matter how hard we work on this we will never be able to classify all the keris types and the influences that went into their development. Not unless we want to co-author one hell of a dissertation.

The keris is a complex thing with all kinds of fertilization and cross fertilization going on thorough a period of time that goes back at least a thousand years and probably much more. That being the case we should treat it as a complex thing. It's much too simplistic to try and categorize keris' into five or seven closed categories. Much better I say to try and track the development and spread of the various keris forms geographically and chronologically and put up tons of good pictures.

Which reminds me, what do you say we set up a photopoint album in which we can all post our pictures separately? That way we don't end up like the last thread with a page that takes forever to load. We could share the username and password and have separate folders for each of the contributers who want to post up snaps. Let me look into that and I'll get back with you all.

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wong desa
Senior Member
posted 03-06-2001 18:22     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well,from your explanation it appears that we`re going in the same direction,Naga Sasra.
The rationale behind my nomination of four classifications was that blades within the four classifications I nominated share certain visual similarities.I believe that most collectors who have played with keris for a little while could probably split up a random collection of,say,a hundred keris blades into groups that would fall pretty much into the four classifications.Even if they could not do this from personal knowledge,there are enough illustrations in the standard references to allow anyone to be able to do it.
I`m focussing here on blades.That`s the way you indicated you wanted to go,and I agree with you.I`m not even considering that we identify a blade from whatever dress it may happen to be in.I`m thinking in terms of identifying blade types.
The catch all of "Blades of unknown origin,but with salient features etc.etc."would take care of the anomalies like the Javanese-style blades from Lombok and South Sumatra,and the Bali style Blades from far East Jawa.And so on and so on.
My approach would be to forget about where it actually came from,if it looks more or less like a Jawa blade,O.K.,for the purpose of evaluating its excellence or otherwise,it is a Jawa blade.
Actually,if I could,I`d like to bring the number of classifications down even further,but I don`t think that`s possible.
Why should Jawa include Madura?Because Madurese blades look like Javanese blades.Just that.In fact ,many blades from East Jawa look more like Madura blades than they do like blades from central Jawa.(Then there`s the anomaly of blades from Banten,which look more like Bali blades than blades from Jawa,but we can give ourselves indigestion with that one some other time).I can mostly tell the difference between a Jawa blade and a Madura blade,maybe you can too,but I`ll bet Mr. Average can`t.Except for a few very minor differences,they`re the same.There`s more variation between Javanese blades of various tangguh than there is between the general run of Jawa blades,and the general run of Madura blades.
I`ve given some thought to the "negatives" approach.One way of making this work,without coming full circle to an ersatz system of tangguh,would be to fit it to the frame work of a standard system analysis model.I`ll try to draft something up ,and throw it up for comment.

David,it appears that you are also in broad agreement with the direction of this discussion.I do ,however,have a couple of minor differences of opinion with you,that I`d like to sort out.
Your proposal to make Javanese keris of tangguh Surakarta the base line(or bench mark,or term it what you will).
I don`t consider this to be either practical,or necessary.
I do acknowledge that late Surakarta keris are possibly the finest keris ever made.
However,what collector can identify a Surakarta keris?And even if he can,is it necessary to use the excellence of a Surakarta keris to determine the excellence or otherwise of a Bugis keris?In my opinion,no,it is not.The two are totally different.The Surakarta keris will be evaluated on form,features,material that vary so greatly from the Bugis keris that there is simply no relevance.In the late Surakarta period,the keris has become an art work,an item of dress,a store of value.Its function as a weapon,symbol of authority,totem,is so far in the background as to be virtually non-existent.How is it valid to relate these standards,based on artistic evaluation,to a Bugis,or Peninsular keris of circa 1800?
My position is that there should be no base line.No bench mark.No ultimate example of the keris blade,against which all others are measured.Each blade should be appraised in its own right,and according to broad general standards that are relatively easy for a non- Javanese to come to terms with.
If we do not follow such an approach,I am very afraid that we will ultimately return to the miniscule detail of something approaching the Javanese system.This would be self defeating,because it is simply not possible,in my opinion,to set forth this system in writing,with,or without ,the use of pictures.
This,of course,does not militate against the extraction from the Surakarta form of those features which could be considered an indicator of universal excellence,and their subsequent statement as a negative.Once these negatives have been formalised,the counteracting positives can be stated,and we may well find that instead of simply the one counteracting positive from the Surakarta model,we have several,all attributable to different models.Such an approach is far less restrictive than the adoption of a benchmark.

You have stated that "---what is important to most modern collectors is antiquity and preservation."In your experience,this may well be true.I have earlier mentioned records to which I have access .My examination of these records has revealed that the age of a keris,including the keris blade,is a matter of very little concern to a vast number of collectors based in U.S.A.,U.K.,Western Europe,and several countries in between.
In any case,this is to be a discussion of "the elements which contribute to the quality of a keris blade."
In such a discussion I find it difficult to find a place for the concept of age,except as a qualifier.

Your remarks on the manner in which the keris spread ,and its development are acknowledged,and this could ,perhaps form the basis for a future project,but right now we`re talking about the quality of keris blades.Let us not deviate from this.We are not setting out to classify keris types and influences.We are setting out to discuss the elements which contribute to the quality of a keris blade.This is not an exercise in categorization.The categories I have nominated,and the earlier ones which Naga Sasra nominated, are artificial,and are only there to allow comparison of like to like.
My own personal interest is very much focussed on development of the keris.This has been heavily influenced by Alan Maisey`s approach to the keris in recent years.Speaking for myself,I`d like nothing better than to get into a project which tracked spread.Type comparisons,reliable reference material,history.The whole ball game.But let`s get the present project out of the way first.

On the subject of pictures.There is no doubt that these can help.However,I will not post anything less than an excellent photo.I`m not much of a photographer,so I`ve borrowed some of Alan Maisey`s photos and negatives and have been trying for over a month now to produce something that I consider acceptable.I`ve tried Photo point,and the quality of reproduction is simply not good enough.I will keep trying,there are a few things I haven`t tried yet,and if I succeed in getting decent quality pics up,I`ll certainly post them,if the necessity arises.

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wong desa
Senior Member
posted 03-08-2001 17:47     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Here is draft #1 of an approach to the analysis of the elements which contribute to the quality of a keris blade:

Analysis of the elements which contribute to the quality of a keris blade.

To identify the characteristics of a keris blade which are percieved by collectors who operate outside the Javanese keris culture ethic, as indicators of quality.

Major Negative Factors:
1.Visually unattractive.

2.Degree of damage is too great to allow restoration to a culturally correct standard,without access to specialist skills.

3.Quality of workmanship does not comply with generally accepted trade and craft standards.

4.Percieved weight is not in accordance with percieved function.

5.Origin is not within the cultural tradition of a keris bearing society.

Elements of Negation:

1.Visually unattractive:


b.Overall appearance does not appeal.

2.Degree of damage etc.

a.Heavy delamination.

b.Loss of form - edges,features,length.

c.Broken or missing pesi.

d.Broken or missing gonjo.

e.Out of true (side to side bends).

3.Quality of Workmanship etc.

a.Poor forge work-cold shuts,cracked material(hot short /heat treat),uncentered core,core too thick,pamor too thin,pamor not contained in initial side.

b.Poor bench work-core unevenly displayed,uneven sculpting of fullers(all kruwingan work),depth of pamor and/or blade not used to maximum advantage,failure to achieve symmetry.

4.Physical presence not in accord with percieved function.

a.Dominant factors indicate manufacture as a weapon,however,construction does not support weapon function.

b.Dominant factors indicate manufacture as art work,however,artistic effect has not been achieved.

5.Origin not within cultural tradition.

Encompasses those blades mass produced as curios in modern times,those blades produced in Sheffield,England for sale in Malaya,those blades produced by modern bladesmiths,using non-traditional methods, which do not conform to a recognised pattern(pakem).


1.b. Subjective judgement .Will vary in accord with appraiser`s experience and personal taste.

2.If blade is so badly damaged that it cannot be made to appear culturally correct it cannot be appraised.

3.Quality of workmanship.At present,and after due consideration,I feel that it is possible to apply standards generally understood to apply to the crafts and trades involved in production of a blade.For example-bad welding is evidenced by a cold shut,be the item welded in New York,or Solo.

4.Blades were/are produced for varying purposes.An old Bugis blade,with no evidence of heat treat,and of light construction would raise the question-"Why?"
Similarly with a recent Surakarta blade lacking any evidence of artistic endeavour.

5.Origin outside cultural tradition.Current production junk blades produced for the tourist traps are well known.What are not so well known,and now extremely difficult to identify,are the blades produced in England,and sold as items of trade in old Malaya.Additionally,some modern bladesmiths have made"keris" blades,using incorrect materials and methods of production,and which do not conform to any recognised pattern.

I submit the above as a frame work which can be used to carry out the stated analysis.
It is loosely based on a standard systems analysis model.
I do not support the use of a benchmark,or "normative model" keris,because of the extreme variation of elements from classification to classification,and of types within classifications.

I have opted to stay as far removed as possible from traditional Javanese standards,and to provide a mechanism which will allow a measure of individual opinion.

Prior to initiating use of the above,I would appreciate comments on suitability,suggested additions or deletions,or alternative methodologies.

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Naga Sasra
Senior Member
posted 03-14-2001 00:14     Click Here to See the Profile for Naga Sasra   Click Here to Email Naga Sasra     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you wong desa for preparing draft # 1,it is amazing that this could be accomplished after only 10 total postings, it is a great start, and I agree with the format for the analysis, in fact we have a working document in progress.
I have been thinking about a reply for four days now, not because of lack of interest, but merely because most of the negatives have been mentioned in the draft. I do however have comments and suggested additions to the draft as follows:


1. Visually unattractive
a. Rusty, dirty, unstained.
b. Overall appearance does not
Note 1.b. Indeed a subjective judgement,one mans treasure is another mans junk, one can say if the blade do not conform to a recognized pattern(pakem)of the region, the overall appearance does not appeal to the appraiser, perhaps we should rethink item b. as to weather it belong there or not.

