Ethnographic Arms & Armour

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BluErf 18th December 2004 01:54 PM

Hi Ronpakis,

I have 40+ keris in my collection currently. I have probably let go of another 10 or so keris. Of all the kerises I've ever had, I'm only hazarding that this particular keris, and at most 2 others, are fighting kerises.

There's nothing romantic about the notion of a keris being used in combat. In the beginning, kerises were made to be used. Subsequently, they evolved to be become status symbols, art and talismanic articles.

While we agree with that, lets not forget that even in the 18th - 19th century, some kerises were made for fighting and were actually used. While a person would choose a klewang over a keris when going to war, it is equally plausible that during periods of peace, fights do break out involving kerises because no one carries klewangs and tombaks around all the time.

Your analogy is like the M16 is a much more powerful weapon than the 9mm pistol, so everyone will naturally choose M16 over the 9mm. But why then are there so much more people killed by 9mm than M16s these days? :)

Plus, I do not hazard my guess that this keris is a fighting keris based on a whim. If you could handle the blade, you would know what I mean. The keris is tough as can be and razor sharp. It cut me without me knowing. Why would anyone make an 'artwork' so sharp and tough if not for fighting? :) Remember this is a Bugis keris, and the Bugis value practicality over niceties and beautiful pamors. If I may, I will draw an analogy between this Bugis keris and the razor sharp Moro kris, which has been used to deadly effect against the conquistadors.

I make no representations about the age of this keris or its sheath, accessories, nor its value. I don't think that's the point. All I wanted to do is to share what I think is a solid good keris. :)

If for some reason anyone feels the need to discredit this keris, go ahead. I have said what I wanted to and will 'defend' this keris no more because there's no point.

Let the keris speak for itself.

BluErf 18th December 2004 02:31 PM

Originally Posted by ronpakis
...the wood looks to[o] new to me...

While I will not defend the keris anymore, here's one for the wood -- ronpakis -- look more carefully at the wood again. The sheath has pretty good age to it, with patina and age cracks, and as I have mentioned, it has 3 old but very good repairs to the wood.

The wood is not new, man! You have got to learn how to tell new wood from old wood, and start identifying the various types of wood used in making keris sheaths. It will help you better identify the origins, and sometimes, the authenticity of a keris.
(pendoko is new, I agree)

I may be primarily a 'blade person', but I have grown to love wood more and more, so pardon me for this post. :D

As for your unfortunate incident with the fake Madurese ivory handle, I'm sad to hear that. Be more careful in the future, and there's always no harm in discussing with or asking other more experienced collectors.

ronpakis 18th December 2004 02:56 PM

hello bluerf

its nothing personal, im reffering to the photos and most of the time its not clear tot see, i dont doubt your opinion.
about the warrior aspect: i think it could be used as a weapon but not primarily then you will use a "real" weapon like a sundang with a real fighting handle (fitted strong to the handle) i agree its not common to make it razorsharpe.
i'm not putting the keris to the ground its just my opinion, i like a keris when it is made traditional it doesnt have to be old. i did not say i dislike the keris

nechesh 18th December 2004 04:19 PM

Ronpakis, there seems to be much confusion around the intention and purpose of the keris. It seems to me that it did not originate as a weapon only to be used for statis and ceremony, but developed to that point over time. I don't believe this development was universal to all areas of Indonesia and it seems that certain groups, such as the Bugis held on to its use as a weapon longer than, say, the Javanese, where the keris was elevated to a high status art form. It is my understanding that the Bugis were known for actually using the keris in battle. I also suspect that certain Balinese keris also saw some battle. As for securing handles for combat, you would be surprised what a bit of pitch will do. I have a Bali keris that when i received it i swore it was epoxyed to the hulu, but after heating the blade a bit i was able to disconnect them and found it was attached with pitch. Like Blu's Bugis keris, this keris also exhibits nicks on the blade that indicate it was used to parry another blade, i assume in some kind of fight. It is important to realize that attitudes about the purpose of the keris have evolved over many centuries and in different manners depending upon the precise keris bearing people from which they originate. It is very difficult to make certain blanket statements about keris such as it is not a "real" weapon. Trust me, i have keris that can kill you quite efficiently. ;)

ronpakis 19th December 2004 10:27 AM

hello nescesh

of course almost ervery keris can be used as a weapon but im only wondering about its primarily function. there are more efficient weapons. compare a sewar to a keris from the same region.
a piece of cloth can be enough to fix the hadle to the blade just dont pull back.

