He is a third generation keris maker and he may be the last as none of Pak Mazin's sons shows an interest in learning the craft, writes WILLIAM THADDAEUS.
Rising above the banks of the Sungai Perak is a village called Padang Changkat near Kuala Kangsar. Here lives a diminutive little man plying an art that has been passed down three generations — the art of keris-making. Mazin Abdul Jamil, in his early 50s, is one of the few masters in this traditional art.
The keris was a weapon used by warriors in the old days, but it gradually became a symbol of royalty or nobility and a part of the royal costume.Nowadays, anyone can buy a keris but be prepared to dig deep into your pocket because they don’t come cheap. That’s because the making of a keris takes at least a month, depending on the design, size and type of materials used. Sometimes, it requires the work of several artisans to put together a keris.
For instance, if you require silver or gold inlays, then a gold or silversmith would work on this. Prices range from RM500 to RM3,500 depending again on materials, size and design. The most expensive types of keris are those with a handle and casing carved out of ivory.
Mazin comes from a long line of keris makers. His grandfather, Pandak Mamat, arrived in Kuala Kangsar from Sumatra in the later part of 19th Century. The family has Javanese roots and his grandfather was said to be a royal swordmaker in Sumatra. When he died, his son, Pandak Mat Yunus, continued his craft.
Pandak Mat Yunus has many sons, but Mazin is the only one who has carried on with the family tradition till today. Fondly called Pak Mazin, he started learning to make keris at the tender age of 12. A few years later, he was already making miniatures under the watchful eye of his father.
By the time he was 25, he had acquired all the skills needed to not only make keris but also other types of weapons like lembing (spears) and golok (machetes), the specialty being the ceremonial “golok Perak”.
In the 1980s, when Sultan Azlan Shah was appointed Sultan of Perak, Pak Mazin and his father were commissioned by royal intermediaries to produce 16 pieces of keris. He was also requested to display 45 of his keris at the Pasir Salak Museum.
Pak Mazin has also made the keris for other royal families but today, his business comes mainly from avid collectors who acquire them not only for the beauty of the art but also to maintain and upgrade their collections. His customers come from all over the country and include foreigners, especially Europeans and Americans.
Between 1973 and 1980, he was invited by the National Museum, University of Malaya and Genting Highlands to give demonstrations of his skills and to showcase his products. Sadly, none of his children is keen to follow in his footsteps. However, that does not stop him from teaching the art to others. In fact, there is a steady stream of students from various universities and other learning institutions who come to learn under his tutelage.
According to Pak Mazin, making a keris is a very compartmentalised operation, starting with acquiring hardwoods from the jungle for the sarong (casing) and ulu (handles). Kemuning, sena, petai belalang and surian are some of his favourite woods. Then begins the process of carving and polishing them, but probably the most difficult part of the whole process is the making of the bilah (blade). For this, he has to forge seven types of metals over a hot fire in his workshop and to hammer the blade into the required shape.
Pak Mazin lives in the village with some of his 12 children. In recognition of his skills, the government has, recently, helped finance the building of a small showroom next to his house where visitors can view his works or make a purchase.So the next time you visit Kuala Kangsar, make a detour to Padang Changkat to visit the master keris maker.
Text and Pictures by William Thaddaeus
Sourced from http://www.nst.com.my/Current_News/TravelTimes/article/HeritageCulture/20080428151018/Article/index_html