2. Degree of damage etc.
a. Heavy delamination.
b. Loss of form,edges,features,
c. Broken or misssing pesi.
d. Broken or missing gonjo.
e. Out of true(side to side
Suggested f. Rust removal with wire wheel.
Suggested g. Clash marks on edge of blade.
Note 2.b. For example uneven deterioration of grening, or missing grening in a dapur where grening are present, edge bent or shortened etc.
Note 2.f. Many a good blade has been ruined by a previous owner trying to polish a rusty blade on a wire wheel, making the blade beyond restoration.
Note 2.g. Even though it may sound romantic and a great story can be told regarding a clash in a blade, and how it got there it is a fault and deduct from the overall .

3. Quality of workmanship etc.
a. Poor forge work-cold shuts,
cracked material(hot short/
heat treat),uncentered core
core too thick,pamor too thin
pamor not contained in initial
b. Poor bench work-core unevenly
displayed,uneven sculpting of
fullers(all kruwingan work),
depth of pamor and/or blade not
used to maximum advantage and
failure to achive symmetry.

4. Physical presence not in accord
with percieved function.
a. Dominant factors indicate
manufacture as a weapon,however
construction does not support
weapon function
b. Dominant factors indicate
manufacture as art work,however
artistic effect has not been
Note 4.a. All edged blades can be used as weapons,with more or less damaging effect and regardless of their function we can safely conclude they were not made to be used for toothpicks.

5. Origin not within cultural
a. Encompasses those blades mass
produced as curious in modern
times,those blades produced by
modern bladesmiths,using non-
traditional methods,which do
not conform to a recognized
pattern(pakem)of a region.
Suggested b. Encompasses those blades made
specifically to deceive the
collector,with regard to age,
origin and purpose.
Note 5.b. This item would cover all blades
that are being sold as something they are not
weather made in England,USA,Madura,Surakarta
or Taiwan.

A lot has already been accomplished,but it is imperative that others join into the discussion in order to arrive at a final document that all understand and that will
be a great aid to the collector of keris,
lets hear from all you collectors in Europe,
the US and other countries, we know you are out there!
As the objective states: To identify the characteristics of a keris blade which are percieved by collectors who operate outside the Javanese keris culture ethic, as indicators of quality.

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wong desa
Senior Member
posted 03-15-2001 17:42     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for your contribution ,Erik.
Your 2f. will form an element of negation(E.N.)under 2b.
2b. treats edges,features,length.Your entry relates to surface degradation,so 2b.will now read
2b.,loss of form-edges,features,length,surface.
As we develop this,each of these minor elements can be looked at separately,and the types of things that can happen to an edge,for example,can be listed.
Your 2g.falls into 2b.,edges,and would be an example of the type of thing that can happen to an edge.

Your Note 4a."All edged blades can be used as weapons etc."
True,so can a ball-point pen,or a golf club.The Major Negative Factor(M.N.F.) is "Physical presence not in accord with percieved function."

What I`m trying to get at here is a way whereby we don`t devalue Bugis and Peninsular blades because they are not as beautiful as Surakarta blades,or alternatively,devalue some Surakarta and Bali blades,because they have not been heat treated.The Surakarta and Bali blades mentioned have been made as works of art,and a heat treat does not add to this.The Bugis and Peninsular blades have been made as weapons,they do not need to be beautiful.
"Percieved function" is the lynch pin.Firstly look at classification,and overall conformation of the blade.If it is something clearly made as a weapon-for example,plain,straight Bugis-but lacks evidence of heat treat ,or is weak and flimsy,such a blade would qualify as junk.

Your suggested addition to M.N.F.5 is not necessary,as the suggested addition is already inherrant in the description.When we get down to detailed discussion of each of the M.N.F.`s we can look at more detailed examples of keris blades made outside the cultural tradition.

However,the way you have written this suggestion immediately conjures up the idea of forgery.This concept is very difficult to address where the keris is concerned.My own ideas on keris blade forgery are that the only real forgeries are those made to decieve Javanese people,such as the Tuban blade that`s been turned into an Udan Mas pamor,or the Koripan blade that`s been played with and is presented as Mataram.Now,from the Western perspective,such specifically Javanese orientated attempts at deception are probably not relevant,as the collector outside the Javanese keris culture ethic will not know ,or care about the implications of such deception,let alone have the ability to recognise them.To this collector,it is simply a Javanese keris.
So,if we are looking at an attempt decieve a collector who is outside the Javanese keris culture ethic,what sort of keris blade is this?It is not a forgery as such,but it will be something that has been made outside the cultural ethic.Provided it has been made within the cultural ethic it should fulfil the requirements of the collector who is outside this ethic.
Looked at in this light,I am inclined to think that the blades that will qualify are all products from outside the cultural ethic.So we`ve got this covered,however,once again,when we start to look at detail,we could perhaps explore this idea of deception more fully.

One of the great protections of the collector outside the keris culture ethic is the fact that these collectors never pay what could be called serious money for a keris.The real forgeries are aimed at people who are prepared to spend in the range of thousands of dollars.The area of the market that most collectors outside the keris culture ethic are involved in simply does not attract any serious attempts to decieve.In my experience,virtually all deception with attempted sale of a keris is linked with a story:"---from the time of the ancient Kingdom of Mojopahit---","---passed down through a noble Javanese family since the time of Mataram---",or the magical keris which can be linked to one of the Wali Songo.The deception is in the story,rather than the object(keris).Which reminds me of one of Alan Maisey`s favourite sayings "I only want to buy the keris,not the story."

Now,lastly I will address 1b.,our little essay into subjectivity.
Within the system of tangguh there is measure of appreciation called "pawakan",which is broadly "overall visual impression".Strictly,this is a subjective evaluation by the Javanese appraiser,however,certain guidelines can be discerned within this subjective evaluation.I accept that 1b.allows a subjective approach,but so does the appraisal of any other work of art.One man`s Monet is another man`s Dali.However within this evaluation certain constants can be identified.I`d like to stick with 1b., and see if we can`t I.D. the constants that our collectors apply,perhaps unknowingly.

If we are in agreement on the use of this framework in our analysis,I`d like to start the ball rolling by looking at E.N.1a.,which puts forth the idea that a blade which is rusty and badly maintained cannot be regarded as a quality blade from the perspective of the collector who is outside the keris culture ethic.

1.Can anyone mount an effective argument as to why this is not so?

2.What level of blade appearance is acceptable?Must a blade always be correctly stained,or is a clean blade out of stain acceptable?

It would be really nice to get some feed back on this.
This whole exercise is now at the level of the average collector;it is not a specialist thing,and the end results from this enquiry will assist the average collector.It would be really great if a few average collectors would share their opinions with us.

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wong desa
Senior Member
posted 03-16-2001 01:59     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I don`t know what has happened above.
I don`t think we need Draft #1 in twice,but I don`t know how to get rid of it.
Can you remove it please Rick?

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posted 03-16-2001 10:31     Click Here to See the Profile for Rick   Click Here to Email Rick     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hi Iwan, I've removed the quoted post. This can also be done by the original poster using the edit/delete icon (pencil to paper) shown above each message.


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Senior Member
posted 03-17-2001 06:23     Click Here to See the Profile for DAHenkel   Click Here to Email DAHenkel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hate to pipe in on this again but I just have to.

Iwan writes:

What I`m trying to get at here is a way whereby we don`t devalue Bugis and Peninsular blades because they are not as beautiful as Surakarta blades,or alternatively,devalue some Surakarta and Bali blades,because they have not been heat treated.The Surakarta and Bali blades mentioned have been made as works of art,and a heat treat does not add to this.The Bugis and Peninsular blades have been made as weapons,they do not need to be beautiful.
"Percieved function" is the lynch pin.Firstly look at classification,and overall conformation of the blade.If it is something clearly made as a weapon-for example,plain,straight Bugis-but lacks evidence of heat treat ,or is weak and flimsy,such a blade would qualify as junk.

Please, please, please Iwan drop your assumption that Peninsular or for that matter Bugis keris were made solely as weapons. There are plenty of Peninsular keris out there that were made as art. Fabulous, magnificent pieces that will stand up to the scrutiny of even the most jaded Javanese pakem master. I know you don't believe me but think about this. You wouldn't expect a sultan or a penghulu to go around with just any ugly old keris would you? Of course not and the keris' they carried most certainly have artistic merit. The artistic criterion their makers had may not always be clear but I think we can at least make some informed guesses based on observation. Believe me, I saw at least a couple of absolutely jaw dropping pieces this week but didn't have my camera with me at the time.

At any rate lets just not assume anything here. Percieved function certainly is the key but no keris should be judged solely as either a work of art or a weapon. They clearly served both functions in all but the most extreme cases. If a keris was clearly made as an attempt at art lets judge it as such.

I also think that we should come up with a fairly detailed grading system for condition. After all not all great keris are in perfect shape and this should be reflected in our methodology. Easiest perhaps would be to adapt a system used by collectors in other hobbies (mint, near-mint, excellent, very good, good, poor) with finer gradations in between. Or perhaps we can come up with a points system whereby we deduct points based on a defined list of criteria. Factors such as rust damage, breaks, wear, clash marks, various modifications or other degredation could be judged according to set criteria.

Oh, and as an aside, at least in the case of Peninsular blades heat treat does seem to have some asthetic value at least in modern collectors. Colors and patterns left on the blade by the sepuhan are indeed a factor in judging the beauty of a particular piece especially in keris without nickle-ferrous pamor.

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wong desa
Senior Member
posted 03-18-2001 16:46     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you for bringing this to my attention ,David.I agree,it is possible that the intent is lost in the phrasing,however,please allow me to put your mind at rest:I do not labour under the misapprehension that all Peninsular and Bugis keris were lacking in evidence of artistic endeavour.
There are published photos of superb keris from many diverse places,including The Peninsular,and territories under Bugis sway.I`ve even handled a couple of exquisite Bugis keris.I am under no illusions as to the possibility of encountering evidence of artistic endeavour in keris from places other than Jawa and Bali.
However,here we are talking about blades.Only blades.Not complete keris.
Regretably,if we were to accept a Surakarta blade as our normative model,and apply the Surakarta standards for excellence in a keris blade to all other keris blades,no matter what their origin,all other keris blades would fail to meet that standard.

