In my quest to explore the non-touristy side of Indonesia I recently took a day-trip out to Banyusumurup, a small village located southeast of Yogyakarta and home to dozens of skilled craftsmen that still produce the renowned keris. Although the village itself is well off the beaten path, the keris themselves — despite their rich history and cultural significance — are nowadays almost exclusively produced as tourist souvenirs and sold throughout the country.
A keris (pronounced with a silent ‘e’ and also occasionally spelled kris) is a traditional dagger of Indonesia. In the past it was carried both as a weapon and a spiritual object. They were often considered to possess magical powers, especially if the owner were to find the keris — or more properly put, the keris were to find its owner.
Once you know what to look for keris can be seen in stone carvings and bas-relief panels, not just in Indonesia but also Malaysia and many other countries throughout Southeastern Asia.
Finding Banyusumurup was a bit tricky. I knew the general area but after cruising around on my motorcycle for half an hour I still couldn’t find the village. So I backtracked to the outskirts of Bantul and asked several locals, all of which had no idea exactly where it was. Finally I got lucky when asking employees of a handphone store — turns out one of them was actually from Banyusumurup. She hopped on her motorbike and in no time at all had led me out to her village.
After asking a few of her village members she managed to find one family that not only was willing to take me in and show me the process, but also to allow me to photograph the keris in various stages of production.
So How Do The Locals Make These Daggers?
No one person makes an entire keris by themselves; it is a group effort. All the pieces — blade, handle, and sheath — are created separately and then the village pengepul (collectors) gather the individual pieces and assemble them together into the finalized keris.
Unfortunately I was unable to see the blade-making process, as no blacksmith was working that day. But I was able to observe the rest of it.
Handles are often carved into ornate designs and decorated with (artificial) gemstones.
The sheath is split into two pieces. The upper portion is sanded smooth and given several thick coats of lacquer. The bottom half is left rough. It is hollowed out to make a space for the blade and then the exterior is covered in cloth and encased in a metal cover. In the past these covers were often adorned with precious metals such as brass, silver, and even gold. As such the status and wealth of a person could be determined just by the look of their keris. However nowadays as the vast majority of these are made for souvenirs they are of a much simpler design.
Once all of the individual pieces are completed it is up to the pengepul to assemble them into the final product. Those are in turn sold to middlemen who distribute the keris to souvenir shops through Indonesia. I’ve seen some selling for as much as 4,000,000 rupiah (roughly $400USD) but I picked up mine for only 100,000 IDR ($10USD). Plus I feel so much better giving my money to a local family that does the actual work, instead of the middlemen and souvenir hawkers.
And Behold…The Completed Keris!
More ornate, sacred keris are still made by the village elder. Those must undergo a much more strict process of rituals before and during production. Only a few are made every year, usually for high-ranking government officials who can afford the exorbitant costs.
For more information please view the Katalog Keris Powerpoint presentation
Parijan, Banyusumurup RT.04 Girirejo, Imogiri / Bantul, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
+62 (0274) 940 6874
20 thoughts on “Banyusumurup Traditional Village: Home Of The Keris”
They say each kris @ keris has its own spirit/protector and there are ways to prove it. 😉
You are so very right Erika! I actually wanted to elaborate more about that in the article but I didn’t get around to it. There are just so many different angles and beliefs to cover that I felt I was rambling off-topic But that’s a good point, it is definitely interesting stuff indeed! Maybe I will have to edit/update this post with a little more information…
Yeah, you should! It’s an interesting topic indeed. I look forward to read about your experiences. Did you manage to witness the existence of those spirits/protectors? If you did, that’s pretty cool and eerie at the same time! 😀
That’s cool Derek! We watch mainly people making local food while traveling, once though we visited a local guy that makes guitars from scratch, that was in Italy and was pretty awesome, we loved it!
That sounds amazing, right up my alley! Did you ever include that in one of your posts? Would love to see some photos of handmade guitars in the works 🙂
I can see why it can cost so much. Interesting find Derek! 🙂
Thanks Salika. Coming soon will be another post on Singapore — on how to NOT spend a lot of money but still have a great time 😉
The kris is not just traditional to Indonesia. In fact it probably has it’s origins in the Riau-Lingga islands around Malaysia, and then spread to Indonesia. In Malaysia, the kris symbolises the authority of rulers and the purity of warriors. The original kris blade construction actually requires the tempering and hammering of two different types of alloy, clearly lost in the Indonesian form.
Hey Kris, thanks for your comment. Yup, I mentioned (briefly) in the post about how the kris can be found throughout SE Asia, not just in Indonesia. But you are right, the kris currently made strictly as souvenirs has a much simpler blade. However the sacred kris still made by the village elder in the traditional way do have blades made of multiple types of alloy. In fact some blades take several months or even years to complete. There are also other strict requirements and methods of production — such as fasting by the craftsmen prior to starting work and not speaking during the process. Only a few of these sacred kris are produced every year, always by custom order. (Hence the reason they cost tens of millions of rupiah and are usually only purchased by high-ranking government officials.)
Pretty sweet stuff, I love to watch craftsmen at work. YOu can see the love an attention they put into their work. It’s a shame you couldn’t see the blades being made, that would have been pretty badass.
Same here Kenin, on both counts. You really gain much more of an appreciation for the traditional arts when you see the artist(s) putting their blood, sweat, and tears in the craft. I have halfway been thinking about going back to Banyu Sumurup just to see the blacksmith at work but don’t know if I will have the time…
Wow, the end product is beautiful!
I spent time with a Sami learning how they make knives from reindeer antlers and I was so interesting!
Oh that sounds amazing indeed! One of these days I’ll have to cross paths with you two and swap travel stories 🙂
Hello Derek, Im very interested in travel around Banyusumurub. Could you send me an email with some information, please. Thank you very much !! 🙂
Pretty cool mate, never really knew about the history of the Kris of “Keris” as you bestowed new knowledge upon me. Tis’ a shame you couldn’t see them make it!
I know Ryan, my thoughts exactly. I’ve been wanting to go back again specifically for that reason hehehe 😉
It really is a fascinating subject. Knowing a bit about the background of something like this makes it so much more interesting.
I completely agree Kathryn! Thanks for stopping by and learning a li’l about the Keris 🙂