From Academic Kids

The kris or keris is a distinctive, asymmetrical dagger endemic to Malaysia and Indonesia. Both a weapon and spiritual object, krises are often considered to have an essence or presence, with some blades possessing good luck, while other possess bad.

The kris spread from the island of Java throughout the archipelago of Indonesia and even to the Southeast Asian areas now known as Malaysia, Brunei, Southern Philippines, Cambodia, Southern Thailand, and Vietnam.


1 Moro kris
2 External links

Kris vs. keris

The term keris comes from the Malay and means ‘dagger.’ Kris is a European rendering of this Malay term. As noted by Frey (2003), kris is the more frequently used term. The correct term, keris, is justified by the title of the Enskilopedi Keris (Keris Encyclopedia) by the late Bambang Harsrinuksmo. Some collectors prefer keris, others kris. Older spellings include cryse, crise and criss.

Blade and fittings

Kris blades are usually narrow and have a wide, asymmetrical base. Blade length is highly variable. The blade is made from different iron ores and often contains nickel. A bladesmith, or empu, makes the blade in layers of different metal. Some blades can be made in a relatively short time, while more legendary weapons can take years or even a lifetime to complete. The different metals formed into the blade give the steel its distinctive ‘watered’ appearance. This is called pamor or pamir and is similar in concept to Damascus and Japanese steel. Blades are acid etched after forging to bring out the brilliance and darkness of the metals used. Iron ore sources are rare in some areas of the Malay world, especially in areas of Java. Empus are very resourceful in finding blade materials and have used everything from meteorite iron (rare and highly prized in blades) to scrap from fallen World War II aircraft. Kris blades can be straight or sinuous. With sinuous blades, the bends are called luks. Most krises have fewer than 13 luks and there will always be an odd number.

A kris and its sheath have many parts. The names for these parts vary by region, but for the most part, these are the standard terms: ukiran – handle/hilt; patra – handle carvings (especially on Javan ukiran); selut – metallic cap on the ukiran (not on all krises); mendak – metal cup on the tang between the ukiran and the blade guard; wilah – blade; pocok – blade point; peksi – tang; ganja – guard/parrying structure; wrangka – the wide, top portion of the sheath; gandar – the narrow portion of the sheath; pendok – a metal sleeve for the gandar; buntut- end of the pendok.

The ukiran and the sheath are often made from wood, though examples from ivory, even gold, abound. Different regions in Southeast Asian produce different styles of wilah, ukiran and sheaths. One beautiful material used for some ukiran and wrangka was fossilized elephant teeth. A tooth would be cut to transect the enamel folds and polished. The result was a stunning work of art.


Frey (2003) concludes from Raffles’(1817) study of the Candi Sukuh (Candi is pronounced chundi in Malay) that the kris recognized today came into existence around AD 1361. Scholars, collectors and others have formed myriad theories about the origins of the kris. Some believe the form that is credited with being the earliest form of the kris, the keris majapahit, was inspired by the daggers of the Dong-Son in Vietnam (circa 300 BC). Frey (2003) dismisses the Dong-Son origin of the majapahit. Unverifiable claims of another form predating the majapahit exist. Kris history is traced through study of carvings and bas relief panels found in Southeast Asia. One of the more famous renderings of a kris appears on the Borobudur temple.


Functionally, the kris is not a slashing weapon like a bowie knife or other fighting knife, but rather a stabbing instrument. The kris was mostly out-matched against anything other than another kris. If a kris fighter had stealth on his side, the kris was lethal. There are many stories of a kris being made especially for killing a specific person.

One of the most famous folk stories from Java describes a legendary kris bladesmith, called Mpu Gandring, and his impatient customer, Ken Arok. Ken Arok wanted to order a powerful Kris to kill the chieftain of Tumapel, Tunggul Ametung. Ken Arok eventually stabbed the old bladesmith to death because he kept delaying the scheduled completion of the kris, which Ken Arok had probably ordered several months before. Dying, the bladesmith prophesied that the unfinished or incomplete kris would kill seven men, including Ken Arok. The prophecy finally came true, and the unfinished kris of Mpu Gandring disappeared.

Krises were worn everyday and at special ceremonies, with heirloom blades being handed down through successive generations. Yearly cleanings, required for as part of the spirituality and mythology around the weapon, often leaves ancient blades worn and thin. In everyday life and at events, a man usually only wore one kris. Women sometimes also wore krises, though of a smaller size than a man’s. In battle, a man would wear three krises: one of his own, one from his father-in-law and one a family heirloom. The other krises served as parrying daggers. If the warrior didn’t have another kris to parry with, he used the sheath. Krises were often broken in battle and required repairs. A warrior’s location determined what repair materials he had. It isn’t unusual to find a kris with fittings from several areas. For example, a kris may have a blade from Java, a handle from Bali and a sheath from Madura.

In many parts of Malaysia and Indonesia, the kris was the weapon for execution. The specialized kris, called an executioner’s kris, had a long, straight, slender blade. The condemned knelt before the executioner, who placed a wad of cotton or similar material of the subject’s shoulder/clavicle area. The kris blade was inserted through the material and entered the body behind the clavicle. The blade pierced the subclavian artery and the heart. Upon withdrawal, the cotton wiped the blade clean. Death was fairly quick.

Spiritual power

Discussing the essence of the kris is a complicated topic. For the most part, blades were consider to almost be alive in some cases, or at the very least holders of special powers. Krises could be tested two ways. A series of cuts on a leaf, based on blade width and other factors, could determine if a blade was good or bad. Also, if the owner slept with the blade under their pillow and had a bad dream, the blade was unlucky and had to be taken away. It is important to note that just because a blade was bad for one person didn’t mean it would be bad for another. Harmony between the owner and the kris was critical.

Some krises helped prevent fires, death, agricultural failure and myriad other problems. Likewise, they could do more than prevent problems; some krises brought on fortuitous harvests and other events. Krises could also have tremendous killing power. There are legends of krises moving around on their own and killing individuals they disliked. When making a blade, the empu could infuse into the blade any special spiritual qualities and powers the owner desires.

Because some krises are considered sacred, and people believe they contain magical powers, specific rites needed to be completed to avoid calling down evil fates. For example, pointing a kris at someone is thought to mean that they will die soon, so in ceremonies or demonstrations where ritualized battles are fought with real krises, the fighters will perform a ritual which includes touching the point of the blade to the ground to neutralize this effect.

Moro kris

A Moro kris is a heavy sword with an asymmetrical blade approximately 50cm long. It may or may not be sinuous.

External links


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