WILAH or Mata (Malay Peninsula)

The most important part of the Keris is the Wilah (blade) because of its magical power, which is related to its dapur (shape) and pamor (pattern). A specificity of the Keris blade, is the Ganja, a separate cross piece fitted on the tang and bounded to the blade.

The Keris blade is said to symbolize the union of the Lingga and the Yoni, for hope of fertility, eternity and power.  The blade with its tang represents the Lingga (the phallus of god Siva); the ganja represents the Yoni (the genital of Parvati, wife of Siva). Another symbol of the Keris blade is the Naga, when it is straight it represents a sleeping Serpent, when its is wavy, a moving Serpent.

Name of the different parts of the blade:

Pesi (tang)

Ganja (the separate cross piece)

Sor-soran (the larger part), where the ricikan (blade details) are.

Tengah (the middle part)

Pucuk (the point)

MAKING THE WILAH

A difference is made between a Keris Pusaka, which is made with special rituals and has been ordered for a specific person with a special power, whereas Keris Ageman is a more "industrial" version. Before starting forging the blade of Keris Pusaka, the Empu (smith) fasts and then makes offerings to the gods, this type of ceremony is called sajen

The Empu can then start the forging process. To make a Keris blade, his needs iron, nickel and steel. The contrast of the bright nickel and darken iron will make the pamor pattern, the steel provides the blade rigidity and cutting edges. One of the myth related to the Keris is its magical power because it is forged out of meteorite iron. Probably very few Keris are actually made from meteorite material since it is rare and very difficult to forge. The nickel is either very pure from industrial origin or comes from Sulawesi mines (1). Lower grade Keris can also be made with Penawang (white iron) instead of nickel. 

The Empu takes a piece of iron, heats it and tempers it, until it is sufficiently stretched and flattened. This piece is then bent in a U shape to insert in its middle a nickel plate. The new assembly is heated, hammered and tempered several times to form the first pamor layer.  It is then bent again in a U shape and welded together to form the second pamor layer. This operation is repeated again and again to form 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 or more layers of pamor. Usually a Keris is made of 64 layers, however some high quality blades may have several hundred layers.  Once the Empu has reached the desired number of layers, a piece of the blade is cut and kept aside to make the ganja. He then bends again the pamor in a U form to insert in the middle a piece of flat steel and welds them together. 

   At this stage, the Empu gives to the blade its form. He makes the Wilah  Lurus (straight) or Luk (wavy) by heating and tempering. The finishing work is initially made with a rough file to give to the blade its shape, then the Empu makes the ricikan details with more triangular files and chisels. The ganja is fitted in the pesi and the blade is finished by using grinding stones, it is then tempered a last time.

The blade is etched through a process called marangi by immerging it in an acid solution of arsenic and lemon juice.

 

(1) In prehistoric times iron was a precious metal, used for weapons and agricultural implements. Trade in iron had become large-scale by the 12th century, both in smelted ore and in manufactured products. William Marsden (1783) believed that Minangkabau craftsmen had been supplying arms for Aceh and the rest of northern Sumatra `from the earliest times', using the iron mined from Gunung Besi near Batu Sangkar. Sulawesi iron, rich in nickel, was exported to Java, where it was mixed with `ordinary' iron for kris manufacture. Kalimantan was another source of ore, especially the island of Karimata off its southwest coast. The seizure of Sukadana by Mataram (Java) in 1622 was probably intended to secure control of this source of iron. Karimata ores were `brown iron', ferromanganese, producing a hard steel, but low grade surface ores were also abundant in Borneo. These continued to be worked as isolated local operations into the 19th century. Upland peoples retained a knowledge of smelting long after iron production in other areas had gone into decline

 

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OLD BLADES - Malay World Edged Weapons.  Copyright 2000 - 2007
Revised: 2007-05-20