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Old 25th April 2018, 03:53 PM   #1
oracle_2010
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Default Sepuh or ipuh in a keris

Sepuhan or ipuh in a keris

There are some variations in regards to applying sepuhan/ipuh in a keris blade. The most common sepuhan usually done from above the sor-soran to the tip of the keris which resulted in blackish coloration along the sepuhan part of the blade (as shown in the keris Bugis picture here). But there are also keris which are given sepuhan only on the tip (as shown in the keris Minang picture here). However, the common sepuhan which is done from above the sor-soran to the top can sometimes also bear different characteristic of coloration on the blade (as shown in the keris Pagaralam picture here: ribbon like pattern from above the sor-soran to the middle of the blade and blackish from the middle to the tip).

I also attached a page taken from a book in regards with "sepuhan" process in the keris making. It says that sepuhan may also be done using poison taken from various plants (called "sepuh racun") or using venom/poison originated from various animals (called "sepuh upas"). However, this is maybe a subject to dispute since "upas" itself leterally means a species of poisonous tree (Antiaris toxicaria) which is known to be used in Java (and maybe also in the other part of the archipelago?).

Also, the existence of a poisonous keris is always a subject to debate. Moreover, if the process of infusing the poison to the blade is done through "sepuhan" which involves very high temperature, enough to denaturate proteins found in the poison or venom originated from plants or animals.

It left us some questions:
1. Why there are different types of sepuhan in the keris?
2. What is the actual purpose of this "sepuhan" process in the keris making? Is it having the same purpose as "quenching" in the blade making or is there more purpose to it?
3. Is there literally exist a "poisonous keris"?

What is your view on this matter? Please let me know in the comment below.

Source:
Doyodipuro, KRHT Hudoyo. 1997. Keris: Daya Magic, Manfaat, Tuah, Misteri. Semarang: Dahara Prize.
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Old 26th April 2018, 08:34 PM   #2
David
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Quote:
Originally Posted by oracle_2010
It left us some questions:
1. Why there are different types of sepuhan in the keris?
2. What is the actual purpose of this "sepuhan" process in the keris making? Is it having the same purpose as "quenching" in the blade making or is there more purpose to it?
3. Is there literally exist a "poisonous keris"?

Hi Oracle. I was waiting for someone like Alan to come along to address your questions since he has far more experience in processes of forging than i do. I am sure if i get some of this wrong either he or someone else will correct me.
As i understand it sepuhan, when the word is applied to the keris forging process, it is the method of harding the blade to make it usable as a real weapon. Quenching would be the first part of that. Then the blade would be tempered, reheated at a somewhat lower themperature, to soften the hardening a little so that the steel is not so brittle and doesn't just crack in use.
These are different blades done by different smiths from somewhat different cultures at different times so it is not surprising that each smith applied this process to different degrees. Some may have felt that just hardening the tip was enough while others went further down the blade. Most keris smiths these days don't bother with this hardening process at all since there is always the risk of cracking and failing welds when to is applied. Since most modern keris are made to be seen for their artistry, not used as weapons, the hardening process becomes a risky and unnecessary step.
I see that you are still wondering about the concept of the poison keris. I believe the first thread you opened specifically on that subject answered those questions for you. Alan stated that he was aware of such a process down with snake venom i believe, though i do not believe it was commonly done with most keris.
Again, any poison that is added and then heated to a high degree in the hardening process would only be made ineffective by that process of heat. If people are saying that such a thing was done it is probably more legend than fact, or if it was done it was a useless procedure because the science of it would be faulty and invalidate the effects of any poison.
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Old 26th April 2018, 10:29 PM   #3
A. G. Maisey
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I'm not at home David, moving around a bit, and pressed for time.

1. Why there are different types of sepuhan in the keris?

Different makers, different times, different objectives.

2. What is the actual purpose of this "sepuhan" process in the keris making? Is it having the same purpose as "quenching" in the blade making or is there more purpose to it?

