In the world of the Silat Melayu, the keris (a wavy bladed dagger or knife) is the principal weapon of defence and offence. It is a deadly weapon unique to the Malay world, and in the centuries past, it was the dreaded weapon of the Melayu, and normally carried around by the adult men especially for self-defence purpose.
Those were the days when carrying a keris was a normal thing, akin, in the western world, to the days of the cowboys when carrying pistols were normal and rife.
In the old days, a keris once taken out of its sheath must “taste" blood, as they say, and if not the enemy’s, the owner's blood. So, it is not a plaything - it is a deadly weapon to be respected. Some say that the blade of the keris, to be effective, must be laced with arsenic, so that once the enemy is stabbed, his days are numbered. Those were during the old days.
Nowadays, however, the keris is sometimes regarded as a status symbol only, with elaborate designs and expensive stones embedded. It is nowadays worn by the groom during traditional Melayu weddings, and as ceremonial dressing and ornamental accompaniments by high public officials and royalties, during traditional ceremonies and public occasions.
Many Melayu families today keep the ancestral keris, which had been handed or passed down from their ancestors and from one generation to another as family heirlooms and as, perhaps, a memento of their ancestors' glorious and rich past.
The Mystique of the Keris
The keris nowadays can be bought at shops and malls selling traditional Melayu costumes and products. However as a weapon for use in a fight or battle, not just any keris will do for the owners. To ensure that the keris is compatible with the owner, and would give him certain mystical, and perhaps supernatural, powers, the keris must be custom-made and molded based on certain calculations and measurements of the owner’s body.
For instance, the number of waves for the blade of the keris is based on such measurements, and therefore you might find that a keris might be longer or shorter than normally expected.
As the keris is made based on the owner’s requirements, specific measurements and temperaments, its weight and length would also be dependent on the calculations made, to ensure its compatibility with the owner.
And to ensure invulnerability and to bring good luck to the owners, ancient iron implements found or deliberately sought were re-smelted and used in the manufacture of the blades of the keris. In fact, in the olden days, no keris was really lucky (or “bertuah” in Bahasa Melayu), unless it was at least in part, composed of a prehistoric iron implement.
Preservation of the Keris
In the old Melayu world, the owner of the keris, in order to preserve its effectiveness, would carry out certain rites or prayers, and it is usual to “smoke” the keris with kemenyan (fragrant incense) and to cleanse or wipe it with the limau kasturi (Citrus microcarpa, a lime fruit) juice, every Friday night.
And a keris is never sharpened after it is made and given to the owner, not even, as they say, after it had been used to stab opponents. Therefore it is unlike the work implements such as the machete, knives or other sharp object used as utensils for work, which has to be sharpened after use.
Shape of the Keris
Normally the handle of a keris has elaborate carvings as the hilt and the normal creature carving is birdlike called the jawa demam. The blade of the keris is wavy and has different numbers of waves depending on the owner’s criteria.
From the structure of the handle, we can see that the keris is used only to be held in one hand. It cannot, and is not meant to be held by two hands unlike the big swords of the western world.
The usage of the keris is therefore in consonance with silat movements where the hand is used in combat with or without the keris in hand. A keris in hand would however be an added advantage.
The sheath (or 'home') of the keris is also an art form and a beauty to behold. It is normally made of wood with silver or iron coverings at its mouth, and mostly with carved designs.
Most Famous Keris
Various names based on their origin and owners are given to the keris. “Keris melela” is a variation of the keris, which in the old days in Pahang, was used as a weapon by the Melayu of Pekan (a town).
Like pets, owners of kerises often give names to their keris, as a sign of affection and respect, and, if they have a few as is normal then, to distinguish between the different kerises they own.
One of the most famous kerises that has been recorded in the Malay history books is named “Taming Sari”. It is said that with this keris, Hang Tuah became invulnerable or invincible, and he defeated all opponents with this keris in his hand.
During his battle with Hang Jebat, the Taming Sari was in fact in the possession of Hang Jebat, as he had taken it during Hang Tuah’s exile. Hang Tuah was only able to defeat and killed Hang Jebat only after he had tricked Hang Jebat into exchanging their kerises. The story of this fight is depicted in the Malay epic “Hikayat Hang Tuah”.
Crime Rounds & Execution of Criminals
In the old days (in the 1800s), in Pahang, capital offences included treason, murder, amok, arson and even adultery. The old version of the modern police force in Pahang is the “juak-juak" or “hamba raja”, of the Bendahara’s (perhaps equivalent to the Prime Minister nowadays) police, who usually went around apprehending criminals armed with a short keris (“keris pendek”) and a spear.
There were different methods of execution in the 1800s and early 1900s in Pahang. The most common way was death by the keris. The convicted criminal was stabbed with the long execution keris provided by the Bendahara – the famous keris penyalang of Koris (now said to be part of the Pahang State regalia). Although it sounds gory, it was said that death by the keris was actually one of the more humane forms of execution practised then.
For instance, in those days an amok is to be stabbed by the hurling of javelins. A woman convicted of adultery was strangled to death, and crimes involving betrayal of trust required the criminal to be crucified and the body thrown to the sea.
And criminals were also subject to other forms of capital punishment such as through drowning the criminal by attaching stones to the body, or tying his neck and dragging him in the river using a boat until he drowns.
Other Weapons Used in Silat Melayu
While the keris is the chief weapon of the Malays, there are other knifes or blades used in silat, such as the badik, tekpi, kerambit, parang, sundang, sabit (sickle), lembing and also sticks.
Parang or Golok Pahang (or Pahang machete) is a weapon made by the Pekan people of Pahang. In the old days Pahang was famous for the manufacture of fine machetes or golok and it was recorded in history books (in late 1490s) that Sultan Mahmud of Melaka sent a Pahang machete as one of his presents to the Pasai sultan.
The “lading” is a weapon used by the exponents of Silat Cekak Hanafi, which originated from the Malaysian state of Kedah Darul Aman. The shape of the lading is like a meat butcher’s knife with a short handle and a wide and sharp blade.
The lading however is used only for defence purposes, and not for attack. It is consonant with the philosophy of Silat Cekak Hanafi that its martial arts form is only for self-defence purposes and that also includes the use of its main and unique weapon, the lading. The “lading” is given as an honor and award to those Silat Cekak Hanafi exponents who have reached the highest level of the silat art.
And just like the keris whose effectiveness to the owner would depend on it being customised based on certain body measurements, the lading is also measured and custom-made based solely on the person using it. Therefore it could not be handed down as a hereditary weapon to the son, for example, as its effectiveness is compromised.
Uses of Weapons in Silat
The use of weapons in Silat, unless the art is specifically to teach the use of the particular weapon, is taught by the master to his students only at the highest level of the silat. This is to ensure that the student has mastered at least the basic techniques and movements of the silat before he is taught the use of weapon which is more difficult and perhaps more dangerous.
But most of all, the use of a weapon is taught to a student when the master has known the student intimately, his character, temperament, etc., and has assured himself that the student will not misuse or abuse the knowledge for evil gains.
So only those students who have gained the complete trust and faith of the master in that they will use the knowledge for good intentions and purposes only are taught the highest level of the weapons’ techniques and movements.
Written by Mohd Yamin
Sourced from http://www.pahang-delights.com/deadly-weapons-silat.html