14 July 2008

Keris at Okinawa Temple

SOMETHING DIFFERENT: A staff member of the Okinawa Prefecture
Archaeological Centre showing the blade of the keris found at the Enkakuji Temple grounds.

OKINAWA: An ancient blade of a keris found recently at the royal Enkakuji Temple grounds near the 15th century Shurijo Castle might unravel the ties the Malay world had with these southwestern islands of Japan.

As the war-ravaged Enkakuji Temple was being restored, construction workers stumbled upon a protruding porcelain pot handle at a spot where offerings were made to the gods.

The ensuing archaeological dig unearthed nine other items, including the wavy blade of a keris, foreign to this part of the world.

Historians believe the keris could be from either Melaka or Jawa as Okinawa and its surrounding islands under the old Kingdom of Ryukyus had diplomatic and trade ties with ancient cities and ports in Asia, including Melaka, before it became a part of Japan in 1879.

The blade measuring 22.1cm from the tip to hilt was found without the handle and sheath, as the wooden parts had been destroyed.

According to the Okinawa Prefecture Archaeological Centre officials the blade was found buried along with other items, including a clay plate with carvings of a dragon shaped boat, a glazed pot, a gold-plated door hinge and a metal door skirting.

The castle restoration work started in 1989 and the Shurijo Park was opened to public in 1992 while restoration work at the temple is still ongoing.

Prof Dr Kurayoshi Takara a historian from the University of The Ryukyus said the discovery had not been publicised much and is unknown to people outside Okinawa and Japan.

He believes the discovery of the blade of a keris would spark international interest among historians and archaeologists to determine its origin.

“I personally believe it could have been from Melaka because the Ryukyus Kingdom had started trading with Melaka in the 15th century,” said Prof Takara, who has been to Malaysia and Melaka to carry out research on the ancient ties the Kingdom of Ryukyus had with Southeast Asian kingdoms.

From historical records, Prof Takara said, the Ryukyus had started trading with Siam (Thailand), between 1425 and 1570, Melaka (1463-1511), Patani (Southern Thailand) (1490-1543) and several other areas in Indonesia (Palembang, Jawa and Sumatra) and Cambodia.

“Records also indicate Ryukyuan junks went to Melaka every year for 49 years and carried out trade with local merchants, Arabs and Indians.

“They would bring gold, silver, copper, tin, and Chinese ceramic from mainland Japan and China and trade them for ivory and wine,” he said, adding that there were also correspondence between the rulers of Melaka and Ryuyukus.

Malacca was also known for its high quality wine (believed to be nipah wine), but later years Ryukyuans started buying it from Thailand when Melaka stopped making it.

By Devid Rajah
Sourced from the Star Online, June 26, 2003

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