Now,take the case of a keris that I know of in an Australian collection.This keris has documentation from 1944 substantiating its former ownership by a ruler in Malaya.It was apparently a gift keris to an Australian army officer at the end of WWII.This is a quality keris.Gold,ivory,precious stones,well forged,substantial blade,well controlled pamor,with a little display of the blade maker`s skill by the inclusion of a swirl(puser) of pamor placed exactly into the blumbangan.A really excellent keris.
However,judged by the standards which apply to a Surakarta keris,this excellent Peninsular blade would fail,and fail miserably.
Why would it fail?
Its overall visual impression would be judged as too "stiff";the point would not be the correct shape;the blade has no "back"(geger)or "chest"(dada);the gandik is too low;the wadidang is too abrupt;it carries no features except a blumbangan,and whilst this is not a fault in itself,because it limits the virtuosity of the maker,it provides less opportunity to appraise his skill;cross-sectionally it lacks the sculpted elegance required of a Surakarta blade.I don`t have this blade in front of me,and from memory these are all the "defects" I can recall;I`m sure I could find more,if it were in front of me.
So,an excellent Peninsular blade,in Peninsular dress of the highest quality,but measured by Surakarta standards,it doesn`t even get to base one.
This is the reason for my opposition to institution of a Surakarta,or any other standard as our normative model.
Now,let us move from the rareified atmosphere of keris of Royal quality into the area that our Mr.Average Collector is going to operate in.Within this area of collecting,such a keris will never be encountered.It is a totally different market,with the buyers spending hundreds of dollars,rather than hundreds of thousands of dollars.This whole exercise is aimed at a level of the market which automatically excludes keris of the very highest quality,be they Bugis,Peninsular or Solonese,and this exclusion is covered in the Objective,which addresses the perceptions of a specific group of collectors .I can provide a justification based in logic for this approach,but I do not believe this is necessary at this time.
Within this segment of the market,we will not encounter any Bugis or Peninsular keris of this markedly superior quality.What we can expect to find are good,honest, substantial blades;the occasional one will have a pamor miring;again,another may have a moderately well executed sogokan.None will have the excellence of workmanship that is almost taken for granted in a recent (say last hundred years) Solo,Bali, or Madura art blade.
This is the basis for my statement ,David.Not that there are no Peninsular and Bugis blades which display evidence of artistic endeavour,but there are none that will be encountered in the area of the market where our collectors will operate.Moreover,even if there were,they ought not to be judged by a standard which does not apply to them:if they were made as a weapon,they should be judged as a weapon,not as a work of art.
Now unless I`m wrong David,you express exactly these sentiments in para.3.,of your 18 March post.

The frame work for analysis which I have proposed,when combined with the nominal classifications,actually translates into a matrix.Such a matrix should allow us the freedom to become more definitive as we progress.If we look at Major Negative Factor(MNF)2,we can see that 5 Elements of Negation(EN)have been supplied.These EN`s can be further broken down into Components,such as has already been done with 2b.However,I would caution against becoming too specific at this stage;the variables are infinite,and an excess of detail will bury this project.
But the Components which could contribute to these EN`s could certainly be stratified.We`ve already got 4 Components attached to 2b.,Loss of Form.Why not see what you can extract from these Components,David,and throw up a trial stratification?

The purpose of the frame work is to act as a tool of analysis.
When the analysis is complete,I would expect that we should be able to write guidelines applicable to each of the MNF`s,which would satisfy the Objective.Perhaps within these guidelines we may be able to find a place for a grading system.However,in my experience,in an exercise of this nature,it is best not to restrict yourself too much,during the execution of the analysis, by trying to work within strictly defined parameters.Throw the net wide,see what we can catch,and then put it into the relevant box.

Evidence of heat treat can certainly contribute to the aesthetics of a blade,however,in a blade made as an art work,its absence should not be regarded as a negative,conversely,in a blade which appears to have a primary function as a weapon, no evidence of a heat treat having been carried out,must reduce its functional effectiveness.
This is a good example of my whole approach in this matter:judge each blade for what it is,do not judge it for what it did not set out to be.

David,in my post of 15 March I put two questions.Do you have any opinions relevant to these questions that you would like to share with us?

In fact,it would make this entire exercise considerably easier,and more productive,if you did not take too long to "pipe in" again.Your knowledge is needed,and your opinions are needed,as are the knowledge and opinions of anyone with any interest at all in this field.
A quick perusal of past contributions to this Forum,running back to its inception ,indicates a relatively high general interest in keris,which makes it extremely difficult to understand the reluctance of keris conscious people to contribute their opinions to this current discussion.

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Naga Sasra
Senior Member
posted 03-18-2001 23:04     Click Here to See the Profile for Naga Sasra   Click Here to Email Naga Sasra     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Before I address E.N.1a., as requested by wong desa, I would like to revisit M.N.F.5 "Origin is not within the cultural tradition of a keris bearing society". In as much as I agree with the fact that mostly high priced blades are being made as copy's,fakes,replicas or outright forgeries, and that one should buy the blade, not the story. I have seen an increase in these type of blades over the last few years, but with one major differance, they are low priced, in the hundreds actually, yes they may include the tourist blades that we are all familiar with. My point is, that exactly these types of blades are what Mr. Average collector is most likely to start a collection with. Is it possible at this time due to the economic situation in Indonesia that it has become profitable to churn out all these low priced blades, whereas in the past only the really expensive blades were worth fooling with. As we all know collecting is sometimes a mind game - who fools whom. Maybe we have to look for the intent. If it was made, sold, or altered with the sole intention to deceive, I think we should agree it is a "fake" in anybody's eyes, and within our framework, aim to help prevent Mr. Average collector from falling into this trap, but more about that once we get to 5.
Regarding E.N.1a., I keep having problems with this issue, as it interact closely with M.N.F.2 which address the degree of damage to a blade to allow restoration WITHOUT access to specialist skills.
Based on that statement the degree of damage is the key to the question, so is a rusty blade not a quality blade, it certainly could be, but it depend on the degree of rust,if is it surface rust, it may not be problematic and would only deduct from the blade as being dirty and rusty. However, if it is corrosion below the surface in spotted areas, it has now lost some of its form as well.
There are many a blade out there, the majority of them show lack of maintenance one way of the other,I for one would gladly accept a quality blade even with light surface rust and out of stain, but would also deduct accordingly in the negociated price.
There is no doubt, that a blade is less valuable when not restored back to the original condition, but that will in most instances require specialist skills and we are not talking about blades found using "Tapa Geni" only blades that the average collector come in contact with.

As to what level of blade appearance is acceptable, must a blade always be correctly stained? It may not be an issue for the average collector, as some have not seen a correctly stained blade and to have it correctly stained, will require specialist skills, I must therefore assume that a clean blade out of stain would be acceptable to the majority.
Finally, let me apologize in advance for not being able to continue this subject for the next month or so, as I will be in Indonesia without access to my computer. I got to get cranking packing now but hope this thread will continue with a lot more keris people joining in.

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wong desa
Senior Member
posted 03-19-2001 17:23     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well Erik,off again?I hope your visit to Indonesia will be enjoyable,safe,and rewarding.
This is posted in your absence,however ,in order to maintain continuity,I feel this is necessary.

Firstly I will raise again the objective:"To identify the characteristics of a keris blade which are percieved by collectors who operate outside the Javanese keris culture ethic,as indicators of quality."When we look at any of the MNF`s or EN`s
it is advisable to keep this Objective uppermost inour minds.

The reasoning behind my nomination of EN1a(rusty,dirty,unstained) under MNF1 (visually unattractive),rather than under MNF2(degree of damage) is as follows:

When a blade is out of stain and carries rust,we do not know the degree of damage which it has suffered,often we are unable to read the pamor;in short,in many cases we are buying a pig in a poke if we take a gamble on a rusty blade.
Because it is rusted we are unable to determine whether it has any attractive features or not,thus it automatically becomes visually unattractive.
The degree of rust can vary from a few spots of light surface rust ,to deep all over rust.It can even be correctly stained,and still carry a few spots of old,stable rust.
If a blade is free of rust,we can immediately assess the degree of damage :if it is not free of rust,we cannot.
What we need to address is the degree of rust that is acceptable.
What is the degree of rust that will allow an appraiser to move past the rust and complete his appraisal?
One thing is certain,if the blade is totally covered in rust ,he can go no further.
Because of this inability to read the blade,degree of rust is pivotal to any further assessment of a blade.Thus it can be an important enough factor to close the door on any appraisal right there.
Get past the rust,then we can see what we`ve got.

I would propose that :
Where the surface of a blade is obscured to the extent that it is not possible to make an informed judgement of blade condition or quality of workmanship,such a blade should be removed from any further appraisal.
Note:blade surface can be obscured in many ways, for example:rust,paint,inadequate stain,failure of seller to remove from scabbard.

Certainly,price can influence the decision to purchase.
But have a look at the Objective.We are not talking about value for money,we are talking about "---indicators of quality."
If we consider this Objective to be inadequate,we can always change it.Any suggestions?

On the matter of blade stain,I tend to agree with you Erik;a blade can look pretty good in the white sometimes.A correctly stained blade that allows us to see all the naunces of the material is undoubtedly preferable,but I don`t consider it essential,particularly for the group of collectors named in the objective.
My own feelings on overall appearance are that the surface of the blade should be visible,and that its integrity should be intact.Accepting this as the minimum allows progression to further appraisal.

You have raised again the question of forgery,deciept and fakery.Its a pity you are not able to continue discussion on this matter,and accordingly I will withhold my comments until you return.I do have some very definite views in this area.