nechesh 19th December 2004 03:47 PM

Well Ron, you seem to have missed my point on a couple of levels. One is that the primary function of the keris has evolved over the centuries and not in the same manner in all parts of the Malay area. There have also been different types of keris made specifically for different functions. Keris sajen and keris picit for instance were certainly not made as battle worthy blades. Many other blades were made to be purely talismanic and as time pasted the majority of keris became magickal/artistic/status cultural items rather than weapons of war. But it is my understanding that certain cultures within Indonesia were more apt to use the keris as a weapon than others, the Bugis among them and in Bali to some extent. I would love to hear factual and sustainable evidence either way on this issue.
And perhaps you did not understand my comments about pitch. It is a substance that was used to "glue" a keris to it's hilt when a stronger bond than a piece of cloth wrapped around the pesi was necessary (i.e. in battle). The hilt is then secure and the keris can be safely pulled back without worry. By heating the blade the pitch will become soft and the wilah can then be seperated from the hulu if the owner chooses. As i stated, one of my Bali keris came to me this way. There are substainal nicks on the ridge of the sogokan that look like the blade parried a sharp object at one time, and the end of the blade was broken off at some point (this appears to be an old repair) and reshaped to create a shorter keris. Now, all this damage might have taken place during some cultural/social function, but it seems to me unlikely. Keep in mind that, not unlike the English and the French in their wars in the Americas, the Dutch were very good at getting various Indonesian tribes to fight on there side against their Indonesian brothers, so the keris bearer was not always up against a well armed dutch soldier, but may end up fighting another keris bearer.
Certainly, for the most part, you are correct that the main function of the keris has become non-military. But you simply can not discount that some keris have been used in battle and were meant to be used that way.

ronpakis 20th December 2004 12:36 PM

Hello nescesh,

i did not missed your point i can agree to a certain level, the bugis and balinese used keris sometimes as a weapon but to my opinion this only happened when there was nothing else at hands. In the tropenmuseum in amsterdam there is a balinese keris of the absolut highest rank, with gold, gems, etc, it was captured during the attack of the dutch at bali somewhere late 19 century or early 20th. the officer who took it was attacked by a balinese man with it. he used it because it was his last savier (this last is my interpretation why use such a keris for any other purpose than defend your life).
myself i have a maduran keris wich is rather large with pamor and more important to this subject: the blade was heated for about 30 cm, like japanese blades. Of course this happened to make it stronger and sharper. you can clearly see the spots where the clay didnt protect the steel anymore. it is extremely sharp but it is impossible to use it as a slasher because the peksi would break and this hardening is not needed for thrusting. (this raises yet another question.........)
i also know what pitch is used for but it is not proved to be put there by the first owner. it could be a later addition for example when the dutch attacked bali, and the use "whatever you have" spirit came up!
most bali keris handles are big, now i'm not small 1,88 cm long, normal hands, and those grips are to large for my hands, (not to hold but to use) most indonesain men are at least to my opinion smaller than the average western guy > smaller hands.
as for bugis: the pistol like grip is not a very logical solution if you are planning to stab someone. it just does not fit your hands right.
You are right when you are saying that the dutch used the locals against their own people, but did they make keris for this purpose or did they use their "own" keris?
so my conclusion would be: used as a weapon? possible, but only when there is nothing else at hands, definitly not created for this purpose.

About the shortening of the blade: there are a lot of keris who are shortened, to my opinion this was possibly done because the keris was partly damaged by corrosion. dirt and perhaps water in the sheath, destroyed the point. to make it look better just cut a bit of.

i'm not saying you are wrong but i just have my doubts.

have a nice christmas!!

BluErf 20th December 2004 03:07 PM

Originally Posted by ronpakis
as for bugis: the pistol like grip is not a very logical solution if you are planning to stab someone. it just does not fit your hands right...

Hi Ronpakis, the Bugis pistol grip handle is probably one of the earliest studies in ergonomics. It is perfectly made for thrusting. It moulds into the hand and keeps it in a comfortable postion for delivering a strong thrust.

You can look at the pistol grips on epee and foil blades for modern fencing. Its the same principle.

