Ethnographic Arms & Armour

Ethnographic Arms & Armour (
-   Ethnographic Weapons (
-   -   A warrior's keris (

BluErf 11th December 2004 04:31 AM

A warrior's keris
6 Attachment(s)
A true-blue Keris Sulawesi sepokal made for the purpose of combat, no doubt.

Massive 15inch blade forged from very good steel (maybe European?), with no apparent pamor except for the wengkon. Blade is very sharp, with not much perabots, but it cuts a nice enough profile. This keris cut me when I forgot myself and touched its edges carelessly. It has quite a number of nicks on the edges, especially towards the upper half. If you look at the last picture, you can see the temper mark goes 4/5 of the way down towards the base. Given these characteristics, I hazard that this keris was a warrior's keris, and one who had his fair share of combat.

Notice that on the aring end of the ganja, there is an 'x' incised on top. I always associate such notches as being the 'anchor' for applying kinatah. Of course, I have no proof, and there are no gold residue left.

The profile of the sampir is typical 'awkward' Sulawesi style, but strangely, when it is put together with the equally 'awkward' batang, hulu and pendoko, it looks 'correct' and 'complements' each other. I'm not sure if you get what I mean -- there are times when you look at a keris and have the feeling that the parts do not fit properly together. Something is 'wrong'. Only when you replace the parts with those from the same region, then does the whole keris look 'correct'.

The sheath is made from yellowish-brown kemuning wood which I've grown to associate with Sulawesi. In fact, I'm pretty sure that by looking at the wood, one can tell which region it came from, even if its the same species, like in this case.

The buntut is a very 'crude' ivory plug, but with very nice webbed cracks at the bottom only.

The sheath is damaged in 3 places, but was repaired expertly a long time ago. I think most of you can only see 1, at most 2, of the spots where the repairs were made.

The interesting thing about this sheath is that it is very compact, and when the keris is sheathed in it, it makes one think that it must be an average sized blade in there. Only when the blade is unsheathed does one realize the monstrosity of the blade. 15inches may not sound very much for a keris, but when it is a Bugis sepokal blade, it is massive. There is no excess length or width in the sheath, evey last 1/8in is used to house the blade. So I give very high marks to the mranggi who created this 'optical illusion'.

BluErf 11th December 2004 04:34 AM

2 Attachment(s)
last 2 pics

nechesh 11th December 2004 04:53 AM

No doubt a very function blade, yet elegant in it's simplicity. I would, of course, love to see it properly stained so that the wengkon line stands out against the blade. I think that would make it appear even more elegant and is, after all, the way the blade was meant to look. I think you may be right about the incised "X" on the aring end. It seems a very plausible explanation.
Beautiful keris! Thanks for showing. Any idea on the age?

Radu Transylvanicus 11th December 2004 06:32 AM

The ivory is fossil pachiderm ...

rasdan 11th December 2004 12:59 PM

Hi Blu,

A very fine keris indeed. I really admire it. I think if the blade is stained properly, it will reveal the wengkon plus perhaps some pulo tirto. (just guessing) I have a keris that seems to be made with almost similar material. It was already stained when i got it from Adni. Due to some reasons, i cleaned the staining and the pamor that were used to be very revealing turned out to have almost no distinguishment with the steel. Attached are some photos prior to my cleaning.

Another thing, if u are ready to do some "experiment with the sheath" (which Raja Muda always tells me not to) i think the grain of the wood can be enhanced with a little application of wood dye. However, it the current finishing are original to the sheath, it is not advisable to do it. (which i know that u wont) :)

I'll send the pictures of the blade after cleaning on Monday.

BluErf 11th December 2004 03:09 PM

Hi Radu,

The ivory seems to be normal old ivory, not fossilized. I've a couple of ivory handles with that kind of 'webbed' fine cracks. The ivory is still milky white and the grain 'moist' (if I may call it that) and visible. Not the dry stone-like grain of fossilized ivory.

Hi Rasdan,

Adni had tried to etch the keris twice. It turned jet black except for the wengkon. So we gathered that there's no visibile pamor except for the wengkon.

nechesh 11th December 2004 04:50 PM

Hi Blu. Just curious, if Adni stained this blade for you, why did you remove it. Jet black with just the wengkon line sounds like a really cool look to me. :cool: And it would be, after all, the proper traditional look for the blade, wouldn't it? :confused:

BluErf 12th December 2004 12:42 AM

Actually, I got it from Adni like this. When etched, the wengkon was somewhat less visible than when it was unetched, so the warangan was removed for the 3rd time and left like that. Its fine by me -- the grey steely look.

rasdan 13th December 2004 06:24 AM

Hi Blu,

I think u r right. Initially i thought theres some pulo tirto on the blade. I think blades of this type are more difficult to etch due to the nature of the pamor. Sometimes to me its kinda sweet to leave the blade unetched. It facilitates the examination of the steel fibre and i enjoy that. However there are times that i got bored by the look of the blade and starting to etch it what so ever. :)

Heres some pictures as promised.

nechesh 13th December 2004 10:35 AM

It seems interesting that the wengkon would be LESS visible after a staining. I wonder if it is not possible that what has been thought to be pamor wengkon is not really the weld joint between the blade's outer skin and the steel core. This has been suggested to me by a learned associate and it seems a strong possiblility.