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Tom Anson
posted 03-21-2001 02:34     Click Here to See the Profile for Tom Anson   Click Here to Email Tom Anson     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you wondesa for the complete reply to my questions.I am sorry that I could not thank you before,but I have two problems.I do not own a computer and this means I must use public computers,and also I am doing a lot of travel right now.
I have printed all the things that have been written on this thread and on the other one that got too big.It is much easier to read and understand if it is printed.If I was able to use a computer evey day there is a lot of things I would like to say and ask but for now I will just say something about blade condition.
Wondesa you asked if a blade that is rusty and in bad shape can be regarded as a quality blade.
My answer to this is that no it can not.But I will not insist that evey blade I have is stained perfect black and white.Any keris is more attractive if it is stained proper and I am always ready to pay more for a keris that is stained proper,but it does not have to be stained.Some kerises look good with just a clean white surface,specially some Bugis kerises.
Any keris,just the blade of the keris,or the whole keris has got to be complete and if there is damage to any part of it,it must be damage that I can fix myself.If it is damage to just the blade that means that all the grenengs should be nice and clear,and the outline of the blade should be sharp and clean and without rises and falls and big gaps,and everthing should look like it is in proportions.And also the layers that are where the welding was done should be nice and tight and not coming unstuck.
But all this is about price.If I find a keris in a weekend market for $20 or $30 I buy it no matter what condition it is in,so I can try to fix it up and then I mostly trade it off.
But I found out a long time ago that if I want good stuff I got to pay good prices,so if I pay a dealer $200 or $400 for a keris I want it to be perfect.And for any kerises that are up over about $600,well they got to be better than perfect.
Wondesa you asked for opinions.Well my opinion is that for someone who is serious about collecting kerises condition is the number one priority.Who wants a collection full a broken,chipped,bent,twisted,unpolished bits of iron and wood?That sort of collection don`t mean anything.For me condition is the number one thing.

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wong desa
Senior Member
posted 03-26-2001 17:38     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for your contribution ,Tom.It appears that you are in agreement with Naga Sasra and I relevant to condition and presentation of a blade.However,please note that we are discussing blade quality,not "keris value for money".I do agree with what you`ve said on the subject of value,but we really should try to stay on track.
As far as the value thing goes,we must realise that this is not something that can be quantified.The concept of "value for money" varies depending on many factors,personal wealth,and the market in which you buy amongst these factors.
There is the personal"want" factor too.At times I have paid too much for a particular piece,simply because I really wanted it.Then again,I`ve also scored the occasional great buy,where I`ve paid a fraction of what the piece was worth on the open market.
My own feelings on "value for money" are that if I come across a piece I like,and I`ve got the money,I buy it.Keris are not like ,say,hunting knives,where you can see one you like,but you think it`s too expensive,so you shop around until you get the same model at the price you want to pay.With a keris you are buying a unique item.Each one is an individual in its own right;you can`t go down the road to Woolworth`s and get a choice of others at a lower price.Even with the tourist junk keris,you are still looking at a one off item,its just that its a one off piece of junk.
It is this dividing line between "good" and "junk" that we are trying to define.
Logically,price has no part in such a discussion.
Actually,when we identify condition of a blade as an important component of quality,we are in line with traditional Javanese thought,where blade condition,relevant to percieved age,is a major indicator in an appraisal.

We have agreed that EN1b -'Overall appearance does not appeal'- is a subjective judgement.However,that said,what are some of the things that we might find to be a major turn off when we look at a keris blade?
Any ideas Tom,or anyone else?

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Tom Anson
posted 04-04-2001 22:10     Click Here to See the Profile for Tom Anson   Click Here to Email Tom Anson     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hi wondesa!I`ve been able to get back to a computer again.I understand what you say about each keris being different.That is the great thing about kerises:it does not matter how many you have each one is different to each other one,even when they are in the same style of rongko with the same style of hilt they are still different.
I have had a think about what you say about the "value for money" question,and I agree that you are right about this.If we are discussing "elements " that make for "quality",then "dollars" just do not come into the question,that is a whole separate question.
I think that also we should not discuss the "fake keris" subject either,like nagasasa
says "If it was made sold or altered with the soul intention to decieve" it is a fake.I think this "fake keris" subject is a separate subject too ,because even if a keris is a "fake" it could still have "elements" of "quality".
So the way I see it what we need to do is to get to the "elements" of "quality" first and then maybe we can look at the "fake" idea or the value for money idea.

About "overall appearence does not appeal".
We are just talking about blades ,right?Well if we are just talking about blades I can not think of anything at all about just a blade that could make it so bad I did not want it,except for things like damage and bad rust and ugly workmanship and that sort of thing.
Sometimes with a complete keris I can look at it and even though it is in good condition and maybe a pretty nice keris,I just do not like it,and I don`t always know why,but with just a blade as long as it was not damaged,and as long as the workmanship was good,I don`t think I would reject it.And "damage" and "workmanship" are covered under separate headings.
So I`m sorry,I can not give any suggestions at all on this one.

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wong desa
Senior Member
posted 04-14-2001 02:10     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The reason that I included the very subjective-"overall appearance does not appeal"-was because if we go all the way back to the original discussions,it appeared that some pretty knowledgable keris people were very much in support of the idea that keris selection for collection should be pretty much a subjective process.However,my experience of subjectivity in other fields indicates that the apparently subjective can be analysed and the inherrent factors isolated.

So,if we don`t like the look of something,or even the feel of something,why don`t we like it?

Thus the question:"---what are some of the things that we might find to be a major turn off when we look at a keris blade?"

The only response to this question was from Tom Anson ,who stated that if a blade is undamaged and of good workmanship he would not reject it.
There were no other responses to this question,which would seem to indicate to me that either the subject is of no interest,or that indeed there are no elements which can be identified "as major turn offs" in a keris blade,which fall outside the parameters of workmanship,condition,and origin.

Naga Sasra had already indicated his doubts about this subjective element on 19th.March.

So,if we can find no supporters of subjectivity who are prepared to identify those things which contribute to their subjective appraisal,and if the rest of us cannot identify any purely subjective elements in the appraisal of a keris blade,then I believe we should remove this subjective element from consideration.

This now brings us to a position where we should be able address the elements of quality in a keris blade in absolute terms.
These terms have already been posted,and are open to discussion.

I find that at the moment my work commitments are making heavy inroads into my available free time.Additionally I am attempting to gain qualifications in another discipline.There being only 24 hours in a day I am finding that I continually come up about an hour and a half short.
So it is Brothers and Sisters,that I must direct more of my time to those activities which contribute to providing me with a roof over my head and food in my belly,and less of my time to those activities which contribute to my amusement.
From this point forward I regret that my involvement in this forum is likely to be much more spasmodic than it has been during the last few months.

Hopefully Naga Sasra and Tom Anson will continue to explore this fascinating subject of the wonder and elegance of the Keris during my absence.

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posted 04-28-2001 23:01     Click Here to See the Profile for VANDOO   Click Here to Email VANDOO     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
perhaps i won't mess up this time, the only thing i see that might be missing is age .is a blade documented, or of a type to place it in the period of the roalty or of the wars and other famous events and people worth more regardless of the condition. or should that be outside the criteria you are setting up. i personaly like a blade that has realy been used by the ethinic group who made them .the age and patina gives it caracter and a sense of history.

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Senior Member
posted 04-29-2001 07:20     Click Here to See the Profile for DAHenkel   Click Here to Email DAHenkel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

This thread has been pretty quiet and I know that several of the regulars (including myself) are busy with work and such but I will try to answer your question in so many words.

Determining age is one of the most difficult things to do in appraising a keris. One can look at style and form and make educated guesses based on what is known and of course condition and patina are a somewhat useful general guide, but tread cautiously here. Documented, provenanced keris of unusual heritage certainly do command premiums which should be noted of course in any appraisal of its worth. Keris' from royal collections would make up the majority of these pieces and as has been noted before, legitimate examples of these command extremely high prices. The danger here of course is that for every legitimate piece there are dozens, if not hundreds of pieces out there which carry dubious claims to extraordinary provenance. So bad is the situation in fact that for the most part I tend to take almost all such claims with a very large dose of salt. Without exemplary documentation its just too hard to believe the many claims some keris collectors and dealers make about their keris'.

Authenticity, as you rightly claim, is certainly an important factor, especially in antique keris. For the most part the best way to determine authenticity is through experience and handling a large number of keris. For the most part the key problem faced in determining authenticity is knowing what to look for in a forgery. Faked "antique" keris abound and are a bane for keris collectors everywhere. Factors that one should look for in determining a fake should be documented, in good time. Many comments have been made with regards to this in this and related treads though so I'll leave my comments on that here for now.

Certainly, keris' made after the begining of the 20th century were made primarily for dress or show, even when they appear very utilitarian. Like edged weapons everywhere modern weapons and modern administration made the keris obsolete as a weapon. As such authenticity hinges on whether the keris was made for local use or as a so-called "tourist piece." For the most part these tourist trade keris are easy enough to spot as for the most part they are of poor workmanship and made from substandard materials. As with anything though there is always that grey area which needs to be explored further but that I think is also for another time.

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posted 04-30-2001 01:30     Click Here to See the Profile for VANDOO   Click Here to Email VANDOO     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
HI THANKS FOR THE RESPONCE DAHenkel I agree with what has been said previously although some of it goes over my head. It seems that if the kreis could be catagorized based on function, #1 weapons, #2 ceremonial #3 tourist souviners. then further catagorized by quality #1 difficulty & expertise of forgeing and finishing of blade. done by a master or apprentice.# parmor(pattern) of the blade, exceptional,good, average, poor. modern master metalsmiths or old masters and shops(factorys?. then there are the ascetics of size is bigger better, straight or wavey, then the old worn down blades with lots of history that are only good as keepsakes and the familys who treasured them are gone or no longer care. all these questions are beyond my ability to answer, i do as one of the others wrote, if i like it and can afford it i buy it, sometimes i pay too much and sometimes i think i got a great deal, thats what makes collecting fun

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Naga Sasra
Senior Member
posted 05-09-2001 22:00     Click Here to See the Profile for Naga Sasra   Click Here to Email Naga Sasra     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I am sorry that it took so long for me to get back to this subject, after spending nearly a month in Indonesia, I came back to a tremendous amount of correspondance that took more time to handle than I anticipated.
Let me start out at the point of my last posting, which was on 3/18, but first thank wong desa,Tom Anson,VANDOO AND DAHenkel for keeping this threat,what I consider an important issue alive. I had hope'd that in my absence a lot more Keris people would have joined this forum, I know you are out there, please take a little time and contribute to the subject.
Secondly after carefully reading all the postings, and in order to maintain continuity, I will humbly try to address the postings according to the date they were received. First the wong desa post of 3/19. I will avoid the technical lingo regarding the various degrees of corrosion in metals, only state that I agree with wong desa as far as his proposal is concerned, namely that a blade should be removed from appraisal, if the blade surface is obscured to the extend that it is no longer possible to make an informed judgement of blade condition and or quality of workmanship. Regarding the price and its influence on the decision to purchase, yes we are indeed talking about "indicators of quality" and perhaps leave this issue alone for the time being, as this (pricing) is a highly individual and personal matter and as you mentioned if the objective became inadequate, we can always change it.
The last item in the wong desa posting, is my never ending question of forgery,deceipt and fakery, but after reading all the postings, I would like to withhold my comments until wong desa gets back to a 24hr a day schedule, instead of the 25 1/2 hour a day he now has.
As far as the postings following, I believe that we should give the question "What are some of the things that we might find to be a major turn off when we look at a Keris blade?" one last chance to let the people in support of the very subjective"overall appearance does not appeal" to be heard from, but if we do not get any more comments on the issue, I would agree that due to lack of responces or interest to this question, then perhaps we should remove this element from consideration all together.
Tom Anson and VANDOO both brought up some good points and the question of authenticity as an important factor, was brought up again and answered to the point by DAHenkel. As a very wise man said " I am buying the blade not the story ".
I suggest we all give the threat a little more time for other Keris people to join and comment as they find time.
If we do not have any more interest shown in the subject, then it would be time to consolidate and address the elements of quality in a Keris blade in absolute terms.