Just to be sure, pardon me for asking, but has anyone shared with you how the bugis keris handle is held correctly?

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

ronpakis 20th December 2004 06:06 PM

ergonomics in keris handles
hi blu,

well i have handled several bugi keris and i just cant find a way to properly hold it. i think i have read some information about this subject before and i tried it on my own bugi (standard pistol grip). perhaps it is just me who is clumsy with bugi handles.
a well, i dont think we are going te reach consensus on this one but thats no problem. so many collectors so many ideas.
I dont mind you asking, i would like you to write the proper way, maby i have not tried this one. i will try it and let you know.

best wishes

Henk 20th December 2004 06:39 PM


Did you ever compared the size of our big european dutch hands with the small tiny hands of an inhabitant of Indonesia? That's why we have some trouble with handling a bugis keris.
If you keep that difference in mind the remark of BluErf makes sense.

Mick 20th December 2004 06:48 PM


Using the Bugis keris is easier if you have the handle mounted properly. The proper mounting is with the handle is facing 90 degrees from the plane of the blade. That is turned out when the keris is carried on the body not to the front or rear as it often is in storage do to space limitations. When the handle is installed correctly and the keris is drawn, the handle fits in your hand like a pistol grip. The thumb and forfinger pinch the blade on both sides of the front to direct the strike while the palm of the hand against the back of the grip allows you to put power into the strike with a shove.

nechesh 20th December 2004 09:54 PM

Well Ronpakis, if you are not missing my point you are, at least, missing the correct spelling of my name. ;)
Obviously a keris of the "absolut highest rank, with gold, gems, etc" is NOT one that is meant for combat. To use this keris to make your point doesn't work for me. And not all Bali hulu are excessively large. Try one of the simpler hilt, like the type that has cord or hair wrapping on the grip. And pitch is no last minute improv used in spirit of the moment. It has been known and used as an excellent adhesive in the area for centuries. There are different types of keris for people in all walks of life. Jewel encrusted gold keris for royalty, keris to help the crops grow for farmers, keris for prosperity for the merchant, keris of deep mystical significance for the dukun and yes, keris for combat for the warrior. You don't have to believe it, but you might want to consider it. :)
As for your thought that my shortened blade may have been cut down due to corrosion, well, it's possible, but there is not a spot of corrosion or rust anywhere on the remaining blade and judging from the blade itself, i would guess it lost a good 4-5 inches, not just a tip. It is about 12" now, but it's meaty and was probably once 16-17 in. It's sharp and could easily punch a hole into the side of your car. An edged weapon doesn't need to be a slasher to be an effective killer.
Obviously the Dutch did not make keris for the locals they pitted against each other, they would use there own, and of course many other types of edged weapons were used and probably preferred. But i don't see your point in this statement.
And i must agree with Blu and Mick, you are obviously not holding your Bugis keris correctly if you find it clumsy, but if you follow Henk's instructions, with a little practice you should be able to defend yourself quite well. Have a very Blessed Solstice. :)

Raja Muda 21st December 2004 04:10 AM

Keris as killing tool
Greetings gentlemen and a happy solstice to you too Neschech,
I've been following the rest of the thread with interest, especially the long debate on whether the keris remains a combat weapon or is simply a symbolic, talismanic cultural object.
Perhaps if we look at it from the Malay and maybe Bugis perspective, the keris is still seen primarily as a weapon with an added talismanic function.
If the number of perguruan silat or martial arts school that still teach keris fighting techniques is anything to go by, then, this might offer some clue to how widespread the use of the keris was as a weapon, at least in the Malay states of the peninsula and Sumatera.
Strange thing is, more emphasis is given by some schools to keris techniques than say that of parang, klewang etc, other more efficient hand weapons.
So, is keris a weapon of last resort? Maybe so. But the amount of training needed before a warrior can start wielding a keris effictively and the vast number of techniques taught speaks volumes of the place of the keris in the Malay martial arts world.
One the other side of the coin, from my conversations with a silat instructor, I gathered that very few Javanese perguruans still employ the keris in their combat techniques. Perhaps the Javanese may prefer other bladed weapons but that doesn't mean they've dispensed with the keris totally I guess.

nechesh 21st December 2004 10:43 AM

Well, I'm not sure one could argue that the keris "remains" a combat weapon aside from it's use in silat training. One would hardly expect a modern day soldier to use one in war. :)
But it probably WAS created for this purpose originally and certainly has been used this way in it's time. It appears again and again in Malay legend as well as a combat weapon. What is one to make of the stories of Hang Tauh and the keris Taming Sari?

