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Old 16th February 2018, 07:00 AM   #1
Treeslicer
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Cool Interesting "wallhanger"

This is about a Keris Naga Sasra which I recently acquired, because I was attracted to the detailed and lively nature of how the motifs were chiseled. The closest parallel to it stylistically I've yet found (for the naga head and scales) is KBA 12 (the last keris in the Bali section) at the Malay World Edged Weapons site. I'm especially intrigued by things like the care taken in lining up the chisel marks between the top and sides of the ganja and how the cutting/chasing of the simulated layering was carefully done while the final filing before it was pickled and gilded shows no care taken whatsoever.

The warangka, which I have not bothered to waste server space on illustrating, is an unremarkable Surakarta example matching the hilt.

One particularly odd feature is the obvious wear where one would place one's thumb if using the keris, which suggests to me that someone used it for something, such as silat keris practice, or public performance.

I'm interested in whether anyone is aware of an industry (as anthropologists would put it) producing kerises with this pattern of chiselled embellishments, and using the peculiar hammered pattern along the edges to simulate layering and pamor. I've included one photo comparing it with a more typical tourist-quality Naga Sasra to underline the differences. I'm already well aware that it has the collectibility of a run-over cane toad, but I'm still curious in where it might have been made, anyway. Thanks in advance for any comments.
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Old 16th February 2018, 05:01 PM   #2
kai
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G'day Treeslicer,

Welcome to the forum!


Quote:
This is about a Keris Naga Sasra which I recently acquired, because I was attracted to the detailed and lively nature of how the motifs were chiseled. The closest parallel to it stylistically I've yet found (for the naga head and scales) is KBA 12 (the last keris in the Bali section) at the Malay World Edged Weapons site. I'm especially intrigued by things like the care taken in lining up the chisel marks between the top and sides of the ganja and how the cutting/chasing of the simulated layering was carefully done while the final filing before it was pickled and gilded shows no care taken whatsoever.

I have to admit that I have a bit of a hard time to compare it to KBA 12 (or any other keris Bali ) even if restricting comparison to details of the naga...


Quote:
One particularly odd feature is the obvious wear where one would place one's thumb if using the keris, which suggests to me that someone used it for something, such as silat keris practice, or public performance.

I'd guess this is a pretty unlikely scenario. It doesn't strike me as necessarily legitimate wear, too.

A dukun may be among the few to dare touching such a piece in an Indo social setting - however, probably a bit flashy for that kind of purpose.


Quote:
I'm interested in whether anyone is aware of an industry (as anthropologists would put it) producing kerises with this pattern of chiselled embellishments, and using the peculiar hammered pattern along the edges to simulate layering and pamor.

From what I know this is most likely Madurese work. Maybe Alan can provide details on this folk "art" production?


Quote:
I've included one photo comparing it with a more typical tourist-quality Naga Sasra to underline the differences.

This seems to still reside in the moderators' queue. A pic of the whole blade(s) would be good.

There is a huge variance of styles and qualities in current production though.


Quote:
I'm already well aware that it has the collectibility of a run-over cane toad

You made my day!

Regards,
Kai
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Old 16th February 2018, 05:30 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Treeslicer
I'm already well aware that it has the collectibility of a run-over cane toad, but I'm still curious in where it might have been made, anyway.

Welcome to the forum Treeslicer. I don't want to discourage you, but in all honesty i would find far more interest in the run-over cane toad.
These poorly chiseled motifs are not uncommon and frankly i don't know where any useful discussion might go on this. Many real naga blades will have chiseling along the naga body to simulate snake scales. The differences between the carvings of the Bali keris you linked to and yours are pretty far apart for comparison though.
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Old 16th February 2018, 06:27 PM   #4
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This keris might be Madura (Sumenep), but I doubt it. It is more likely that it is Jogja, pre-1980, post-1950.

In fact, I probably knew the man who made it.
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Old 16th February 2018, 06:39 PM   #5
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Talking

Quote:
Originally Posted by David
Welcome to the forum Treeslicer. I don't want to discourage you, but in all honesty i would find far more interest in the run-over cane toad.
These poorly chiseled motifs are not uncommon and frankly i don't know where any useful discussion might go on this. Many real naga blades will have chiseling along the naga body to simulate snake scales. The differences between the carvings of the Bali keris you linked to and yours are pretty far apart for comparison though.


