In the world of the Malay Silat, the keris (a wavy bladed dagger or knife) is the principal form of weapon for defense and offence.
It is a deadly weapon unique to the Malay world, and in the centuries past, it was the dreaded weapon of the Malays, and normally carried around by the adult men especially for self-defense purpose.
Those were the days when carrying this weapon is a normal thing, akin, in the western world, to the days of the cowboys when carrying pistols were normal and rife.
Nowadays, however, the keris is sometimes regarded as a status symbol only, with elaborate designs and expensive stones embedded.
It is worn by the groom during traditional Malay weddings, and as ceremonial dressing and ornamental accompaniments by high public officials and royalties, during traditional ceremonies and public occasions.
Many Malay families today keep the ancestral keris which had been handed or passed down from their ancestors and from one generation to another as family heirlooms, and as perhaps, a memento of their ancestors glorious and rich past.
Nowadays it can be bought at shops and malls selling traditional Malay costumes and products. However as a weapon for use in a fight or battle, not just any keris will do for the owners.
To ensure that it is compatible with the owner, and would give him certain mystical, and perhaps supernatural, powers, it must be custom-made and molded based on certain calculations and measurements of the owner’s body.
For instance, the number of waves for the blade is based on such measurements, and therefore you might find that a person's keris might be longer or shorter than normally expected.
In fact as it is made based on the owner’s requirements, specific measurements and temperaments, its weight and length would also be dependent on the calculations made, to ensure its compatibility with the owner.
And to ensure invulnerability and to bring good luck to the owners, ancient iron implements found or deliberately sought were re-smelted and used in the manufacture of the blades of the weapon.
In fact, in the olden days, no keris was really lucky (or "bertuah" in Malay), unless it was at least in part, composed of a prehistoric iron implement.
In the old Malay world, the owner, in order to preserve its effectiveness, will carry out certain rites or prayers, and it is usual to "smoke" the keris with kemenyan (fragrant incense) and to cleanse or wipe it with the limau kasturi (local lemon) juice, every Friday night.
And it is never sharpened after it is made and given to the owner, not even, as they say, after it had been used to stab opponents.
Therefore it is unlike the work implements such as the machete, knives or other sharp object used as utensils for work, which has to be sharpened after use.
Normally the handle or "hulu" of this Malay weapon has elaborate carvings as the hilt and the normal creature carving is birdlike called the jawa demam.
The blade is wavy and has different number of waves depending on the owner’s criteria.
From the structure of the handle, we can see that it is used only to be held in one hand.
It cannot, and is not meant to be held by two hands unlike the big swords of the western world.
The usage is therefore in consonant with the silat movements where the hand is used in combat with or without the keris in hand. But one weapon in hand would however be an added advantage.
The sheath (or home) of the keris is also an art form and a beauty to behold. It is normally made of wood with silver or iron coverings at its mouth, and mostly with carved designs.
Various names based on their origin and owners are given to the keris. "Keris melela" is a variation of the keris, which in the old days in Pahang, was used as a weapon by the Pekan Malays.
the owners often give names to their keris, as a sign of
affection and respect, and, if they have a few as is normal then, to
distinguish between the different ones that they own.
In the old days (in the 1800s), in Pahang, capital offences included treason, murder, amok, arson and even adultery.
The old version of the modern police force in Pahang is the "juak-juak" of the Bendahara’s (perhaps equivalent to the Prime Minister nowadays) police, who usually went around apprehending criminals armed with a short keris ("keris pendek") and a spear.
There were different methods of execution in the 1800s and early 1900s in Pahang. The most common way was death by the keris.
The convicted criminal would be stabbed with the long execution
keris provided by the Bendahara – the famous keris penyalang of Koris
(now said to be part of the Pahang State regalia).
Although it sounds gory, it was said that death using this method was actually one of the more humane forms of execution practiced then.
For instance, in those days an amok is to be stabbed by the hurling of javelins. A woman convicted of adultery was strangled to death, and crime involving betrayal of trust required the criminal to be crucified and the body thrown to the sea.
And criminals were also subject to other forms of capital punishment such as through drowning the criminal by attaching stones to the body, or tying his neck and dragging him in the river using a boat until he drowns.
While the keris is the chief weapon of the Malays, there are other knifes or blades used in silat, such as the badik, tekpi, tumbuk lada, kerambit (hooked dagger), parang (machete), sundang (swords), sabit (sickle), lembing (spear) and also sticks.
The "lading" is a weapon used by the exponents
of Silat Cekak Hanafi, which originated from the Malaysian state of
Kedah Darul Aman. The shape of the lading is like a meat butcher’s knife
with a short handle and a wide and sharp blade.
The lading however is used only for defense purposes, and not for attack. It is consonant with the philosophy of Silat Cekak Hanafi that its martial arts form is only for self-defense purpose and that also includes the use of its main and unique weapon, the lading.
The "lading" is given as an honor and award to those Silat Cekak Hanafi exponents who have reached the highest level of the silat art.
And just like the keris whose effectiveness to the owner would depend on it being customized based on certain body measurements, the lading is also measured and custom-made based solely on the person using it.
Therefore it could not be handed down as a hereditary weapon to the son, for example, as its effectiveness is compromised.
The use of weapons in Silat, unless the art is specifically to teach the use of the particular weapon, is taught by the master to his students only at the highest level of the silat.
This is to ensure that the student has mastered at least the basic techniques and movements of the silat before he is taught the use of weapon which is more difficult and perhaps more dangerous.
But most of all, the use of a weapon is taught to a student when the master has known the student intimately, his character, temperament, etc., and has assured himself that the student will not misuse or abuse the knowledge for evil gains.
So only those students who have gained the complete trust and faith of the master in that they will use the knowledge for good intentions and purposes only are taught the highest level of the weapons’ techniques and movements.
I hope you have acquired some general knowledge on the weapons of the Malay art of self-defense - silat - particularly on the keris, a deadly weapon unique to the Malay world.
The keris is now however used more as an ornament in cultured dressing and retained as part of the traditions and beautiful culture of the Malays, not only in the state of Pahang, but also of Malaysia.
Follow me then to another journey, for pleasure and knowledge.
And as always...
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