BluErf 21st December 2004 01:17 PM

Hi Ronpakis,

No problem, I'll take some pictures and post on the forum, but I think you have to wait till this weekend because I get home late at night almost everynight and I prefer to take photos with natural daylight.

Hi Nechesh,

I think we are getting a little into semantics here. I think what Raja Muda is saying is that while no one would use a keris today, we still see 'combat' kerises around. The idea of the keris being used in 'combat' is also reinforced by the amount of emphasis put into keris training for silat.

Come to think about it, I think there was a recent case of a gang fight in Singapore in which a keris, a lawi ayam and some other traditional weapons were used. Someone may have been killed in that gang fight. For a while, the keris collectors here in Singapore got a bit worried because we feared that the police would start clamping down on kerises. Fortunately, nothing of that sort happened.

ronpakis 21st December 2004 06:17 PM

hello nechesh and of course all the others (sorry, wasnt paying attention to the spelling :D )

My point is that i believe that keris is no primarily weapon not then and of course not now. use it in need but when there is a choice try something different. (thats wat i was saying in my gold keris example) im a very stubborn guy and hard to convince of the opposite, sorry for that :) . pitch is indeed a normal material to fitt a blade. many swords are fitted with it. but i see no proof in a keris wich is fitted with it to be a weapon. simply because it could be a later addition. (perhaps it is used as a weapon but does this proove its primarily function) lets say you are a bugi guy in the 18th century. war with another tribe is comming up and you will have to choose your weapons. use a dua lalan or something like it. it kills "cows" very efficient. (funeral rites)
about the dutch, i meant if the locals made keris for this purpose or did they use their "pusaka" did they made a keris to be used as a weapon to kill others fighting on dutch side or did they use ones wich are already at hands.
its just that im a practical guy i have studied a practical proffesion and have some experience in martial arts (not silat) to me it is no logical choice to take a keris and fight with it.

blu, im looking forward to your pictures but be prepared! as stated before im very stubborn :D

BluErf 22nd December 2004 01:03 PM

Its ok ronpakis. You are entitled to your opinions. The worst that can happen is that people stop responding to you. :)

BluErf 22nd December 2004 01:52 PM

4 Attachment(s)
I figured that I'm not taking archival pics, so I'll just use the good old flash and quickly snap some pics of how to hold a pistol-gripped keris.

The elbow of the grip is held pushed against the centre of the palm. This is crucial to providing strong support for thrusting, but not for slashing. But Bugis kerises were never meant to be slashers.

The thumb and the 1st finger are used to pinch the picetan. The ganja rests against the base of the 1st finger, providing more support for a strong thrust. The thumb and 1st finger also provide very fine point control -- you can fine tune where your keris is pointing very easily.

The remaining 3 fingers wraps round the rest of the grip to provide a firm grip. The wrist remains at a comfortable and natural position. The blade is parallel to the ground, allowing it slide more easily between ribs, rather than getting caught by 2 ribs when held perpendicular to the ground.

When the fingers are wrapped in to form a fist, you would have noticed that it forms a 'L'-shaped hollow, as defined by the bend of the thumb. That's what we mean by the pistol grip being one of the earliest studies in human ergonomics. The L-shaped pistol grip moulds into the hollow of the fist.

Finally, what I want to say is that -- please stop talking about the use of keris in a war. Its a weapon of last resort in a war.

In non-war situations, most people would only carry their kerises around, and if they need to defend themselves, the keris is what comes in handy. Also, the keris is advantageous in certain situations -- e.g. in an enclosed area where a sword or spear cannot be wielded effectively. The keris also had a bad reputation for being an assassins weapon because it is easily concealed and can deliver fatal thrusts in very close quarters.