CharlesS 13th December 2004 01:54 PM

A real Bugis beauty!
...but I agree; I do not think that the ivory is fossilized, though lovely nonetheless!

rasdan 14th December 2004 12:43 AM

Hi guys,

Well, i'm no good in staining, but i think to get the pamor up nicely with the correct look is just soooo damn hard. Sometimes it seems that the blade just wont cooperate. Too dark... too light... phew. Theres gonna be a lot of "D'oh!!" before we can get it right. :)

BluErf 14th December 2004 02:45 PM

I think it is possible that the pamor is not really a pamor wengkon. Rather, the smith was just concentrating on forging a rough-and-tough sanmai keris blade. ;) But I also agree with Rasdan that sometimes, these blades just don't 'co-operate'. :)

nechesh 14th December 2004 08:25 PM

Yes, i've had similar cooperation problems myself.
Never the less, wengkon or not, it is a fine keris which i would gladly welcome into my own collection with open arms. :)

Raja Muda 15th December 2004 04:00 AM

Bugis Beauty
Once again I have to doff my hat to BluErf for the amazing pieces he owns. My friend, you seem to have a limitless expenses account when kerises are concerned ;). Pray tell if you have stock market tips to share.
BTW, would you mind giving us a closer look at the pendongkok. Is it original to the piece or a later upgrade? The silver details look promising.

BluErf 15th December 2004 02:28 PM

Hi Raja Muda, I don't have any stockmarket tips; I just work my butt off to earn my salary which I would then bust it on kerises, as Dave and Paul can attest to it. ;) And I guess I could do so because I'm not married (yet)... :p Well, I'm enjoying building my keris collection while I can, and in the meantime, you can call me "gila keris". :D

BluErf 15th December 2004 02:32 PM

Sorry, as for the pendoko, I its not that fine. Boleh tahan lah... I think it looks best at that distance and size... :D

ronpakis 15th December 2004 04:00 PM

warrior keris ivory
i was wondering if it is truly ivory. it doesnt look to old to me and why does it have the "graining" when it is not to old. its also only at the bottom as far as i can see. perhaps something else?

rasdan 15th December 2004 11:30 PM


Forgot to ask, how long is the blade Blu?

BluErf 16th December 2004 01:06 PM

Hi Ronpakis -- The buntut is definitely ivory. There's the unmistakable grain which I cannot capture on camera. But you do raise a very interesting point on the webbing appearing only at the bottom. I have no idea why it is like that.

Hi Rasdan -- the blade is 15 inches long.

BluErf 16th December 2004 01:09 PM

Just an observation -- the ivory has parallel grain, which would suggest marine ivory. Maybe the 'webbing' is the 'marble-like' patterning of the interior of a walrus tusk.

ronpakis 16th December 2004 06:08 PM

well blu erf who knows, interesting to think what kind of ivory it could be. im always very sceptic when i hear the word ivory because it can be so many different types of material. once i have had an absolutely very nice maduran ukiran made from ivory. but when i tried to drill the hole deeper to fit my maduran keris it smelled like plastic. i have seen so many real and fakes but this one was a very nice but fake sucker a well it forces you to stay focused on whatever you buy

Mark 16th December 2004 06:29 PM

I believe Radu is of the opinion that it is fossilized mammoth tooth ivory rather than tusk ivory. The web pattern would thus be the layers of dentin & enamel, and you can see a little "flaw" nearer the left edge that would be the beginning of the nerve channel.

