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Old 16th January 2023, 06:38 AM   #1
Ian
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Default Sumatran keris for comments please

Keris are definitely not my forte. I would appreciate some thoughts about this old one that I was gifted by a colleague when I was doing some consulting work in Sumatra in the 1970s. It's at least 50 years old, and looked pretty old and worn when I received it. He said it had been in his family for "some time."

The hilt seems to be brass, but it appears to have had a silver finish originally that has rubbed back on the flat areas to the yellow brass. Similarly, the decorated metalwork on the scabbard has a siiver look but the bands are definitely brass.

The blade seems very ordinary and could do with re-etching. When I received it the blade had been treated with sandalwood oil and smelled lovely. Fifty-plus years later it still smells good.

I'm interested in your thoughts about the daemon hilt and what it represents. Also, possible age and the area of its origin. I will not be offended if you tell me it's just a tourist piece and not a great keris. I don't expect it to be. Just interested in your thoughts.

Ian.


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Old 16th January 2023, 05:41 PM   #2
rasdan
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Hi Ian,

I have nothing to offer regarding the hilt style etc. but to me this is an interesting and important keris as it has the age attached to it. Usually when keris like this popped up, Malaysian collectors will say it is from the 80s and it is a tourist keris as it is rather low quality and the styling it is rather has that “fake exotic” nature. The blade probably was not made to be a weapon – it is not hardened as it was made to be a wall hanger. You mentioned that it is at least 50 years old, if we add another 20 years it has been in your friend’s family, the keris is maybe 70 years old – meaning that it was made around the 50s of even the 40s.

The story goes is that keris production slowed down (some say stopped) during WW2 and only picked up its pace back in the 80s. However, your keris and others that I have seen shows that keris production does not really stop. Some hilts especially the carved figurine hilts show some age but were made from very soft wood and we know there is no way wood as soft at that would last more than 100 years if it was used as weapon grade keris handle. Many Sumatran stuff are even made covered with gold, but I doubt those things were really made for traditional purposes. The styling frequently seems a bit off and the quality is usually poor.

So, the industry was still alive the entire time, at least in some areas. The difference is that why a particular keris was made. Some were probably made for European “oriental rooms”, some probably for local consumption, some were made better than others, some are artificially aged some were not. This really forces us to rethink about the real value of the “historical artifacts” that we amass and see around us.
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Old 16th January 2023, 07:39 PM   #3
David
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Hi Ian. Your keris is dressed in Lampung form, the southern end of Sumatra, and the hilt form is usually described as one of the burung (bird) forms, though this long-nosed variety seems to be specific to Lampung.
I would probably place this one in the first half of the 20th century. Unlike Rasdan, i am fairly convinced that keris making did indeed end somewhere around the start of WWII and did not really start again until Dietrich Drescher kickstarted it up again in the mid 70s.
Now, i am not convinced that means that there was not a single keris made anywhere in Indonesia post WWII until that moment in 1974 when Drescher commissioned that first blade, but for all intents and purposes the art was dead.
This does not, however, mean that no one was production of keris dress in that time. I would imagine that there were still people who valued their personal keris from 1940-1974 who would still need to maintain the dress on their keris so they probably did find craftspeople to do that work for them during that period in time. But as far as i know there is absolutely no evidence of any regular keris blade production during that time. I do recall that Alan once made mention of a fellow he knew about who may have been making a small amount of keris prior to 1974, but it was not a common occurrence.
I would say this dress is not particularly high end for sure, but neither is it the bottom of the barrel. And it surely looked much better when new and the fittings were bright and fresh. I suppose there is a possibility this dress could be post WWII, given the time frame you mention, but i believe the blade must be from before that time, before the war itself.
I have attached a link to an old thread that posts a fair number of examples of this hilt form.
I hav also posted a photo of a similar keris to yours that was deemed to be from the first half of the 20th century.
I see no reason to consider your keris as a "tourist" item even if it is not a high quality item and the dress appears a to have an "exotic nature".

http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=13248
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Old 16th January 2023, 08:02 PM   #4
A. G. Maisey
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The blade of this keris appears to have some age, it is somewhere between very difficult & impossible to be able to be certain about many keris characteristics when all we have is a photo on a screen, but my guess at age for this keris would be second half, 19th century.

The overall impression of this blade is old Madura, but there are conflicting indicators, the principal deviation from a Madura keris being the shape of the blumbangan:-

Ian, could you please provide a close up of the blade base with the camera at 90 degrees directly above it?