As David has said, to make the blade usable as a weapon, however, a keris is not drawn after the initial quench, the fact that it is a laminated blade and that the iron/nickel pamor does not harden during the quench protects against fracture in use. Ferric material needs to contain carbon in order to harden. Steel contains carbon, iron does not, neither does nickel.


3. Is there literally exist a "poisonous keris"?

Any non-sterile keris plunged into your guts will poison you.

I have never heard of a sterile keris.
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Old 27th April 2018, 12:17 PM   #4
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Default Small (dress?) Keris Minang with sepuhan on the tip

Hi David & Alan, thank you for your explanation.
By the way, the keris Minang pictured here is actually small one (the blade is less than 25 cm in length) and it got sepuhan on the tip part of the blade.

I have seen the previous thread which discuss the small keris or called keris selit in the Malay culture which is functioned as dressing companion. But judging from the sepuhan exist on the keris that I've shown you, is it possible that these small keris may have practical function (eg: as a weapon)?

I also attached picture of a tombak from Palembang with sepuhan only on the tip part.
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Old 27th April 2018, 01:33 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by oracle_2010
Hi David & Alan, thank you for your explanation.
By the way, the keris Minang pictured here is actually small one (the blade is less than 25 cm in length) and it got sepuhan on the tip part of the blade.

I have seen the previous thread which discuss the small keris or called keris selit in the Malay culture which is functioned as dressing companion. But judging from the sepuhan exist on the keris that I've shown you, is it possible that these small keris may have practical function (eg: as a weapon)?

I also attached picture of a tombak from Palembang with sepuhan only on the tip part.

Hi Oracle. AFAIK Keris selit is specific certain areas of Malay culture. Minangkabau culture is distinctly different from the Malay cultures of the Peninsula as well as other cultures on Sumatra. I do not believe they have a tradition of keris selit as a dress function. From my understanding Minang keris tend towards the shorter side.
Keris are stabbing weapons so the most important area of the blade for harding would be the tip.
BTW, as with all new members, your posts go through moderation queue for a period of time before being posted to the forum. Please don't double post your replies. We check the moderation cue regularly and will pass your posts as quickly as possible. Thanks!
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Old 27th April 2018, 09:24 PM   #6
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David, Negeri Sembilan on Malay Peninsula actually has very strong Minang roots.

Some quotes from Newbold, 1839:

"The inhabitants of the states in the interior of the southerly part of the Malayan peninsula, particularly those of Sungie ujong, or Simujong, Rumbowe, Johole, and Srimenanti, derive their origin from the parent empire of Menangkabowe, in Sumatra, more directly than the natives of the neighbouring states."

"Sir S. Raffles, in a letter to Mr. Marsden, thus notices the state of Rumbowe: "Inland of Malacca, about sixty miles, is situated the Malay kingdom of Rumbowe, whose Sultan, and all the principal officers of state, hold their authority immediately from Menangkabowe, and have written commissions for their respective offices. This shows the extent of that ancient power, even now reduced as it must be in common with that of the Malay people in general. I had many opportunities of communicating with the natives of Rumbowe, and they have clearly a peculiar dialect, resembling exactly what you mention of substituting the final o for a (...). In fact, the dialect is called by the Malacca people the language of Menangkabowe."
The forgoing remarks apply equally to the three adjoining states, Sungie-ujong, Johole, and Srimenanti, and, as has been aqlready observed, to Naning. It is also worthy of remark, that in the ancient records of the Dutch, preserved in the archives of Malacca, the natives of Rumbowe and Naning are invariably styled "Menangkabowes".

The Malacca Straits and even interior parts of Sumatra and Malay Peninsula for a long time have been an incredible mix of ethnic groups, and this we see mirrored also in Keris.

Regarding Keris Selit, here an old interesting thread, which mentions several restrictive bans as a possible purpose of their emergence. Unfortunately it leaves us without proper facts:

http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=273

Knowing the character of Malay people, I can imagine them used as actual weapons, at least in 19th cent.
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Old 27th April 2018, 11:25 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by oracle_2010
1. Why there are different types of sepuhan in the keris?

Well, given your nick, I rather expect you to tell us!


