The traditional way of cleaning a keris is a slowly dying art especially to the younger generation of Malays today, not only in the state of Pahang, but Malaysia generally.
It seems that only those who still cherish keeping the keris, whether obtained as a family and ancestral heirloom, or kept as a mere hobby collection, will go to some length to find out how to clean the keris.
The keris, a deadly weapon of the Malays, and used during silat - the Malay art of self–defence, will need to be cleaned periodically to remove and keep out rust which can damage the weapon and ultimately render it useless.
Rust happens because the blade of the keris is traditionally made of iron or a mixture of iron and steel or damask. And to ensure that the keris is lucky (or "bertuah" in Malay) it must at least in part, be added and mixed with a prehistoric or old iron implement.
However, nowadays we can also find that the keris blade is made from pewter and even stainless steel, but these are mostly for gifts and exhibits and not used for personal protection.
Well, nowadays we can find many lotions and modern preparations for cleaning rusts.
But as a traditional method, using natural ingredients, the following has been the old and tried traditional method for removing all rusts from the keris.
BUT LET ME SHOW YOU FIRST THE PROCEDURE TO UNSHEATH THE KERIS FOR CLEANING...
The Malays regard the keris, especially the keris that has been handed down from one generation to the next, as having a life of its own, a guardian spirit.
That is why the owner of a keris will give his keris or each of his keris if he has more than one, a special name. The name given is usually a beautiful and loving name, just like all pet owners do.
It is said that the guardian spirit protects the owner or possessor from his enemies, especially during fights or duels. Therefore in the old days the keris is regarded not as a dead, non-living item of wood and iron, but that it is "alive" and contains a spirit that will help the owner in times of dire need during a fight.
Therefore, whenever a keris is drawn from its sheath (its "home"), due respect must accordingly be shown.
The keris is held by using the right hand and not the left, as the left hand, to all Muslims, is used during cleansing after the call of nature.
When beginning to slowly unsheathe the keris, it is made in the name of God, and when fully drawn, it is then raised slowly, with the blade pointing upwards, kissed and brought to the head or temple and held for a short moment there, before slowly bringing it down.
This practice is followed and repeated whenever a keris is drawn for the traditional cleaning or cleansing and before putting it back into its sheath.
After the keris is drawn, the blade is checked for rust, and the cleaning process is dependent upon whether there are many rust spots or just one or two.
Little Rust Spots
If there are only one or two rust spots, then it would be sufficient to clean the blade by using just one lime fruit, normally the limau purut or kaffir lime.
This is by cutting the lime fruit into two, and taking one half, it is then rubbed against the rust spot until the rust is removed.
The juice of the lime fruit is acidic and therefore would react against the rust and remove them.
Many Rust Spots
When during the examination of the blade it is found that there are a lot of rust spots, then the cleaning method is to first get a fresh coconut. (Nowadays we just buy from the supermarket or sundry shop and there’s no need to do any climbing!).
The coconut is opened and its water poured into a slim container which can accommodate the length of the blade of the keris.
In the old days, a hollow cylinder made from bamboo is used. Now, in the modern era, it is difficult to find such bamboo cylinders, and so any slim glass container long enough to soak the blade of the keris will suffice.
The blade of the keris is then dipped and put into the container in an upright position. Care must be taken to ensure that the "hulu" or hilt of the keris does not touch the coconut water as it would damage it.
"Hulu" is the handle part where you hold and grip the keris. Beautiful carvings constitute the main part of the hulu.
The blade is then left in this upright position in the container containing coconut water for a few days.
After 2 or 3 days of the immersion in coconut water, the keris is removed and then washed with clean water, after which it is dried by using a clean cloth. It must be completely dried for the next step.
Fresh lime is then rubbed on the blade and when rubbing the rusted parts a longer and harder rub is given. This process will need around five pieces of the lime fruits, which have been cut into halves.
All the time during the cleaning and rubbing, certain verses are recited, usually from the Muslim holy book of the Quran, as a spiritual cleanser and for protection.
After about an hour of careful rubbing and cleaning with the lime juice, the glow of the original blade appears and the earlier rust spots would have been removed.
Then clean water is used to completely wash away all traces of the lime juice on the blade.
To protect the blade of the keris from future rust, the blade is then heated over a charcoal brazier until it is hot.
Then a candle is rubbed slowly down each side of the blade. Since the blade is hot, the candle will melt and a thin smooth covering of candle wax will be left on the blade. This wax will protect the blade from rust for some months and even years.
This then is the traditional method of cleaning the keris blade which has been covered with rust spots.
Periodically cleaning the keris will ensure that it will last as long as the owner takes good care of it. It takes passion and loving care to do this, but it will certainly ensure that the keris will also take good care of the owner.
It is said that the guardian spirit of the keris will return the favor to his owner, even after the keris is handed down numerous generations.
The keris, after all, is not just as an ornamental item worn as part of the Malay traditional costume or ceremonial dress during special occasions, such as during traditional Malay weddings, but it also serves as an essential part of the character and personality of its owner.
Well, hopefully you will now know the traditional method of cleaning the keris, a deadly weapon of the Malays.
Giving respect and tender loving care for one's own possession, whether it is a pet, jewelry or a deadly weapon, will ensure that it will not be lost and will last longer, and of course it will be a joy and delight to own.
As always, from me ....
*** SELAMAT DATANG***