The dress was probably made in or around Surabaya.

In Surabaya there is a large general market named Pasar Turi. You can buy anything at this market, food, clothing, kitchen utensils, tools --- anything one might need, including keris.

It is a very old market, but some years back it was rebuilt, it now consists of a couple of very large, two story concrete buildings, the keris section is in the back building, upstairs, at the very end.

In my opinion this keris is a Pasar Turi product.

I have not visited the Pasar Turi keris section for perhaps 25 years, it is full of second rate garbage, if anything decent comes on the scene the prices for an outsider are New York gallery prices. From my perspective, it is simply a waste of time for anybody who is looking for decent quality to visit, but as I have said, its a long time since I have been there, maybe it has improved. But according to what I hear it is the same as it was in the past.

This keris that you have Ian, screams "Pasar Turi". I have seen baskets & boxes full of the metal components of this keris, especially the mendak/selut fitting. I have seen keris of all different styles, that originated in Pasar Turi, in markets all over Jawa & Bali.

I would be inclined to put a date of 1960's -- 1970's on the dress. I'm basing that guess on the metal work. I first started to see this mendak/selut style -- flower cup with twisted wire -- in Australia in the 1960's.

Considering weapons related work in the period 1940 to 1970 in what is now Indonesia. The Japanese occupied Indonesia (Dutch East Indies) from early 1942 through to 1945. The occupation was strict on all types of weapons, any type of weapon, including keris, that the owner wished to keep was kept well & truly out of sight. Manufacture of weapons was prohibited.

Supposedly, the Japanese took over 70,000 keris out of the Indies, during & after the war. I have heard this story over & over again from many keris interested people who lived through this period of occupation.

The period between the end of WWII and late 1960's was very unsettled, it is possible that some keris related activity might have been occurring but it definitely was not general.

Late 1960's to 1970 was the period when the keris revival got off the ground, it progressed during the 1970's and it took off during the 1980's.

During the late colonial period, say 1920 to 1940 the keris work being done in Jawa seems to have still been following tradition.

In summary, my opinion is that this keris was produced in Pasar Turi, Surabaya and exported to another location in Indonesia for sale. The retail sale location was most likely Jakarta. The blade is not a 20th century production, it pre-dates 1900.
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Old 17th January 2023, 04:21 AM   #5
Ian
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Rasdan, David and Alan:

Thank you very much for your various comments. I did not expect this to be a distinguished keris by any means. It looks like something from a bazaar, and Alan has confirmed this with his very specific comments about Pasar Turi. Great information.

The quality of workmanship on the scabbard reminded me of similar work on 20th C. Burmese "Temple Dha." These are decorative items, mainly worn by grooms at weddings, and often end up as wall hangers.

Interestingly, I had a friend over for dinner last night. He teaches at a local vocational college that happens to include electroplating in its curriculum. It was his considered opinion that the metal on the scabbard of my keris was likely electroplated nickel silver (EPNS) on top of brass. The roughness to the surface is apparently characteristic. (The smooth surface on EPNS cutlery etc. is after polishing.) He judged the quality of work as about average for one of his students (so not very well done).

Alan, I've added pics of the area you asked about.


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Old 17th January 2023, 04:39 AM   #6
A. G. Maisey
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Thanks Ian.

There are a couple of different shaped blumbangans:- boto adeg, boto rubuh = standing brick, brick laying down. Then there is the square blumbangan and extreme examples of the two brick types.

The form of the blumbangan is primary indicator.

This keris has some indicators that point to Madura, but I would expect a squarish blumbangan in a Madura keris, this blumbangan tends to the lazy brick, laying down, having a rest. That in turn suggests West Jawa.

I cannot recall ever having seen an older Maduro keris with a brick laying down blumbangan. This doesn't mean that there could not be one, it just means I cannot recall having seen one.

In any case, whether the blade was made somewhere in West Jawa, ie, Sunda, or whether it was made in Maduro for sale in West Jawa, I do not feel inclined to guess. But I will guess that this blade is not 20th century.

Of course, in the hand opinions can always change
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Old 17th January 2023, 04:01 PM   #7
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Thanks for your input Alan. I know exactly what you mean by the Madurese indicators and was going to mention that, but unlike you i was unable to say what the same time it did not seem quite right for Madura. You explanation was very helpful for me to understand why i chose to keep my mouth shut. LOL!
Thanks also, Ian, for the close-ups. It's alway difficult to date any keris blade solely from photographs (and even in hand), so the more detailed images we can provide is always helpful in any assessment.
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