Battara 16th December 2004 08:59 PM

1 Attachment(s)
I would call this elephant ivory. Marine ivory is yellower and darker in nature. Fossil ivory has more bands of different colors due to different absorbtion rates of minerals in the different sections of the dentine and enamel. Here is a picture of what I mean. This is the fossil ivory pommel of a datu battle barong I have:

Battara 16th December 2004 09:22 PM

Here is a turkish jambiya I have that has a marine (walrus) ivory hilt. Notice the yellowish hue and yet the solid middle and fragmented sides (and back) that make up the inside of the tooth: (pic sent to Lee for resizing)

Sakhti777 17th December 2004 10:15 PM

:) A nice kris though.. common among the Kelantanese and Trengganu Malays....not much likened by the them due to its simplicity and quality of besi almost equivalent to the Malay Parang of 1940s....not much priced. It looks nice honestly, but I think it has been redressed to look more outstanding ..that what most runners did before selling it to your middleman. I think, Malay forumites must contribute more rather than giving complementary comments. A 20th century keris, not a warrior keris per say but functional to a certain extent. Honestly, I like the dress. Rajamuda..I will provide you my 'insider tips'. :)

nechesh 17th December 2004 11:05 PM

Gee, Sakhti, i think we will all look forward to your "insider tips" ;)
Which end of the 20th century do you believe Blu's keris is from?
What do you particularly find lacking about the besi in this piece and how much can you tell without really handing the keris?
Is simplicity of form really something disliked by the Kelantanese and Trengganu Malays? By comparison to Bali and Jawa keris i find their forms somewhat simplistic, yet there is still a beauty to it. :)
BTW,Where exactly are you from?

BluErf 18th December 2004 01:40 AM

Dear Sakhti,

Thank you for your comments. I'm glad you like the keris.

It is my opinion that this is not a Northen Malayan keris; It is not even a Malay keris to begin with. Everything from the sarong to the dapur and besi suggests to me that it is of Sulawesi Bugis origins. I would like to hear your arguments on why this is a N. Malay keris.

Malay parangs (which I assume you are talking about those from Pattani, Kelantan, Trengganu) are beautiful works of art, and are status symbol wear, though not as high-status as kerises. The besi used can be of high quality too. Prices of good N Malayan parangs are getting quite high these days.

There's nothing spectacular about the dress. Its old, repaired and its a perfect fit for the blade.

As for the 'warrior's keris' remark, well, in over a thousand kerises which I have handled, this keris is one of the toughest, tempered for 80% of the length, with attendant clash marks and nicks. I would presume a keris used in combat belongs to 'warriors'. What would your definition of 'warrior keris' be?

As for the age of the keris, it could well be 20th century, but probably the earlier part of 20th century. As I mentioned, I think this keris could have been forged from European steel. One of the things that late 20th Century pandai besi fall short on is the appreciation of the 'flow of the form'. They have the technical knowledge, but lesser grasp of the aesthetics. And that is often betrayed in their execution of the keris. Also, they tend to squeeze in as much perabot as they can, as if a more complicated keris is better.

A simple form does not make a keris easier to execute well. This keris here has simple form, but its execution is elegant, without compromising functionality. What more do we ask for in a keris of the fabled Sulawesi Bugis? :)

I look forward to hearing from you again.


DAHenkel 18th December 2004 03:31 AM

4 Attachment(s)
If such keris are common in Kelantan and Terengganu you could have fooled me. Fact is its even pretty unusual by Sulawesi standards - which is what makes the piece so special in the first place. Had I seen the blade bare I would have guessed Northeastern Sumatra. Here's a piece thats similar but dressed in the NE Sumatran style.

Photo stolen :o from Artzi.

And another from S. Sumatra with a similar blade form but somewhat different, lower quality besi.

That said, the dress on BluErf's keris is unmistakably Sulawesi.

And incidentally - the steel on this piece's blade is quite similar.

Straight keris blades are ubiquitous across the Malay world and are sometimes pretty hard to place. Complicating matters is the fact that many of the cheap Javanese trade blades sold across the archipelago for hundreds of years were straight blades. That said though this blade is clearly no trade blade. the hexagonal cross section is typically Bugis - whether Sulawesi or Straits - as is the besi. To top it all off - the quality of workmanship of Blu's example is certainly one of the best, if not the best of this sort that I've ever seen. None of the examples shown above even comes close. A very fine, certainly high status blade. To denigrate such a piece as "common" and "cheap" (I'm assuming that's what "not much priced" means) is flat ignorant!

And for the record, I've spent a hell of a lot of time trying to figure out the identifying characteristics of the keris of the Northeastern Peninsula but if there is anyone on this forum who can prove to me that such keris were common I'll be damned impressed :rolleyes:

ronpakis 18th December 2004 12:44 PM

the term "warrior keris"
i'm wondering why everybody is amways very eager to call his or her keris one that is used in combat. the keris is to my opinion a non warrior type of weapon. it is a status and talismanic piece of art compare a keris to a klewang in a battle i would choose the klewang.
i also think that this example is 20th century. perhaps the blade is late 19th century but the dress not, also the selut looks not to old just compare it to the old pieces in museum collections. the wood looks to new to meso i agree to a certain level with sakhti777, in holland these are not hard to find.

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.

All times are GMT. The time now is 03:17 PM.

Powered by: vBulletin Version 3.0.3
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.