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posted 05-17-2001 03:45     Click Here to See the Profile for Wolfgang   Click Here to Email Wolfgang     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Dear Keris-collectors community,
I am following your great discussion since quite a while and learned a real lot from it. I am not a native English speaker, so I can not keep up your high quality conversation and have to apologise for my bad language knowledge.

The cause to write right now, is a sad one, but I believe that the collectors community has to
know this:

The world has lost the great Keris researcher and collector from the Netherlands, Mr. Tammens. He died after long suffering from cancer on the february, the20th 2001.
Mr. Tammens will live on in his collection and his publications that will be the source of
many good discussions in the future.
May his example encourage collectors in their search for knowledge and good keris.

To your topic:
I started to collect European edged weapons as teenager, just for decoration at first, then I became interested in Asian weapons, bought things as “exotic” (to me!) as possible, the knowledge grew slowly. Then I became curious for Damascus or pattern welded steel, couldn´t afford to buy Japanese items, so I landed at the keris. I found that weapons are very much a mirror of the culture that produced them, very stiff and regulated as the japanese and really alive and open as the widespread keris culture. I obtain my pieces just from the feeling in my heart? Or belly? I don’t see a sense in collecting items made by empu with a great name and tradition since also they had a beginners low quality start as any average unknown smith could have a fortunate day and deliver a true masterpiece of his art. Sure, I like quality items, like court keris, those should be complete and in near mint condition as they had never more than a ceremonial, representative, or spiritual function. The keris used in the daily live, they might have nicks and bruises, they look more honest ( or genuine?)to me with the tear and wear of the ageing. I would not restore such a piece to “brand new” condition, but replace lost or badly damaged parts with, if possible, old, else well made new spares to a completeness that the first owner would wear the keris again without being ashamed. I like keris much better when they have to be restored, since I get a much closer relation to them when I am in touch with them for several hours, nights or it might even take months to obtain suitable spares,in opposition to a mint condition keris that has to be placed behind glass and is better left alone. When a single blade comes along, I take the opportunity to refit it to my very own taste, since in central Europe is not much known about Javanese court regulations for a correct keris outfit. How would any European, living today, fit into centuries old indonesian social structures with their regulations to get himself a “fitting” keris ...?
The spiritual propreties of a keris are of the same importance to me, at the first grip on a blade I feel that the very most keris, no matter in what material condition they are at the moment, they seem to radiate some sort of energy, the feeling is a bit like static electricity. Very few old, many new ones and all tourist keris don’t have this power, they have ”nothing to tell” so I leave those alone.
A personal simple idea or guess where the attributed magical properties could come from: All living beings are surrounded by a personal magnetic field, produced by the energy-lines that are running through the body, as known and used by eastern traditional medicine since centuries. Now the keris is made from magnetic material and consists of complex welded structures with different properties attributed to the various motifs. When worn at the body, the kerismaterial could interfere with the personal “aura” and change it, amplify, focus or reduce energieflows so to influence a persons health, character and even charisma. This could explain why different pamor motifs are said to be helpful to different owners characters or in different situations or - also the reverse - keris and bearer don’t go on. In that way I really doubt that keris were made to cause trouble to their owners, or that any evil magic could dwell within a keris!

[This message has been edited by Wolfgang (edited 05-17-2001).]

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wong desa
Senior Member
posted 05-24-2001 03:22     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hello again everybody.The thread still lives!But only just,by the look of it.I`m particularly pleased to see your contribution Wolfgang,we have not heard from you previously,and you have posted some interesting stuff.I`ve probably got something to say relating to most of the posts put up since I`ve been gone,so I`ll work back,starting with Wolfgang.
What you say,Wolfgang,about weaponry mirroring culture,is something with which I agree totally.Not only the weapon style,but also the method of use.In both of these aspects the keris is Javanese culture in microcosm.
Similarly I agree with the attitude of not searching only for the work of known empus.Firstly,who amongst us can identify the work of a great empu?What are the differences to be found in the work of,say,Kinom,and Guling?Where an empu changed his name,what are the differences in the same empu`s work during different stages of his career?There are probably only a scant handfull of people in the entire world who are competant to carry out such appraisal.How many of these people live in the western world?So--- forget about the great empus.
However,quality,once understood is a constant.As Wolfgang points out,an unknown could occasionally rise above himself,similarly,any of the "greats"could have a bad-hair day.
Thus,the focus must be on quality,and an understanding of what is meant by this.
However,this does not mean that you cannot collect something that totally lacks quality,if you like the particular piece.My own collection is a bit like a dog`s breakfast in this respect.
But you must be able to recognise quality,so that you don`t get fed imaginative stories,and so that you can recognise what is a fair price,and what is not.You gotta know what you`re doing before you fork out the cash.
On the subject of 'electricity'and 'vibrations'and such like.I must say that during my entire life,not one ,that is not a single one,of all the thousands of keris that I have handled has ever transmitted any sort of feeling to me.Some I may like more than others,and sometimes for no apparent reason,but 'electricity'? Never.I guess I`m just incredibly insensitive.I do acknowledge that some people have sensitivities that others of us lack,and it is possible that Wolfgang is one of those people,but if I were to choose keris for my collection on the basis of whether or not I could feel electricity in it,I would now have a collection totally devoid of keris.
The restoration of keris is fun.It is also a great way to learn about keris.But this thread is directed squarely at quality,however we may eventually define this.We must stay within the scope.Restoration,Forgeries and Fakes,Keris Mysticism,The Empus,Regional Variation---all this and more could form future,or even concurrent threads.
Now you`ve entered our discussion Wolfgang,I do hope you will stay with us and contribute again.The loss of Mr Tammens was indeed a sad event.I only recently heard about his passing myself.He did make a memorable contribution to keris literature.

Naga Sasra--your post indicates agreement with those contributors who put up posts during your absence,and you have opened no new discussion.I do not think we can yet consolidate,even if we do not get any more contributions.Certain definite matters have been set forth for consideration,and I feel they must be considered before we can make any determinations.If we cannot get sufficient input to do this,well,the thread dies without any definitive result.

Vandoo--I cannot disagree with your approach to categorization,and I feel that it could be turned into a useful tool to screen possible additions to a collection,but this categorization ,in fact,gets back to an appraisal of quality.Once we get the quality question out of the way,I feel that everything else will simply fall into place.This,of course,does not mean I disagree with the philosophy of "if you like it,buy it",but that "liking"or "not liking" should be based on a knowledge of what it is that you`ve decided to like.

David--it`s hard to find time to play with i/net forums and earn a living at the same time,isn`t it?When I spend time here something else always suffers,and from the look of it,you`re caught in the same round of slavery.But it was good to come back again and see that one of our truly knowledgeable contributors,DAHENKEL,had been able to find time to make a contribution.I endorse completely your remarks of 29 April.

In an attempt to try to arouse a little bit of interest in this thread,I would like to raise the question of keris which have an origin which is not within the cultural tradition of a keris bearing society.Since this matter bears directly upon the often raised matter of fake/fraud/forgery,I sincerely hope somebody will come in with some opinions.I,of course,do have my own opinions in this matter,but it would be really great if someone else could put forward a few opinions as well.
To start this ball rolling ,I`d like to ask the question:"What is a keris?"
Sounds facetious,doesn`t it?
But it is not.
Some people hold that a keris is only a keris if it has been made with all due traditional ceremony,and holds some power,or perhaps a spirit.
Others want to call every dagger with a wavy blade a keris.
So---what is a keris?

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posted 05-26-2001 23:51     Click Here to See the Profile for VANDOO   Click Here to Email VANDOO     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

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posted 05-27-2001 03:21     Click Here to See the Profile for DAHenkel   Click Here to Email DAHenkel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If ever there was a question that could keep a group of keris collectors arguing for some time this is definitely it. The sheer variety of keris forms alone makes it extremely difficult to include all acceptable keris types under one simple definition. Given this I think it is best to develop a simple definition that encompasses the majority while allowing for all the various exceptions that so vex any attempt to nail down a more complete definition.

The key to a definition of the keris clearly lies in the blade; dress being of such variety that it would be impossible to find much in common with disparate examples. As such we can focus both on the key features of the keris blade and on the function of the keris as a fighting weapon. It must be said however that no definition can be completely satisfying unless and even if it takes note of various exceptions. All keris seem to possess at least some of the key features common in the keris though many keris do not possess all of these key features.

That said my own definition would go something like this:

The keris is a personal sidearm of the ethnic Malay people that functions primarily as a thrusting dagger (see Alan Maisey’s article for more on this distinction). Most commonly the keris blade is asymmetrical and double-edged and may be either straight or waved, with waved varieties of the keris nearly always possessing an odd number of waves. Blade length varies from extremes of a few inches to several feet (I saw one keris at an exhibition with a blade that must have been in excess of 5 feet) with the majority falling somewhere between 10 and 18 inches. The keris blade is almost always pattern welded (that is, of mechanical damask) and posesses two features that I regard as most defining; the presence of a ganja (either separate or one with the blade), and gandik (Many keris lack either one or the other but to my knowledge no keris lacks both).