Quote:
2. What is the actual purpose of this "sepuhan" process in the keris making? Is it having the same purpose as "quenching" in the blade making or is there more purpose to it?

My vote goes to quenching, for sure.

There certainly could be additional layers: e. g. talismanic features, imbued magic(k)/spells/"power", etc. In a ritual setting it may make "sense" to add poison even if it got biologically inactive from the heat while quenching.


Quote:
3. Is there literally exist a "poisonous keris"?

As Alan pointed out, serious wounds would be tough to survive in any traditional culture, anyway. Poison was widely utilized for hunting in SEA and also part and parcel of fighting but would need to show effects very quickly to be of any practical use during infighting.

Regarding your question, this will certainly depend on culture, time period, and additional conditions. I do believe we can exclude any pusaka keris from a Jawa kraton to get poisoned - the mere thought seems akin to blasphemy. However, a coastal pirate preparing for a raid may have had a completely different mindset a few centuries back...

Regards,
Kai
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Old 28th April 2018, 05:23 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gustav
David, Negeri Sembilan on Malay Peninsula actually has very strong Minang roots.

Some quotes from Newbold, 1839:

"The inhabitants of the states in the interior of the southerly part of the Malayan peninsula, particularly those of Sungie ujong, or Simujong, Rumbowe, Johole, and Srimenanti, derive their origin from the parent empire of Menangkabowe, in Sumatra, more directly than the natives of the neighbouring states."

"Sir S. Raffles, in a letter to Mr. Marsden, thus notices the state of Rumbowe: "Inland of Malacca, about sixty miles, is situated the Malay kingdom of Rumbowe, whose Sultan, and all the principal officers of state, hold their authority immediately from Menangkabowe, and have written commissions for their respective offices. This shows the extent of that ancient power, even now reduced as it must be in common with that of the Malay people in general. I had many opportunities of communicating with the natives of Rumbowe, and they have clearly a peculiar dialect, resembling exactly what you mention of substituting the final o for a (...). In fact, the dialect is called by the Malacca people the language of Menangkabowe."
The forgoing remarks apply equally to the three adjoining states, Sungie-ujong, Johole, and Srimenanti, and, as has been aqlready observed, to Naning. It is also worthy of remark, that in the ancient records of the Dutch, preserved in the archives of Malacca, the natives of Rumbowe and Naning are invariably styled "Menangkabowes".

The Malacca Straits and even interior parts of Sumatra and Malay Peninsula for a long time have been an incredible mix of ethnic groups, and this we see mirrored also in Keris.

Regarding Keris Selit, here an old interesting thread, which mentions several restrictive bans as a possible purpose of their emergence. Unfortunately it leaves us without proper facts:

http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=273

Knowing the character of Malay people, I can imagine them used as actual weapons, at least in 19th cent.

Thanks for this information Gustav, but i don't think it counters what i was trying to get across. Cultures of the archipelago have always mixed and settlements of different cultures have been settled in areas away from there place of origin through the history of the Indonesian area. We find enclaves of Balinese in Madura and the Bugis have certainly maintained settlements all over the archipelago. I think it is still fair to say that the culture in Rumbowe, for instance, whose sultan owed his authority to Minangkabau, followed customs closer to that of Minangkabau than the Malays of the mainland Peninsula. The question centered around whether this keris might be a keris selit and whether there is any tradition of keris selit within the Minang culture (i am still not certain if there is or is not, but have never heard of such a tradition). So the question remains as to whether or not we can view this keris as selit. Minang keris do, however, tend towards the smaller size in general and this one is almost 10 inches long (longer than many keris selit) so i am inclined to think that is was not intended as a keris selit. That it has been hardened for use as a weapon validates that somewhat, though you may well be correct that some keris selit may also have received sepuhan.
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Old 28th April 2018, 08:39 PM   #9
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Sorry David, I know. Just when I read "Minangkabau culture is distinctly different from the Malay cultures of the Peninsula as well as other cultures on Sumatra", - Minang culture IS Malay culture, and a part of the Malay culture on Peninsula, one of it's oldest parts. Encyclopaedia Britannica from 1911 says:

"MENANGKABOS, the most civilized of all the true Malays of Sumatra, inhabiting the mountains above Padang. Their district is regarded as the cradle of the Malay race, and thence began, about 1160, those migrations which ended in the true Malays becoming the dominant race throughout the peninsula and the Malay Archipelago."

