The endangered Indonesian dagger (kris)
According to legend, Ken Arok, founder of the 13th-century Hindu-Buddhist Singosari kingdom, won his throne through a series of murders accomplished with a wavy dagger called a kris. Ken Arok’s dagger was powerful but it was also cursed, and ultimately it also killed its owner.
In Indonesian trance rituals, celebrants in trance states may stab themselves with krises. (Krises are also found in Malaysia, Brunei, Southern Thailand and the southern Philippines.) I think the stabbing is mostly symbolic, as several observers report they result in little or no blood.
In 2005, UNESCO designated the kris a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. But not everyone shares this appreciation of the ritual object. A Southeast Asian Archaeology Newsblog reports:
According to Tony Junus Kartiko Adinegoro, head of Panji Nusantara, an organization of kris aficionados, … widespread irrational beliefs negatively impact the ability to preserve the kris as a cultural artifact.
“The preservation of kris in Indonesia is neglected because religious leaders do not understand the underlying philosophy of the kris.”
Believing kris’ have mystical powers and supernatural beings living inside them has caused Islamic leaders to tell people to stay away from them, Tony said.
“The cultural artifacts are thrown into the sea or destroyed, which saddens us.”
Krises are both artifacts of cultural heritage and works of art. They should always be treated with respect.
Some posts related to Southeast Asia:
Kris ritual image is courtesy elbisreverri’s photostream.