Thanks. It actually differs quite a bit from the usual line of "X" lackadaisically up the naga body as scales, the minimal leaf motifs added for a third of the way up the blade (as well as on the ganja), a few holes drilled here-and-there for "filligree", "surface pamor" added by rubbing stainless tableware over the blade, climaxed with a head that more resembles a mastiff than a naga, that one more usually sees. As I've previously noted, this example is no masterpiece, but, IMHO, it's not any closer to the common "souvenir" tradition than it is to KBA 12.

I've further reduced the comparison photo, so it would upload. The head on the comparison Naga Sasra is better than most, more like a Doberman than a mastiff, but the quality of the rendition of Semar on the handle suggests that the carver was not a superstitious person.
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Old 16th February 2018, 07:02 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by A. G. Maisey
This keris might be Madura (Sumenep), but I doubt it. It is more likely that it is Jogja, pre-1980, post-1950.

In fact, I probably knew the man who made it.



Thank you very, very much. Pre-1980 would explain a bit. I was also wondering if someone who ordinarily decorated something other than kerises might have been tapped to decorate one. I've seen a number of vile attempts at kerises come home in sea-bags, but not one quite like this. The naga head is closer to an outraged lizard, as I feel it should be, than to a grumpy bear or a dog, and the artisan sharpened his chisel occasionally.
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Old 16th February 2018, 07:35 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David
I don't want to discourage you, but in all honesty i would find far more interest in the run-over cane toad.


One humbly defers to the wishes of the Moderator.
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Old 16th February 2018, 07:44 PM   #8
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I was going to say that this is a much later creation - I have seen a number of these in chiseled brass with this level of craftsmanship.
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Old 16th February 2018, 08:36 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Battara
I was going to say that this is a much later creation - I have seen a number of these in chiseled brass with this level of craftsmanship.

I'd wondered about that, and looked at some brass examples posted online (all recent), but haven't found a match, or anything close enough to suggest an inspirational kinship. If you could post some examples or direct me to them, I'd be grateful. The closest thing that I've seen so far were some examples of motifs on pre-WW II Balinese sandstone carvings in old National Geographics.

There just doesn't seem to be a readily accessible historical reference on Indonesian kitsch. Given their long history of foreign trade and colonial rule, however, they didn't start making souvenirs just yesterday.
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Old 16th February 2018, 08:45 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Treeslicer
One humbly defers to the wishes of the Moderator.

Thank you Treeslicer. I should explain that i am a professional photographer by trade and one of my side art projects involves dead animals. I would have been extremely pleased to have come across that little fellow, especially with the added whimsy of having been caught under the line painter. LOL!
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Old 17th February 2018, 08:35 AM   #11
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Line painters just don't care. That was better than these: The last one would be cool if they added a painted on tunnel entrance for Wiley Coyote... (feel free to remove as 'off topic'
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Old 18th February 2018, 12:24 AM   #12
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Quote:
As I've previously noted, this example is no masterpiece, but, IMHO, it's not any closer to the common "souvenir" tradition than it is to KBA 12.

I've further reduced the comparison photo, so it would upload. The head on the comparison Naga Sasra is better than most, more like a Doberman than a mastiff, but the quality of the rendition of Semar on the handle suggests that the carver was not a superstitious person.

Well, hilts (and mendak) of less than stellar quality can be found all over the place.

If we concentrate on the blade, I'm afraid I don't see that much of a difference between those 2 kamardikan pieces - maybe a close-up is needed, too.

If anything, the proportions and placement of the figural carving seem to suggest somewhat better craftsmanship in the other piece...

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Kai
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Old 18th February 2018, 05:26 AM   #13
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Kai, here's a close up. I got this from processing the original comparison shot, but can take more photos if necessary.

Note the basic differences in style from the closeups above. What's here is what I would consider a "usual" or "canonical" Naga Sasra, and any number of similar blades can be found on eBay (some of which make either of mine look like Benvenuto Cellini carved them, by comparison), as well as on Indonesian keris websites. I find the styles differ sufficiently to expect a different origin. Something that you can't see in these views is that the keris in the latest detail has a high angle edge along most of its length, like a cold chisel edge, while the peculiar one is actually quite sharp.

I wish to underline again that my curiosity has nothing to do with value here, but with why this one keris looks nothing like any number of items of the same dapur taken randomly from the Internet. It's almost like whoever carved it had a description, but had never seen one before.

