Indonesian Kris

The kris or keris is a distinctive, asymmetrical dagger from Indonesia. Both a weapon and spiritual object, krises are often considered to possess magical powers. The earliest krises known were made around 1360 AD and most probably spread from the island of throughout Southeast Asia. 


Kris blades are usually narrow with a wide, asymmetrical base. The different metals formed into the blade give the steel its distinctive ‘watered’ appearance called pamor. The sheath is often made from wood, though examples from ivory, even gold, abound. A kris' aesthetic value covers the dhapur (the form and design of the blade, with around 150 variants), the pamor (the pattern of metal alloy decoration on the blade, with around 60 variants), and tangguh referring to the age and origin of a kris. A blade smith, or empu, makes the blade in layers of different iron ores and meteorite nickel. Some blades can be made in a relatively short time, while more legendary weapons take years to complete. In high quality kris blades, the metal is folded dozens or hundreds of times and handled with the utmost precision. Empu are highly respected craftsmen with additional knowledge in literature, history, the occult, etc.

Krises were worn everyday and at special ceremonies, with heirloom blades being handed down through successive generations. Both men and women wear them, though those for women are smaller. A rich spirituality and mythology developed around the weapon. Krises are used for display, as talismans with magical powers, weapons, sanctified heirloom, auxiliary equipment for court soldiers, as an accessory for ceremonial dress, an indicator of social status, a symbol of heroism, etc.

Until the 1990s, kris-making activities in Java had almost come to a standstill due to economic difficulties and changing socio-cultural values. However, thanks to several concerned kris experts, the tradition is being revived and kris craftsmanship has increased again.

Over the past three decades, krises have lost their prominent social and spiritual meaning in society. Although active and honoured empus who produce high quality krises in the traditional way can still be found on many islands, their number is dramatically decreasing, and it is more difficult for them to find successors to whom they may transmit their skills.