I think it is most important to set straight a major distinction between the keris of the modern-day Malay nations of Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei (including also the ethnic Malay states of Southern Thailand) with the kris or kriss of the oft-styled "Morolands" of the Southern Philippines. The Philippine kriss, like it's regional cousin the sundang, certainly resembles the keris but clearly fits into a very different category of weapon. These served more as a sword-like, cut and thrust weapon and as such do not really fit a defining characteristic of the keris, it's role as a thrusting dagger. Indeed the Moro weapon that most closely fits my definition is the gunong (more often referred to as a punal), a weapon that only superficially resembles the keris proper.

No doubt this will serve as a starting point for the purposes of our discussion. I stand ready to be shot full of holes

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posted 05-27-2001 13:46     Click Here to See the Profile for Rick   Click Here to Email Rick     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
"I think it is most important to set straight a major distinction between the keris of the modern-day Malay nations of Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei (including also the ethnic Malay states of Southern Thailand) with the kris or kriss of the oft-styled "Morolands" of the Southern Philippines. The Philippine kriss, like it's regional cousin the sundang, certainly resembles the keris but clearly fits into a very different category of weapon. These served more as a sword-like, cut and thrust weapon and as such do not really fit a defining characteristic of the keris, it's role as a thrusting dagger. Indeed the Moro weapon that most closely fits my definition is the gunong (more often referred to as a punal), a weapon that only superficially resembles the keris proper."

Hi Dave, I'm having some trouble with your take on the Kris of the Moros.
First, to the best of my knowledge Moros are of Malay descent.
If we follow Cato's line of thinking that the Malay Keris was not sufficient for the early Moros' use and was subsequently modified over time into a larger cut and thrust weapon by necessity, yet still retains virtually all of the design features common w/other Malay Keris, then I see it as a regional variant of a Keris rather than not being a true Keris.
In another part of your post you mention seeing a Keris w/a five foot blade; now how could that be an effective *bent arm* thrusting weapon?
Were the longer *execeutioner's* style keris truly only used for execeutions; or are some of them adaptations of the Keris to cope with longer European blades.

The smaller Gunong's ONLY similarity to the Keris is that it is a thrusting dagger, also similar to a Badek; so here I think you are throwing the baby out with the bath water by concentrating only on size and method of use.

Weighing these two weapons as to which is more Keris-like I would have to vote for the sword of the Moros.

[This message has been edited by Rick (edited 05-27-2001).]

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Naga Sasra
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posted 05-28-2001 01:30     Click Here to See the Profile for Naga Sasra   Click Here to Email Naga Sasra     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
First a welcome to Wolfgang who joined this forum recently and thank you for your contribution. I will also join wong desa in stating that the loss of Ing. Tammens is a sad event, his life will be immortalized thru his contributions to Keris literature.

Both Wolfgang and Vandoo have mentioned the feeling of being "bitten" by something close to static electricity, heat and or vibrations when handling certain Keris. I must admit to that same feeling existing when I handle some Keris.
With that stated, I do not believe that people who do NOT get that feeling are insensitive in any way, because they are looking at Keris in a different manner, for example David van Duuren with a museum cellar with hundreds if not thousands of Keris (only 4 exhibited) has never felt or had the feeling of any inherent power present in a Keris, he (I quote) calls the phenomenon superstition, and wong desa would have a collection with no Keris if each Keris would have to communicate with him via magnetic forces, heat or vibration, this sensation or rather lack of it does not belittle anyone, and or their interest in keris.

I could attribute the sensation that I feel, to the anticipation of the possibility of handling a keris, that I might eventually own, and once acquired, if I get that lucky, the excitement of studying the blade, to appreciate the quality and workmanship in the blade. Perhaps these sensed feelings can be described as static electricity, heat and or vibrations.

I would however, like to know how many other Keris collectors have felt any strange sensation while handling Keris, and if any of you have, please describe the sensation in detail. We all know that some really strange (to us) things happens regarding majik in Indonesia, some have been well documented and taped on video, others documented in writing, but it would be nice to hear from other people who believe that an inherent, autonomous power exist in one or more Keris in their respective collection, or who have handled a Keris which gave an unusual sensation of a kind while being handled?

Sorry about the side step, but as the subject have been brought up on several occations, I thought my comments were appropriate.

Now to wong desa and what seems to be a rather innocent question "What is a Keris"
As our thread is named "What constitutes a good Keris, part two" Logic would demand we started by determining what is a Keris, and frankly we have touched on the matter in the early reply's, we did this by determining the regions of origin of a Keris bearing society, not by determining exactly what is a Keris. Great question Iwan.

I tend to agree with DAHenkel, that the definition clearly starts with the blade, as being a double edged stabbing/thrusting weapon, either straight or with an odd number of wawes, nearly always pattern welded (damascened) using disimilar metals. As for the two features that DAHenkel find most defining, ganja and gandik, the exeption is Dapur Cengkrong which in some variations have neither, yet still correct and according to pakem.

I also agree that we for definition purposes leave out the Philippines weaponry, even though the name Keris is often associated with swords and knifes from the Philippines. They infact have little in common with a Keris originating from Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and the southern tip of Thailand, as Philippine weapons for the most part are made without the process of pattern welding using one type of steel only.
Besides I think that the Philippine Moro's have earned the right and place in history, to be separated from the other regions, not only as a culture, but also as far as their weaponry are concerned.

Pardon me for not following Cato's line of thinking, but if they did not think that the Malay Keris was sufficient for their purpose, then why would they modify a Keris into something larger, when they could have taken a number of existing Pedang designs.

So what is a Keris, well in my humble opinion it is not made in the Philippines, it is not made in Solingen Germany and called a keris, it is not a Keris just because it has a wavy blade, it is not a Keris if it has not been hand forged, and that is just for starters.
Of cause there is variations to the Keris, such as the 5 foot mentioned, but that blade was obviously not designed as a stabbing or thrusting weapon, but was used as a ceremonial piece and in some instances to decapitate heads, and I am willing to bet that the five footer had pamor, ganja and gandik, with other words the same features as most "normal" Keris blades.

In other parts of Indonesia the executioners blade (Penjang) is a variation from the norm as well, but they like the five footer have ganja and gandik although some have no pamor at all.
If I have insulted any of the Philippine sword collectors, it is purely unintentional and with that I guess it is my time to take the bullits.

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posted 05-28-2001 10:10     Click Here to See the Profile for Rick   Click Here to Email Rick     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Naga Sasra, I certainly took no offense from either Dave or yourself and your shared view on the Kris of the Moros.

I'm simply somewhat puzzled by your dismissal of it as a Keris variant simply because of its size.
There are large Moro swords that aren't Keris-like; the Pira and Kampilan come immediately to mind.

Please correct me if I am wrong in any of the statements I make below:

1. Moros are of Malay stock and as such would qualify as a Keris bearing people.

2. Moros have spent virtually all their existence in the Southern Philippines at war, either inter-tribal or against the more heavily armed and armored Spanish. To effectively combat the Spaniards a larger weapon would have been a prerequisite.

3. Some moro swords do carry inlaid patterns of dissimilar metals on their blades (whether these are actual Pamor I am unqualified to say).

Now for a couple of questions:

Why did the Moros enlarge the keris rather than exclusively using the Kampilan or Pira for a battle sword?

Could it be that the Keris had much the same cultural signifigance for the Moros as it did for other Malay peoples and they wanted to retain the talismanic aspects of the Keris so they kept the form while enlarging the weapon to better suit their combat needs?

The Keris is described as a thrusting weapon.
The larger Kris is described as a cut and thrust weapon; does the *cut* part of the description disallow it from being a Keris variant?

If it looks like a Keris and has the major components and form (albeit larger)that make up a Malay keris and is a product of a Malay rooted people; why then is it disallowed as a regional variant of the Keris?

I don't quite get it here; but then again I've been known to be a little *dense* at times.

I would submit that the Kris of the Moros is a more recent adaptation of the Keris back to its roots as a combat weapon and suited to fit the needs of the people who used it.

One more thing please; can I have a refresher on the term Gandik and which part of the Keris this refers to; I think I know but am not sure.

The terminology involved in this thread often bedevils me; a Lexicon would be most helpful.

[This message has been edited by Rick (edited 05-28-2001).]

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posted 05-28-2001 11:46     Click Here to See the Profile for Battara   Click Here to Email Battara     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you very much Rick for your observations. I,like others,have watched this wonderful discussion blossom. But I must also stand with Rick in the arena of the Moro kris with these notes:

1.Moro swords all have laminated blades, some with what looks like "indonesian" pamor. Moro blades that look to have single steel blades appear so only because they have been "cleaned" by American or Western owners and need to be re-etched to bring out the pattern in the steel. I have done plenty of re-etching on every Filipino piece I have ever owned. The only exceptions to this are tourist pieces and those made from the 1920's to the present (with a few exceptions). In antique Moro krises, a complete and developed ganga is present and separately welded onto the rest of the blade along with other aspects shared with their cousins.

2.Most Moro pusaka kris are ceremonial in nature and are thus embellished with superb repousse and chased metal work in copper, brass, silver, gold, or gold alloy swaasa like their cousins in Indonesia. Many in this genre also sport ivory pommels like their counterparts. These were reserved for the upper crust and royalty.

These notes are not just based on Cato's book, but on my own independent research from museum sources to those going back to the turn of the century when American GI's were over there. Of course personal observation and work with the metals in restoration help. I agree that some adjustment and consideration in standards must be made for the Moro kris just like the sundang. Although I specialize in Filipino, I have a huge appreciation for Indonesian and Malaysian (Bali being a personal favorite, owning a few in my life time). Again, thank you Rick for some excellent questions and pointing out that sometimes we can miss the forest by looking to closely at just a few trees.