There are kerises for fighting, there are kerises for showing-off, there are kerises for casting a curse on your most hated enemies, there are kerises made to execute people, there are kerises given by father to son, there are kerises made for tourists, there are kerises made to signify a nation, there are kerises made to commemorate a significant event, there are kerises that can protect the owner, there are kerises made to represent the authority of a Raja, Sultan or Agung, there are kerises made as works of art, there are kerises... and there are kerises...

ronpakis 22nd December 2004 06:06 PM

hi blu,

very nice pictures, it is very clear to see how a bugi style keris is to be handled. although im still not convinced i will let this topic for what it is perhaps someday i will be "turned to the other side"

i wont go any further on the subject warfare with keris either (although i find you all very eager to respond, > meant positive).

thanx for all your effort, lets put our energy into other, just as interesting, new topics

merry christmas to all of you and watch your fingers fireworks are sometimes more dangerous than keris :D

sepokal 16th May 2006 04:49 AM

status weapon
Hi Blu and all the other keris lovers,

Iíve been following this discussion and I do want to contribute to this discussion and hopefully, in one way or another, it might help some of us in understanding the keris as a weapon, an artistic expression or some other interpretation. Whatever that I want to mention here in this discussion is not in any ways, meant to hurt anyone but rather, to share what Iíve learned and understand.

The people in the Nusantara region is well known to tell about themselves without speaking. For example, the way they dressed themselves during those time when the Sultan is the absolute ruler do tell people what status a person is. A Datok would typically wear a green colour songket. This way, from afar, people already know what status this particular person is. The Keris is another form of communication that they used to tell people about their status and their origin, without speaking.

It is a status weapon. This is so typical of the people here in Nusantara. At the same time, it is a form of artistic expression. This is how the people of Nusantara is.

Not many silat masters now know how to use the keris as a weapon. Why you might ask? The reason is simply because, this weapon is a very effective weapon during those time for those who knew how to use it. It is a status weapon. The people that were trained to use the keris were those that was given the trust to protect the Sultan. Hence, only the panglima-panglima of the Sultan were entrusted with this knowledge. The silat that most of us managed to view most probably belong to the silat that originated outside of the istana. There are ways to identify it and not many people know, unfortunately.

Malay kerises and that of Bugis is very unique in terms of handling it. Just a little mention of how effectively dangerous a keris can be is that when a panglima decided that he wants to use the keris, the person he attacks most probably will die because he was taught the way to handle the keris. ďElak kena, tak elak pun kena.Ē Besides that, a keris will come out of the sheath without him pulling it out of the sheath. This is among the way to identify whether the silat that uses keris belongs to the istana or not. Happily I would say, this silat still exist and usually, the geneology of this silat will lead someone to one of the panglima during the Sultanate time. In fact, in Malaysia, the keris silat dance still exist but unfortunately, for the Javanese, the keris silat dance is almost extinct. I really do hope that Iím wrong regarding this because, it is such a waste that such a dance using keris as beautiful as that of Javanese Keris, is gone for the future generation to see. Somewhere I hope, somebody who knows about this dance, brings it out into the open so that it can be preserve.

Unlike that of the Javanese keris, which emphasis more towards beauty, the Malay keris and that of the Bugis keris reflects more towards practicality. Their keris might looks simple but they are very effective.

Regarding the keris as the last weapon to be used, actually, that is not the case. For the Bugis, the last weapon is a weapon that they believe to be an "azimat". Keris is their second weapon that they'll use. Due to the nature of human blood being "panas", and the possibilities of them losing their keris, their last weapon is sort of, "get me to safety" weapon. They term it as "senjata sulit" or "senjata rahsia". No Bugis is a bugis without this weapon. I think I'll stop here for now.

Alam Shah 16th May 2006 07:50 AM

Hi sepokal,
Welcome to the forum... always nice to hear from a keris lover.
Hmmm... your writing style reminds me of someone I know... ;)
a classy guy, :cool: whom I have not seen for quite sometime...

Do continue when you have the time, k. :)

BluErf 21st May 2006 04:34 AM

Hi Sepokal,

Welcome to the forum! :)

Ah, a post from days when I had more fire in my belly and was quicker to anger. :) I had nearly forgotten it until now.

I have heard the explanation on the 'azimat' before; think I know who you are. :p Good to hear from you again!

thanks for sharing more information on the keris through the Malay and Bugis perspective.

While not everyone can accept the unseen and esoteric aspects of the keris, it is important to recognize that this is an integral part of the context in which the keris exists. Half of the keris world is anchored in the unseen realms. Collectors and enthusiasts who are serious about understanding the keris should try to understand more of this aspect to get a more complete picture of what a keris is. :)

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