10 Things You Should Know About: Keris

In the latest episode of our popular 10 Things You Should Know series, we share facts about the keris, a warfare weapon commonly used in maritime Southeast Asia.

10 Things You Should Know is a series of short animated videos on aspects of Malay culture and heritage. In our latest video of the series, we share 10 facts on the keris, a weapon of warfare which holds symbolic and cultural prominence in maritime Southeast Asia. This series of animated videos is produced in collaboration with Wisma Geylang Serai.

This video is also available on Youtube.

  1. Keris is a dagger that is unique to maritime Southeast Asia. It is also a marker of Malay ingenuity and creativity in weapon craftsmanship.To fully understand the production of keris requires extensive sociocultural, environmental and historical knowledge. It is not only a prominent weapon for warfare but holds symbolic and cultural prominence to the indigenous people of this region.
  2. All keris are weapons but not all keris are specifically made for combat. There are those that function as an executioner’s tool, as talismans, as status symbols, and of course, in combat. Keris are also a symbol of a Sultan’s sovereignty (daulat), and are presented to a Sultan during their coronation as a symbol of power.
  3. In general, the types of keris are easily distinguished by the shape of the blade, which may be either straight or wavy. However, there are also other ways to identify different types of keris, such as through its size, or identifying different characteristics that are sub-regional. Sizes of talismanic keris range from small ones, to those that are as large as swords.
  4. The keris has three general parts: the hilt, the scabbard and the blade. Each part is created to correspond and function in harmony with each other.
  5. The hilt is the handle of the keris and this is created specifically to fit the grip of the keris owner’s hand. When it is gripped correctly like a pistol at waist level, the blade will naturally be parallel to the ground, which allows for an upper thrust attack towards an opponent’s vital organs on the upper body.
  6. The scabbard of the keris is designed specifically to house the blade well. Corresponding to the shape of the keris,  it has a wide base and narrows to the tip. It is customary for the three parts of the scabbard to be made with three different types of wood.
  7. The wider base known as the Sampir is usually made of kemuning wood, the batang which is the mid-section that houses the most part of the blade, is made of sena wood and the shoe buttend is made of buffalo horn. The mixture of materials helps to preserve the blade and also makes the scabbard strong enough to act as an additional weapon or shield when warriors engage in combat.
  8. The blade is the most important part of the keris. The waves of the blade are called, Luk, and the number of Luk corresponds to a person’s title. The more the waves, the higher the status of a person.
  9. To produce the blade, a mix of metals are heated, hammered and tempered together. This allows for it to be sharp, and strong, yet flexible.
  10. The keris is an essential component of the traditional formal regalia wear of a ruler. They are depicted with it. Hence Malay bride grooms wear the keris as a raja sehari to depict their special status.

References:

1.The Keris Collector by ChannelNewsAsia

https://youtu.be/9bmb7VlMONY

2. Keris by Roots.sg

https://www.roots.gov.sg/Collection-Landing/listing/1079807

3. Keris: The Sacred Daggers of Indonesia by Kalpavriksha

https://medium.com/@Kalpavriksha/keris-the-sacred-daggers-of-indonesia-355326550e8d

4. Keris and the Other Malay Weapons by Gerald B

https://catalogue.nlb.gov.sg/cgi-bin/spydus.exe/FULL/WPAC/BIBENQ/396780181/1968780,1

10 Things You Should Know is the first of a series of videos on Malay culture and heritage, created by ArtsEquator and commissioned by Wisma Geylang Serai. It is a continuation of an earlier series by ArtsEquator, featuring batik, gamelan, Malay dance and others, which you can check out here.
The videos in this series are sponsored by Wisma Geylang Serai. The money earned from paid advertising goes towards covering ArtsEquator’s running costs and paying our writers and content creators. We have a strict policy regarding which content which can and cannot be sponsored. To read more about our editorial policy, please go here.

About the author(s)

Muhd Noramin Mohd Farid (Soultari) is a choreographer, arts educator and researcher from Singapore. He received his Doctorate in Theatre and Dance studies (2021) from Royal Holloway, University of London, UK. He is a recipient of the ASEAN-India Youth Award (2018), Singapore Youth Award (2017), National Arts Council Scholarship (2017) and Goh Chok Tong Mendaki Youth Promise Award (2016). Amin is the Joint-Artistic Director of Bhumi Collective, a multidisciplinary performing art and producing company. He writes occasionally for Arts Equator, Straits Times and the Esplanade Theatres by the Bay.

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