On my recent trip to Central Java, I had the privilege of visiting the most famous kris maker in Yogyakarta, Empu Jeno Harumbrojo. The Keris or Kris is an asymmetrical dagger made by pounding iron and meteorite nickel together layer by layer over 250 times. After which it is meticulously polished and designed. The alternating laminations of iron and nickel produce the distinctive light and dark patterning of the blade. Not only is the blade meticulously made, so are the hilt and the sheath. Precious materials such as wood, gold, and ivory are often used and are intricately carved by the master kris maker. Krises have been made in Central Java for centuries and are an important part of local culture and tradition. The kris is both a weapon and spiritual object believed to possess magical powers and used to be worn by the Javanese and passed down through successive generations as a family heirloom. In the past, Javanese warriors used spears as their main weapon with the kris as a secondary armament. It also acts as a talisman to instil bravery into the bearer. Nowadays, the kris is still worn but more as part of the ceremonial attire when attending weddings and other special events. The guards at the Sultan’s Palace in Yogyakarta all still wear the kris as part of their uniforms. Kris-making is a dying art so I was glad to have the opportunity to visit this 16th generation kris maker with the honorary title empu given only to those who are masters of kris forging. Legend has it that empus were able to work hot iron with their bare hands because they were not regular ironsmiths, instead they, like the kris, also possessed spiritual powers. The empu was also in charge of carrying out rituals to infuse the blade with spirits, oftentimes animal ones. It was said that the spirit occupying the kris can be either good or bad. Owners will test the blade by sleeping with it under their pillows and if they had a bad dream, the blade was considered unlucky and had to be discarded. If the dream was good, then that meant the kris would bring its owner good fortune and protection. The English saying, “One person’s trash can be another person’s treasure” applies here as well. A blade that is unlucky for one person may be lucky for another. The Indonesian kris was made an UNESCO Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005 and Empu Jeno Harumbrojo’s workshop is definitely worth a visit. This was no doubt my favorite photography session on this trip to Central Java!
The iron and nickel are repeatedly heated to a high temperature and then shaped by hammering.
Metalsmiths typically work in low-light workshops so that they can see the color of the heated metal where usually the best forging color is when the metal turns bright yellow-orange.
All 16 generations of master kris makers with the honorary title of empu.
The 16th generation kris maker – Empu Jeno Harumbrojo
The Keris or Kris is an asymmetrical dagger made by pounding iron and meteorite nickel together layer by layer over 250 times. Many krises are wavy and in the past poison was said to be infused during the making process creating very deadly weapons.
The alternating laminations of iron and nickel produce this distinctive light and dark patterning of the blade.
Precious materials such as wood, gold, and ivory are often used for the hilts and sheaths that are also intricately carved by the master kris maker.
Royal guard at the Sultan’s Palace in Yogyakarta with his kris
Empu Jeno Harumbrojo’s kris workshop is not only one of the most famous, it is also one of the last remaining ones.
In the next post, I will talk about the Hindu Prambanan temple outside Yogyakarta believed to be built to rival the Buddhist Borobudur temple. Stay tuned!
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