Thread: New keris
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Old 26th August 2005, 09:55 AM   #54
Raja Muda
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Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Posts: 100
Unhappy In Decline?

Salam hangat Mas Purwa,

Despite the active efforts of enthusiasts and collectors throughout Nusantara, as well as our brethren in the rest of the world, I can't help but fear for keris culture's survival in the next 100 years or so. Already, the number of empus are declining in Java, so the ancient spiritual elements linked to the keris might be lost.
At least, there are efforts to teach the art systematically there.
I would be interested to know if the same decline is happening in Sumatera and Makkasar, if any of the practitioners of the keris arts are still plying their trade. I know Brunei sponsors the making of keris but I have never seen a contemporary Brunei forged keris to judge the quality of the workmanship.
In Malaysia, I guess we're having a somewhat similar predicament. Unlike in Java, there is a dearth of books on pakem in the Malay tradition, things are often passed down by word of mouth, or based on real examples of keris made by past masters.
The ranks of the Pandai Besi are fast thinning and I guess you could count less than 10 active ones in the east coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu, and perhaps many, many more tukang ukir adept in constructing the sarung and hulu. Amogst these you have people who are able to forge a fairly beautiful contemporary melela, with reasonably refined skills in forging and cold working (though I regret to say that I've seen one resorting to power tools on TV, to expediate the process, no more tedious filing ) but there are those who stick to making the cheap, low quality keris (called keris kahwin locally, since their chief function is to be worn at weddings) with the recognisable bicycle chain pamor.
I doubt that even the keris kahwin makers would survive if there is no support from the greater public. Too often they have turned to making gardening tools and farming implements, despite the competition from cheap, mass produced imports from China since kerises aren't selling. I know the bias among collectors leans towards antique pieces but I guess if you have some funds to spare, it's still a good idea to acquire a well made new piece as your contribution to preserving the art. Of course, passing something new as antique is a no no in my books .
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