In my quest to explore the non-touristy side of Indonesia I recently took a day-trip out to Banyusumurup, a small village located southeast of Yogyakarta and home to dozens of skilled craftsmen that still produce the renowned keris. Although the village itself is well off the beaten path, the keris themselves — despite their rich history and cultural significance — are nowadays almost exclusively produced as tourist souvenirs and sold throughout the country.
A keris (pronounced with a silent ‘e’ and also occasionally spelled kris) is a traditional dagger of Indonesia. In the past it was carried both as a weapon and a spiritual object. They were often considered to possess magical powers, especially if the owner were to find the keris — or more properly put, the keris were to find its owner.
Finding Banyusumurup was a bit tricky. I knew the general area but after cruising around on my motorcycle for half an hour I still couldn’t find the village. So I backtracked to the outskirts of Bantul and asked several locals, all of which had no idea exactly where it was. Finally I got lucky when asking employees of a handphone store — turns out one of them was actually from Banyusumurup. She hopped on her motorbike and in no time at all had led me out to her village.
After asking a few of her village members she managed to find one family that not only was willing to take me in and show me the process, but also to allow me to photograph the keris in various stages of production.
So How Do The Locals Make These Daggers?
No one person makes an entire keris by themselves; it is a group effort. All the pieces — blade, handle, and sheath — are created separately and then the village pengepul (collectors) gather the individual pieces and assemble them together into the finalized keris.
Unfortunately I was unable to see the blade-making process, as no blacksmith was working that day. But I was able to observe the rest of it.
Handles are often carved into ornate designs and decorated with (artificial) gemstones.
The sheath is split into two pieces. The upper portion is sanded smooth and given several thick coats of lacquer. The bottom half is left rough. It is hollowed out to make a space for the blade and then the exterior is covered in cloth and encased in a metal cover. In the past these covers were often adorned with precious metals such as brass, silver, and even gold. As such the status and wealth of a person could be determined just by the look of their keris. However nowadays as the vast majority of these are made for souvenirs they are of a much simpler design.
Once all of the individual pieces are completed it is up to the pengepul to assemble them into the final product. Those are in turn sold to middlemen who distribute the keris to souvenir shops through Indonesia. I’ve seen some selling for as much as 4,000,000 rupiah (roughly $400USD) but I picked up mine for only 100,000 IDR ($10USD). Plus I feel so much better giving my money to a local family that does the actual work, instead of the middlemen and souvenir hawkers.
And Behold…The Completed Keris!
More ornate, sacred keris are still made by the village elder. Those must undergo a much more strict process of rituals before and during production. Only a few are made every year, usually for high-ranking government officials who can afford the exorbitant costs.
Parijan, Banyusumurup RT.04 Girirejo, Imogiri / Bantul, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
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