Join Date: May 2006
I'll try not to make this post too long, because in fact, in respect of this matter of "correct dress", there is material sufficient for a book, and even to compress it I could very easily run to several thousand words.
Put as concisely as I am able, it comes down to this:-
in a situation where an established dress code dictates that a particular form of keris must be worn, we can expect to see keris that have been prepared for use in that particular situation to be presented in accordance with the requirements of the applicable dress code.
In all other situations we can expect to see greater and lesser variation from the situational norm.
To expand upon the above just minimally:-
in Jawa, in respect of keris worn as an item of dress by a member of a defined group within Javanese society, we can expect to see keris that conform to the defined dress rules within that defined group.
However, for all other keris that exist within Javanese society we can expect to find dress variation, and for that matter, blade variation, that does not conform to the requirements of any defined societal group.
Exactly the same situation applies in Bali, and by all accounts has also applied in times past.
I do not have personal experience of what the situation is in keris bearing societies other than those I have already mentioned, but based upon examples of keris with good provenance that I have seen, and which have come from a number of other locations in past times, I am of the opinion that for the vast bulk of ordinary people who lived in other keris bearing societies a keris in any form of dress was still a keris and would be worn and used as a keris.
Apart from the established fact of variance in keris dress that is attributable to societal norms and to personal non-conformity, there are other very major reasons for keris dress being somewhat other than might be expected by some collectors.
There is the fact that all craftsmen are not equal. Not every craftsman is capable of producing an item of keris dress that perfectly reflects the ideal standard --- and this only addresses the case where craftsmen have been employed to produce keris dress on an individual basis, by this I mean that a keris blade has been given to a m'ranggi and he has been requested to dress it in accordance with defined requirements. By far the greater number of keris are dressed in items which have been pre-produced, rather than made to order.
The scabbards, scabbard covers (pendoks), hilts that are used to dress keris are made as items for sale in the market place and are bought by craftsmen and private people alike and then fitted to a keris as required. A skilled craftsman will do a skilful job, a ham-handed craftsman will do a less skillful job, most non-craftsmen do appalling jobs.
In a case where a craftsman has not been employed to produce the item of dress, but it has been produced by the owner of the keris, who might be a farmer, or a clerk, or a factory worker, then the degree of non-compliance with a desired standard can be even greater.
Then there is the fact that the materials used to produce keris scabbards and hilts are natural materials such as wood or horn. Modern custom knife-makers will seldom guarantee a natural material. Why? Because wood, horn & etc moves and cracks. Natural materials can both contract and expand, and something that is a perfect fit today can be a less than perfect fit next month.
The passage of time exacerbates the inherent qualities of natural materials. Over a lengthy period of time a wooden scabbard can wear so much that a blade that was a tight fit when the scabbard was new becomes a loose --- sometimes very loose --- fit when the scabbard is older. This is extremely common. In Jawa this problem is routinely remedied by taking up the slackness in fit with infills of one material or another to bring the fit back to a nice close fit again. This routine keris maintenance is then regarded by knowledgeable collectors outside the society as sure evidence that "the wrongko is not original to the blade". Ah, yes, of course.
I have written more than enough for a post to this discussion. I doubt that I have written anything above that is not common knowledge to anybody who has even minimal experience in the study of the keris, but sometimes we do forget to think about these things before we pontificate upon them.