Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The magical dagger

A keris is born- slowly and painstakingly

A long time ago, in a rare bout of self-improvement, we went to an exhibit at the cultural center right down the street from the Jakarta Post. It was about the keris, or kris (pronounced "kreess" whichever way you spell it), which is a traditional dagger from Indonesia and Malaysia that's said to possess special powers.

Kerises are first of all quite lethal-looking weapons; they often have a curvy blade to inflict maximal damage, and they have a channel down the middle that leads to a little point at the base of the blade so that the blood drips off and doesn't make the hilt all slippery (I hate when that happens). The hilts are often quite ornate, taking the form of snakes, tigers, etc.

Guys don't routinely walk around wearing daggers these days, like they used to, but kerises still seem to retain a lot of symbolic power. Jakarta bar owner Bartele Santema writes about one of his older employees using a keris to focus his spiritual energy when doing incantations to forestall rain. Filmmaker Joko Anwar blogs about seeing his father take his keris out of the closet and talk to it from time to time. Legends abound of kerises leaping out of their sheaths to attack evil people, or rattling to warn their owners of impending danger. They're really lovely to look at, and it was somewhat hypnotic to watch them being meticuously crafted by hand -- but I wouldn't want to meet one in a dark alley.

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