The date mentioned is somewhat of a legend, but around 1400 there is a bigger wave of Minang settling in Peninsula.

Well, I don't know about connection between small sized Minang Keris and dress Keris on Peninsula. What is for sure, Keris Panjang on Peninsula is an invention by Minang, the best Panjang coming from Rumbowe.

But it is appropriate to say, Keris (Karih) is part of ceremonial Minang dress. Being primarily such and not a weapon anymore, Keris surely becomes diminutive in size. Known are even Minang specimens with wooden blades.

Regarding influence of bans on wearing Kris on emergence of diminutive Keris form - wasn't there a ban on Keris imposed by Dutch on Minang after the Padri wars, which ended 1837?
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Old 28th April 2018, 10:29 PM   #10
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Gustav, i never said that Minangkabau culture was not a part of Malay culture. I said it was distinctly different from other Malay cultures of the Peninsula. You have already noted the language differences, a distinct indicator of cultures. I might also note that Minangkabau is notably a matriarchal society (Adat perpatih). I believe this is also true of the pockets of Minangkabau culture that settled on the Peninsula in Negeri Sembilan, but can it be said of the majority of Malay culture? The Minangkabau also brought with them distinct dances and cuisine, also distinct indicators of culture. I am sure that aspects of their keris culture are also distinct from other Malay cultures.
So again, my statements were an attempt to establish whether or not keris selit were a part of Minangkabau keris culture since Oracle brought the question of whether this was keris might be a keris selit given the size.

Last edited by David : 29th April 2018 at 01:01 AM.
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Old 30th April 2018, 04:31 AM   #11
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Default Small keris Minang with sepuhan

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gustav
Sorry David, I know. Just when I read "Minangkabau culture is distinctly different from the Malay cultures of the Peninsula as well as other cultures on Sumatra", - Minang culture IS Malay culture, and a part of the Malay culture on Peninsula, one of it's oldest parts. Encyclopaedia Britannica from 1911 says:

"MENANGKABOS, the most civilized of all the true Malays of Sumatra, inhabiting the mountains above Padang. Their district is regarded as the cradle of the Malay race, and thence began, about 1160, those migrations which ended in the true Malays becoming the dominant race throughout the peninsula and the Malay Archipelago."

The date mentioned is somewhat of a legend, but around 1400 there is a bigger wave of Minang settling in Peninsula.

Well, I don't know about connection between small sized Minang Keris and dress Keris on Peninsula. What is for sure, Keris Panjang on Peninsula is an invention by Minang, the best Panjang coming from Rumbowe.

But it is appropriate to say, Keris (Karih) is part of ceremonial Minang dress. Being primarily such and not a weapon anymore, Keris surely becomes diminutive in size. Known are even Minang specimens with wooden blades.

Regarding influence of bans on wearing Kris on emergence of diminutive Keris form - wasn't there a ban on Keris imposed by Dutch on Minang after the Padri wars, which ended 1837?


Hi Gustav, I want to show with you another example of keris Minang which has intrigued me in regards with our discussion about the practical function of sepuhan and therefore, its existence in small keris particularly in Minang culture (and whether or not it is separable from the Malay culture in general).

Attached, I sent you pictures of a keris Minang with small size with blade length just about 20 cm (actually it fits exactly the length of my palm). After I clean the rust with coconut water, it appear that this keris is constructed from different kinds of steel: pasir malela steel (or "bunga garam") along the center part of the blade and the ganja; then malela steel or "besi miang" along the edge part of the blade. It is also given sepuhan from the part above sor-soran to the tip.

Given the complexity of making such a small keris, maybe it really serve a practical purpose? So not just as a dress keris.
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