On the Role of Krises in Indonesian Culture and Theories of Their Beginnings

  • Krzysztof Morawski (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


As the dagger kris is bound with many beliefs, myths, rituals and customs that are typical of Nusantara (Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines), it belongs to the symbols of the region. The kris is present on the majority of bigger islands of the Malay Archipelago and has many regional versions. It has a double-edged blade, straight or wavy, and dissymmetrical in the upper part. On both flats of the blade there is a bright, decorative pattern called the pamor (it contains some nickel), which is produced in a process similar to damascening. The hilt is figural or geometrical or sometimes of plant form and is often decorated with a relief. The hilts and sheaths are made of lacquered wood, and now and then of other materials (e.g. ivory or bone). Additionally, there are covers and rings of precious metals or alloys that are often set with precious stones or glass. It was believed that magical forces (ascribed to the kris) are sealed within in it during the ceremony of consecration by the smith empu. Also, the process of making the kris is treated as a sacred act. Believing in the magical powers of the kris originates from animism, i.e. from the epoch former to the Indic influence (from about the 4th
century AD), which brought Buddhism and Hinduism to Indonesia. Elements of the animistic belief has remained there despite the coming of Islam to Java by the 16th century. The kris used to be transferred from father to son and it has belonged to the pusaka (Javanese: “heritage”) along with other weaponry, instruments of the traditional orchestra gamelan (gongs included), jewelry, textiles, old sculptures and porcelain. Apart from its role as a weapon (this role disappeared first), the kris has been a symbol of social status, an element of a man’s ceremonial costume, a talisman, and a ritual subject. It has existed in its fully developed form at least since the 14th century, and in the 2nd half of that century it spread to nearly all the Malaya Archipelago. It was supposed that the kris came from Java, or - according to other versions - China, Southeast Asia or India. There were theories that it had developed from a ray’s sting or from a spearhead. Nowadays one accepts the G.C. Woolley theory from 1947 that the kris traces its origin back to the small kris-talisman called sajen or Majapahit kris. Next, according to the new theory by A. Maisey (from the 1990ies), it was a big war-kris called buda that gave rise to the contemporary kris. Nevertheless, there is an idea that the kris may have originated as a fusion of both types, because it unites their features within itself