BTW, the steel on the OP keris, while not apparently folded, isn't bad, and has a good, stiff temper to it
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Old 18th February 2018, 03:49 PM   #14
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Forgive me, but i really don't know what we are discussing here. The only thing that i find extraordinary about the originally posted keris is that when i search the internet i am hard pressed to find a worse example of a reproduction of naga sosro keris.
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Old 18th February 2018, 05:34 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David
Forgive me, but i really don't know what we are discussing here. The only thing that i find extraordinary about the originally posted keris is that when i search the internet i am hard pressed to find a worse example of a reproduction of naga sosro keris.


OK, thanks anyway. I feel virtuous for having provided the keris collecting community with a truly horrid benchmark from which they may judge the excellence of their own examples.
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Old 18th February 2018, 07:08 PM   #16
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Treeslicer, these keris are from the same era, post-WWII, post-1950, in the case of the second keris, post-1980.

The first one might be Sumenep production, but more likely is Jogja production.

The second one is Sumenep production.

In this style of keris, from this era, there can be a lot of variation in quality. These items are handmade, craft productions, we can expect variation in quality and in execution, and this variation is reflected in value.
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Old 18th February 2018, 08:21 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Treeslicer
OK, thanks anyway. I feel virtuous for having provided the keris collecting community with a truly horrid benchmark from which they may judge the excellence of their own examples.

Believe me Treeslicer, i am not trying to be harsh, but this is not the type of keris that most collectors take all that seriously or spend much time doing any serious assessments on. As best i can tell this keris was created with a very limited skill set as a reproduction of the well known naga sosro dhapur. Many such reproductions make an effort to present themselves with some particular level of craft. The second one you show raises the craft level somewhat for sure. As Alan has pointed out, this level of craft is indeed reflected in value. While i do not discount the possibility that this one may have seen legitimate cultural usage, perhaps in service for a wedding or some other official affair that called for a keris as part of formal dress, i see it this type of keris more as a marketplace souvenir piece not particularly worthy of serious discussion. Higher levels of craft in these reproductions carry more value, using better materials, actual gold instead of brass for the kinatah and be found in fine bejeweled dress. Those examples can be seen as "art" keris and some may find them more collectable. I am not trying to sound smug or dismissive, but i simply don't know what else there is to be said about an example such as the one you have presented to us. Many keris enthusiasts would be more likely to refer to it as a keris-like-object rather than a legitimate keris.
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Old 18th February 2018, 10:19 PM   #18
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I'd be inclined to call these things "keris", David, for the simple reason that today they fulfill the function of the keris as an item of formal dress.

Certainly others would disagree with me and have them as "keris-like objects", but to my mind this is a little bit unrealistic. Fact of the matter is that no matter how rich or how poor you are, once in while you need to get dressed up in formal gear, and for that, you need a keris. If you want to own the keris rather than borrow or rent it, you buy what you can afford.

Maybe 100 years ago, even 30 years ago, tourists did buy sharp pointy things to take home with them, but this is a very rare occurrence these days. I know dealers in Central Jawa who have not sold any type of keris or sword or dagger to any tourists in the last three years. In Bali it is very, very difficult to even find keris now.

Tourist or souvenir keris? Forget it.

Dress keris for local consumption? Yes, ongoing trade.

The things in this thread are keris, no doubt about it, but not particularly desirable ones from the point of view of a collector of keris.
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Old 18th February 2018, 11:32 PM   #19
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Thanks Alan. I don't think i really disagreed with you in my last post and did indeed acknowledge its possible use in formal wear for those without a family keris for their attire.
I won't debate whether tourists still bring such things back from their trips to Indonesia, though i personally know some who have (non-keris collectors wanting to bring a piece of their trip home). But i have seen similar things here in the States in stores that specialize in Indonesian imports, so they serve a similar purpose in that context i guess. This is not to say that they still don't serve a local purpose as well.
Tree slicer seems to tells us this is not a pattern welded blade and the the pamor pattern has been simulated by creating raised lines in the blade. Personally, from my own perspective, that allows me to lean more towards keris-like-object and legitimate keris since it does not appear that it was made in a traditional fashion. You once told us, i believe, of witnessing a cardboard keris used as part of dress in a formal occasion. While being used for a genuine cultural event would you still regard that as a legitimate keris?
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Old 19th February 2018, 02:09 AM   #20
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Yep, I've seen a piece of cardboard used to support keris dress. Obviously not a keris.