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posted 05-29-2001 04:00     Click Here to See the Profile for DAHenkel   Click Here to Email DAHenkel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Rick brings up a couple of very difficult issues in regard to my attempt to classify the keris. To begin with I’d like to start out by looking briefly at exactly what classifying is before going on to look specifically at the problems which Rick raises. The exercise of classification is something that people do in an attempt to simplify, or perhaps more accurately, to model a complex world. Classification allows us to put various things into recognizable (at least to ourselves) categories which in turn allows us to better understand various differences and similarities in the things we encounter. In the case of edged weapons we have developed a panoply of various terms to put to various sharp things that we encounter. These range from the very general, i.e. sword, dagger, knife etc. to the very specific. As one can clearly imagine this is an enormously complicated exercise and one that is bound to be imperfect. Language and individual impression alone make this exercise essentially impossible. Not only will we find ourselves dealing with the old “you say to-may-to I say to-mah-to” argument, (where the object is quite clearly the same but the terminology differs) but we also have to deal with problems where the object might not clearly fit into everyone’s definition for a given category. (For example, when does a dagger become a short sword?) My point in all this is of course that no matter what we do there are bound to be problems in the way that we classify the keris.

Perhaps it is a bit unfair to simply reject the Moro kriss as a strict member of the keris family. The Moro's are most certainly ethnically and culturally "Malay" although I don’t see where ethnicity is a necessary defining characteristic here. Also, certainly in appearance the Moro kriss does in fact look like a keris and if one were to use the "looks like a duck" principle one would classify it as such. Even in regional terminology the Moro kriss is recognized as a keris variant. Most commonly the formal Malay/Indonesian language term is keris sundang or in the case of Moro kriss often Keris Sulu (or Suluk). The latter term recognizes the kriss as a legitimate regional variant of the keris just as "keris Bugis" or "keris Madura" would, orang Sulu being the Malay language term for the "Moro" peoples. However in the case of the former term, that is keris sundang or simply sundang, there is an implicit recognition of the difference in usage of these weapons.

The issue of the keris panjang is another rather sticky issue but it helps to illustrate where I’m going with all of this. First off, I think that the argument that the panjang may have been an attempt to counter the European rapier is on rather shaky ground. If one simply looks at the method of hilt attachment it becomes quite clear that the panjang is ill suited for use as a cut and thrust weapon like the rapier. You clearly cannot swing a panjang without eventually loosing your blade, nor does panjang blade appear to have been light enough to have served effectively as a rapier. This is not to say that the panjang could not have been an ultimately ineffective effort to counter the rapier of course. However the traditional and still widely held reputation of the keris panjang is as an executioner’s weapon and as a symbol of socio-political power. The theory that the panjang may have been a failed attempt to counter the European rapier I think holds very little water in light of this. But that still leaves us to ponder whether the panjang fits my stated definition of a keris. Clearly, it does not. The panjang was not a personal sidearm and served a far different purpose from the keris proper.

Which leads us to the question of what to do with my original definition. Certainly if we were to remove the stipulation that the keris be a thrusting weapon, both the Moro kriss and the keris panjang would safely fit within my definition. There is a risk in doing this though as we lose a very fine level of meaning. Alan Maisey uses this fine level to distinguish the keris proper from certain proto-keris that were used as an overhand stabbing weapon. These daggers did develop an asymmetrical ganja and gandik* configuration and thus in all other respects fit the definition of a keris. Thus the stipulation of use as a thrusting dagger is still very important in distinguishing the keris proper from other early daggers. So where do we go from here? We could continue to stipulate that the keris be a thrusting dagger and treat the Moro kriss, keris panjang and certain proto-keris’ as separate but related entities. Or we could refine the usage stipulation to note that among the family of keris’ there were various use variants, of which the most common was the thrusting weapon but also cut and thrust, execution and overhand stab varieties. I’m more inclined to the latter but can see where some people might argue otherwise.

For the sake of argument I will go ahead and try to modify my definition to read,

The keris is an asymmetrical double-edged weapon that may be either straight or waved, with waved varieties of the keris nearly always possessing an odd number of waves. Blade length varies from extremes of a few inches to several feet with the majority falling somewhere between 10 and 18 inches. The keris blade is almost always pattern welded (that is, of mechanical damask) and possesses a ganja, and gandik configuration in all but the rarest of keris forms. The larger keris family can be further sub-divided into four distinct use categories. The most common keris proper served as a personal sidearm that was used primarily as a thrusting weapon. Other variants include the sword-like Moro kriss and keris sundang, the keris panjang or executioner’s keris and certain early proto-keris that probably descended from Indian weapon varieties and which was used with a reverse or overhand grip.

Not entirely satisfying perhaps but certainly this definition contains a more clearly defined notion of the differences in usage while still including weapons which quite clearly are keris’.

* The term gandik refers to the thickened front edge of the base of the keris blade that Bambang suggests resembles a pestle.

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posted 05-29-2001 09:53     Click Here to See the Profile for Rick   Click Here to Email Rick     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
"The keris is an asymmetrical double-edged weapon that may be either straight or waved, with waved varieties of the keris nearly always possessing an odd number of waves. Blade length varies from extremes of a few inches to several feet with the majority falling somewhere between 10 and 18 inches. The keris blade is almost always pattern welded (that is, of mechanical damask) and possesses a ganja, and gandik configuration in all but the rarest of keris forms. The larger keris family can be further sub-divided into four distinct use categories. The most common keris proper served as a personal sidearm that was used primarily as a thrusting weapon. Other variants include the sword-like Moro kriss and keris sundang, the keris panjang or executioner’s keris and certain early proto-keris that probably descended from Indian weapon varieties and which was used with a reverse or overhand grip."

Now this is a definition that I personally can accept without reservation.

I hope that I haven't thrown a Monkey Wrench into the process here by questioning the definition that was previously stated.

I just could not understand why you guys were so ready to dismiss the Kris of the Moros as not being a true variant of the Keris considering the fact that Moros originally came from Malay stock. My point about their cultural origin was to illustrate that having come from Malay stock they most probably were a people who were involved in Keris culture before their migration to the Southern Philippines.

That having been said; I eagerly await for others to comment.

Dave, I *believe* that the general rule of thumb in determining a short sword from a dagger is 18 inches minimum blade length to be classified as a short sword.

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wong desa
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posted 05-31-2001 19:51     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I`m really happy.I thought our "good keris"thread was dead in the water,and here we are with all these interested people expressing opinions.Great! Really great.All it took was one simple little question.
That question was:

"In an attempt to try to arouse a little bit of interest in this thread,I would like to raise the question of keris which have an origin which is not within the cultural tradition of a keris bearing society.Since this matter bears directly upon the often raised matter of fake/fraud/forgery,I sincerely hope somebody will come in with some opinions.I,of course,do have my own opinions in this matter,but it would be really great if someone else could put forward a few opinions as well.
To start this ball rolling ,I`d like to ask the question:"What is a keris?"
Sounds facetious,doesn`t it?
But it is not.
Some people hold that a keris is only a keris if it has been made with all due traditional ceremony,and holds some power,or perhaps a spirit.
Others want to call every dagger with a wavy blade a keris.
So---what is a keris?"

I`ve waited a a little while before putting my two penneth in,just to see what sort of response we`d get on this one.Naga Sasra is correct,the reason for this basic question is to first establish exactly what a keris is ,so that we are able to say what a keris is not.

Having established what a keris is not,we can then address the question of origin within a keris bearing society.This,of course bears directly(and indirectly) upon the matter of fraud etc.
I`m quite certain a lot of people would prefer to "cut to the chase",but to do so without an understanding of what the keris is,is about the same as cutting to the car chase without being able to drive.

It has been extremely pleasing to see so much active discussion on what a keris looks like,however,I am a little disappointed that nobody has seen fit to give an opinion on what a keris is,rather than simply what it looks like.
The keris is a weapon,certainly,but the nature of this weapon has altered throughout its history.To attempt to answer the question "What is a keris?" in purely physical terms is a bit like trying to answer the question "What is a man?" by giving a physical description of a two legged mammal .
Just as a man is more than simply his external appearance,so is a keris.
If we are ever to understand the keris we must come to terms with its nature,its function,its cultural presence.We cannot do this with a simple description of what it looks like.
Similarly,if we are ever to identify those keris like objects that are ,in fact,not keris,or that are keris,but keris which have no function within their cultural context ,then we need to understand what that cultural context is.

It is pretty clear that the keris started life,around 1000 years ago,as a weapon.
However,in today`s Jawa,for the vast bulk of the populace,it is an item of dress.

Thus,if we are to say what a keris is, it is obvious that we must specify the period that we are considering.In this consideration we could become very definitive,but I suggest that for our purposes we could perhaps satisfy our needs by defining the social evolution of the keris in three eras only:

archaic-up to aprox. the beginning of the the kingdom of Majapahit

middle-beginning of Majapahit to commencement of the modern era

the modern era.

I have not fixed a date for the commencement of the modern era,for the reason that this era commenced at different times in different places.

In Bali it would be reasonable to accept that it commenced after the Klungkung Puputan( 1908 ).

In Jawa it commenced much earlier,but to place an actual date on the submersion of tradition in modern thought is beyond the scope of this present undertaking.
In other places where the keris was(is) a cultural symbol,the emergence from traditional ways occurred at varying times,and proceeded at varying speeds.
So,we have three eras:archaic,middle,modern,which are only able to be defined by dates in the broadest of terms,and whatever dates may be settled on,can only be applied to individual specific areas.

During the archaic era ,the evidence suggests that the keris was purely a weapon.

During the middle era it is probable that the keris developed into a totemistic symbol of both the community ,and the individual within the community(see Wiener and Rassers).

During the modern era much of the character of the keris has been eroded by modern thought patterns and necessity,and the keris during this period has become an item of dress,a work of art,and a store of wealth.

Overlaying the above simplification , other aspects of the keris can be identified as advancing ,or receeding during the identified eras.Emphasis upon one aspect or another occuring as a response to changes in social conditions.Thus we have aspects such as artistic content,store of wealth,symbol of authority,or rank, weapon function,and so on,taking precedence,or decreasing in importance,in accordance with the needs of society at the time.

So,what is a keris?
It is different things ,to different people,at different times.
However,whether weapon,clan symbol, dress accessory,or,whatever,one thing holds true:the keris only has a meaning within its cultural context.
Because of this ,when we evaluate a keris,we must evaluate it in accordance with the cultural function which is applicable to it.
Extending this argument to its logical conclusion,any keris manufactured outside its cultural context cannot seriously be considered as a keris.
Now,reversing this logic,it holds true that any keris manufactured within its cultural context is a true keris ,and must be regarded as such.

