Join Date: May 2006
Naga Sasra, you have very neatly summarised some of the problems in learning about the keris, and of course, this includes learning about keris hilts.
I would like to go a little further into this matter of the seeking of knowledge.
The keris is a multi facetted thing.
Because of this, the knowledge associated with the keris is also multi facetted.
Thus when we speak of "keris knowledge" we can then specify the nature of the knowledge.
We can have knowledge related to the manufacture of the keris, knowledge related to classification of styles and geographic points of origin, knowledge related to folklore, knowledge related to socio-cultural aspects, knowledge related to the art of the keris --- and there are probably a few other areas of knowledge that I have not mentioned.
Then we have the fact that the keris has been with us for a very long time, and as you have pointed out, that which was true at one point in time, was not necessarily true at some other point in time.
This element of change over time is further complicated by the problem of the character and application of both the Hindu and the Muslim belief systems in Javanese society. It can be quite incorrect to interpret symbols found in Javanese Hindu period art, most especially in folk art, in terms of mainstream Hindu belief, and the same is true of symbolism in Jawa during the Islamic era.
When we attempt study of the keris as it is found in places outside Jawa, further complications arise
So, when we speak of reliable keris reference books, we are really speaking of something that can probably never exist.
We have commentaries on the keris that provide us with one point of view at one point in time, and if this point of view has been provided by a respected person in the world of the keris, it is justifiable to adopt it as a common point of reference. This has happened with works of Bambang Harsinuksmo, and Haryono Haryoguritno.
If we go back in time, we find a similar thing following on from the publication in late colonial times of various works dealing with the keris, perhaps the most influential amongst these was "Panangguhing Duwung" by Mas Ngabehi Wirosoekadgo. I believe this work was of considerable influence upon the opinions of my own teacher, Empu Suparman, and other ahli keris of his generation.
If we travel further back in time we find that Centini was an influential work, however, Centini is a literary work, and any mention of keris in Centini is incidental to the central thread of this work.
Probably the foundation of keris literary works is the babad written by Pangeran Wijil :- "Silsilah Keturunan Empu Tanah Jawa", broadly "The Line of Descent of the Empus of the Land of Jawa". In this work the writer gives not only the line of descent, in a rather biblical form --- and empu so and so begat four sons and a daughter, the sons were this & this & etc & etc, and the daughter was that, --- but also details the movements of the people mentioned and the characteristics of their work. Pangeran Wijil's work seems to have formed the basis for M.Ng. Wirosoekadgo's work, and this work seems to have been the foundation stone of tangguh, from which all worthwhile knowledge of keris, according to Javanese standards, flows.
But since we are outside the Javanese system, we can validly ask the question:-
what do we mean by knowledge?
I suggest that before we criticise any source of information we should attempt to analyse our own objectives in the pursuit of knowledge, and thoughtfully apply all available resources to achievement of those objectives.
If we adopt this approach, I believe it will not take much effort before we become aware that we can glean only the barest of superficial information from most published works on the keris. To learn anything of true value we need to involve ourselves in the study of the history, culture, art, society and in fact all elements of those places where the keris is found.
If we stay only with "books on keris" we will not learn much at all.
If we really do want to try to understand the keris, and we are from outside Javanese society, we then need to go one step further and try in so far as it is possible to learn to apply the thought processes of a person raised as a Javanese. It is certain that we can never become Javanese, but we can learn to understand the way in which a Javanese person sees and relates to the world around him. Unless we can achieve this it is impossible for us to achieve any true understanding of the keris within any time frame.
So --- what do we mean by knowledge?