Why?

If I can consider something that is of very inferior workmanship a keris, why can I not consider a piece of cardboard, or a piece of wood a keris if it looks like a keris and fulfills the function of a keris?

The reason is that cardboard and wood cannot be tosan aji :- honoured iron. Iron is the essential component. Doesn't really matter how rough the work is, provided it vaguely resembles what it is intended to be, provided it is made of iron, it qualifies as tosan aji. The form represents an idea, just as two rough sticks crossed represent an idea to a Christian, and the honour of the idea comes from man.

At the present time in Bali, one of current working pande keris is recognised as the only true pande keris because he knows the correct mantras and observances for the making of a sacred keris. Such a keris from his hands will cost much more than a piece of high art from any of the other makers. But do not expect high art from this man's hands. The keris that he produces are not of any value artistically, but they are of high value talismanically.

When we raise the question of things made in traditional fashion, we need to ask just exactly what that "traditional fashion" is.

Does "traditional fashion" need to incorporate the washing of iron to make it usable? Does it need to incorporate different metals to create contrast in a blade?

The palace guards of the Mangkunegaraan were armed with tombak and pedang that were made from homogenous steel. This was used to replace the old multi-folded material as soon as it became available.

Empu Jayasukadgo of the Karaton Susuhunan made a number of keris and other weapons from modern, homogenous steel. Other pande keris working in Jawa also used modern steel for weapons as soon as it became available.
Why?
It was superior material. They still made pamor blades when required, but these were made primarily for their talismanic properties, not to use as weapons.

Craftsmen have always used the most modern technology available to produce their craft. It is not the way that something is made that makes it a traditional artefact, it is the way that the people who own the culture that owns that artefact regards it that validates its authenticity.

Once again using Christianity as an example.
Does a cross need to be made in a particular fashion in order to make it a legitimate symbol of the Christian faith?
I rather think not. It is the way in which a Christian regards that cross that gives it its legitimacy.

It is no different with the keris.

I have no problem at all in accepting that many collectors will not accept as collectable items, keris such as are under discussion in this thread, however, it is simply not possible to deny that those non-collectable items are keris.
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Old 19th February 2018, 09:00 AM   #21
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Thank you A. G. Maisey for the above. A very interesting insight to Keris, that is not just from the collectors point of view but from it's living tradition.
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Old 19th February 2018, 01:06 PM   #22
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Thanks you for your perspective Alan, and i am not in complete disagreement. My problem with this blade is not that it is poorly constructed. As i am sure you know i have many keris in my collection which are far from masterpieces. I think you are under a misimpression that quality (or lack thereof) is the issue here for me. Nothing could be further from my mind. And i am more than willing to except that blades made by quality standards that are even below my own for collectibility can still be seen as legitimate keris. But i believe we all draw our own lines and for me, the fact that the creator of this blade not only chose homogenous steel, but then created ridged lines to simulate a fake pamor pattern disqualifies it from my own personal standard. Your mileage may vary and we may simply have to agree to disagree at this point.

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Old 19th February 2018, 06:55 PM   #23
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David, there is no disagreement at all between us. For a disagreement to exist there must be a situation where one person is attempting to change the opinion of another.

I am not attempting to change your opinion, nor anybody else's opinion for that matter.

In fact, I am not even putting forward my own opinion, which is not a part of this discussion, and which I choose to reserve.

What I have done is to try to provide some understanding of the way things are, on the ground, in Jawa.

I'm simply relaying information.

We can all choose to do whatever we will with that information:- accept, reject, or disbelieve.

Whatever anybody does with it is of no consequence to me.

In respect of the material from which Treeslicer's first keris has been made, actually, I'm not real sure that this has been made from unwashed steel. In order to carve ferric material, especially if the carving is done by hand, it needs to be soft. Modern mild steel still contains some carbon, and even after it has been annealed it can still be a bit difficult to carve using simple hand tools. The way around this difficulty is to throw a couple of welds into the material --- you can probably stop the welding when the little stars stop being thrown off at weld heat.

Treeslicer could tell better with it in his hand if it has been welded, but looking closely at the pics it seems to me that I can see a couple of weld joints; maybe what I can see is just sloppy work, even sloppier than the rest of the work, it is difficult to be sure from the pics.
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