As to the appearance of a keris,this is set down in the pakems,which allow for most of those variations that cause us difficulty when trying to come up with an all encompassing description.

The problem of variations such as the Moro keris,and the keris panjang can perhaps be regarded as a result of the commencement of the modern era,where the traditional totemistic function was submerged by other societal needs.
Or perhaps,we are looking at a case of the societies which developed the Keris panjang,and the Moro keris, having copied and adopted the keris without ever truly understanding its totemistic function,thus ,when necessity arose to produce a weapon suitable to a different form of combat,or as a symbol of rank,no prohibitions were in the way.

In fact,the Philippine archipelago was the only area in S.E.Asia that became subject to western colonialism before it had developed either a centralised government,or an advanced elite culture.(Brittanica).It is probable that the keris entered the Philippine archipelago as a result of trade links with the kingdom of Majapahit.Majapahit existed between approx. 1292 and 1525.Taking into account the long period of decline of Majapahit,a reasonable estimate for the appearance of the keris in the Philippines could be taken to be during the period 1320 to 1350.(If anybody wishes to discuss this estimate I will be delighted to engage in such discussion.)
The Spaniards appeared in the Philippines in 1521.Thus it is hardly likely that amongst the people of the Sulu archipelago, any deeply rooted cultural tradition associated with the keris existed at the time of the appearance of the Spanish.There simply was not sufficient time to develop such a tradition,prior to the appearance of the Spanish.Lacking the Javanese tradition of the keris as clan totem,along with the associated classifications and prohibitions, it is obvious that nothing was present to prevent the line of development which occurred in the Philippines.This line of development can only be considered as a result of the presence of the Spanish,and the need to come up with a weapon which was a suitable match for the arms of the invaders.Thus,in the Philippine keris we see a cultural object from one society turned into an extremely effective weapon in another society.A development perfectly in line with what we know of the changing nature of the keris,in accordance with the demands of time,place and society.
Ergo,in the appraisal of a keris from the southern Philippines,we cannot apply the same standards that we would apply to a keris from Central Jawa.We are considering objects which have a different nature,but a similar form.But when all is said and done ,both are still keris.

If it serves any purpose to try to define the appearance of a keris,rather than what it is,I personally like the following:
"Typically the keris is an elongated,asymmetrical edged weapon,sharpened on both edges,and with the base of the blade wider on one side than on the other.Often a distinctive blade pattern can be seen which is achieved by alternating laminations of iron and a contrasting material called pamor.The blade in many types of keris is waved,however,it is not essential for the keris to be waved,as there are many more types of straight keris than waved."(With apologies to my teacher,Alan Maisey,1989).
Even this is not all encompassing,but it comes close,and we`ve always got the pakems.

We all know more or less what a keris looks like,what we need to come to terms with is what it is.
Once we have achieved this understanding we are in a position where we can attempt to undertake an evaluation of the object.
Without the understanding,our evaluation is meaningless.

If my ideas above are not acceptable to any amongst us,I am more than happy to continue discussion in an attempt to reach concensus.
Similarly,I would be elated if any body should care to continue discussion of the above in an attempt to clarify,extend ,or refute what I have put before you.
(In preparation of this post I have drawn upon a number of sources,including both published and unpublished papers of Alan Maisey,with his permission.)

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posted 05-31-2001 21:26     Click Here to See the Profile for DAHenkel   Click Here to Email DAHenkel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I agree with Iwan that in defining the keris it is important that we eventually do not divorce our physical description from the cultural role of the keris. While I'm not entirely happy with what I have come up with to this point - I find it rather unwieldy frankly - I think at least in terms of the physical description it works for the most part.

I do want however to point out a minor disagreement (or perhaps it's more of a misunderstanding) in Wong Desa's previous post regarding the keris panjang. Iwan writes:

Or perhaps, we are looking at a case of the societies which developed the Keris panjang, and the Moro keris, having copied and adopted the keris without ever truly understanding its totemistic function, thus, when necessity arose to produce a weapon suitable to a different form of combat, or as a symbol of rank, no prohibitions were in the way.

I of course cannot speak for our Moro compatriots but I am of the opinion that the totemistic function of the keris most certainly was understood in the development of the keris panjang. Indeed in some ways it is arguable that the panjang is the ultimate expression of the keris' power.

Almost certainly the keris' role as an instrument in carrying out executions predates the development of the keris panjang. Indeed it seems likely that the development of the Panjang was in direct response to the need to make the keris more efficient for that purpose.

In those areas where the keris panjang was commonly adopted, aside from its fearsome reputation as an executioner's weapon, it also came to be a potent symbol of royalty. In official portraits of Malay Sultan's even today, while the ruler is normally shown wearing a personal keris, he will also hold a keris panjang in his hands. The symbolism of this is immediately evident given the traditional function of the panjang as the instrument used in carrying out a sentence of death. It's as if the guy were saying in so many words "I hold the lives of all of you in my hands."

Prior to modern times the only people who would have been allowed to keep a keris panjang would have been the various regional representatives of the sultan. Indeed, such keris would have normally been distributed by the sultan; symbolically conveying upon his penghulu portion of his power and of his right to take human life as he saw fit.

Its important to note at least in passing that quite a few antique keris panjang which I have encountered are terribly flimsy things and as such would have been ill suited for the task for which they were designed. As such these items would have served merely in their symbolic function. The execution itself could of course be accomplished by any number of means. It's also important to note that, at least in many of the sources which I have encountered, death by keris was considered to be the most honorable means of carrying out a death sentence.

To the best of my knowledge the keris panjang, in terms of the sultan at least, did not carry all of the same personal power that the keris proper would have. The sultan would have also had his own personal keris that would have carried the usual personal and totemic values which you would normally expect it to carry. However this is not to say that the keris panjang did not have totemic values of its own or that some of the totemic values normally conveyed to the personal keris did not reside also within the keris panjang. What I'm trying to say here is in effect that the panjang was a natural progression in the development of the keris and that in terms of power and totemic value it has a direct connection with the usual values inherent in the keris proper. The fact that these values evolved is no surprise.

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wong desa
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posted 06-01-2001 19:08     Click Here to See the Profile for wong desa   Click Here to Email wong desa     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Yes David,the keris panjang was a development of form,which occurred as a response to a societal need.It did(does)carry with it the symbolism of authority.I am in agreement with you on most of what you have written.The only sticking point is the concept of totemism.
In my post of 31st. May I have used the word "totem" in the anthropological sense,as does Rassers in the work I have drawn on as the basis of my argument.
The keris as clan or kinship group totem could not exist in Malaya,or for that matter ,most other places,simply because Malaya,and those other places,were not Jawa.

In his "On the Javanese Keris",Rassers builds an argument in support of the keris as a clan,or kinship group,totem.He relates his argument to symbolism in the design of a Javanese house,and weaves into this argument many other factors ,such as,for example,the Javanese philosophical concept of duality,making of the keris a uniquely Javanese cultural symbol.
Now, when this uniquely Javanese symbol spread into other areas during the Majapahit period,as a Regal tributory exchange,and carrying with it the binding power inherrent in the Naga belief system,the element which was transferred to the societies without a Javanese cultural inheritance was the element of power/rank/authority symbolism.It was not possible for the totemistic clan elements to be transferred,simply because of the absence of the Javanese cultural fabric which made the keris what it was in Jawa.
So, the symbolism which was transferred,with the keris, into those societies which recieved the binding gift from Majapahit was the power/rank/authority symbolism.It was not possible for it to incorporate the entire spectrum of Javanese symbolism.In short,the societies which adopted the keris from Majapahit ,adopted it without a complete understanding of its role in its original society.

At the time of its introduction to the Malay Peninsular,the political structure of this area was not only lacking the necessary Javanese cultural inheritance to allow transportation of all the symbolism of the keris as it was in Jawa,but the fragmentation of political organisation in the Peninsular probably did not provide a suitable foundation upon which to build a similar structure to that in Jawa.Taking into account the fact that Islam had already commenced its spread into Peninsular Malaya by the early 15th. century,and that the probable period for introduction of the keris to Peninsular Malaya was the early 14th. century,it is highly unlikely that the keris could have,in this brief period of time, developed similar totemism in Malaya,to that attached to it in Jawa,requiring,as it did,an Indianised social structure,and elements of Javanese philosophy.

When further development of the keris occurred in these societies,it occurred as a response to a societal necessity which did not reflect the complete cultural role of the keris in Javanese society.
This is a similar situation to the one which relates to the Moro keris:the further development of the keris,in response to a societal need.
Such development is,of course,to be expected,however,where the development occurred in an area lacking the Javanese cultural and societal structure,and from a base lacking elements of the original character of the object under discussion,it could not regenerate such elements independently,especially so in a society under the influence of Islam.
Thus,the role of the Keris Panjang in Malay society was(is) as a symbol of authority,and perhaps also of rank.Its role was not that of clan totem.

This Forum is certainly not a proper venue for a lengthy discourse on anthropology,however,if we are to understand the nature of the keris it is necessary to undertake fairly extensive reading of some standard anthropological texts.
I would suggest the role of the keris in Javanese society may be better understood by a reading of Rassers,"On The Javanese Keris",1940,and Wiener,"Visible and Invisible Realms",1995.Alan Maisey`s "The Keris and the Naga",Journal of the Antique Arms Collectors Soc. of Australia,Vol.1,No.3,will assist in simplifying the ideas inherrent in Wiener`s work.
Wiener`s work is structured on Balinese society,however,in the periods and aspects addessed by Wiener,this society can be regarded as a reflection of the relevant periods in Javanese society.
With an understanding of the nature of the keris in the society which generated it,it becomes easier to understand the role of the keris in those societies which adopted it from its parent society.
To place these cultural references into an historical context,an easily accessible reference can be found at What I have given here are the basic essential references;if anybody is interested in extending their reading in this subject,I would be happy to provide additional references.
(As in my previous post,I have drawn upon several of Alan`s unpublished papers,again,with his permission.)

[This message has been edited by wong desa (edited 06-01-2001).]

[This message has been edited by wong desa (edited 06-01-2001).]

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