Keris Making In Kuala Kangsar, Perpetuating The Malay Heritage

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KUALA KANGSAR – A 66-year-old Abdul Mazin Abdul Jalil has always been interested
in Malay weapons particularly the Malay dagger, keris.

Pak Mazin, as he is better know, was even entrusted by Istana Negara to
produce the ‘keris hukum’ that is part of the royal regalia for the installation
of Tuanku Abdul Halim as the 14th Yang di-Pertuan Agong, which not only earned
him admiration in Kuala Kangsar but also around the country.

His unique work is highly sought after as he is among the crafters of Malay
weapons who still employ traditional methods to produce weapons what the Malays
consider as a symbol of strength and authority.


As he had started dabbling in keris-making at the age of 12, in the 1960s,
Pak Mazin who hails from Kampung Padang Changkat here has accumulated decades of
experience and knowledge in craftsmanship.

“While the metal is being heated, I can tell whether it is hot enough or not
without having to measure the temperature using a thermometer. It all comes with
experience. There’s a lot to learn,” he said.

In December 2015, he was once again entrusted with the task of producing
three keris replicas namely the ‘Keris Hukum Hulu Tapak Kuda’, ‘Keris Ulu Pekaka
Bersarung Gading Mata Luk Lima’ and a replica of the keris used by Tuanku Abdul
Rahman, the first Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

“I do receive a lot of orders from dignitaries and the palace. Orders from
the palace need to be done properly as the work is complicated and the final
product has to be a real fine one,” he explained.

“My knowledge comes from my grandfather, Pandak Lam, who is the son of
Tukang Mamat, who is the royal craftsman of Kuala Kangsar at the time. I am the
fourth generation. It’s not easy and there’s a lot to learn in making and caring
for the keris,” he continued.


According to Pak Mazin, the process of learning keris-making is a long one
that involves many stages.

“I began carving wood for the keris sheath before learning about the types
of metal used. There are three types namely soft iron, tempered steel and
undascened steel. Once familiar with the material then you can learn to heat up
and forge the metal.

“Equipment used for heating such as the furnace and the bellows are made by
me. I use wood such as cengal and merbau for burning. We need to heat and forge
the metal many times to thin out the keris,” he said.

To produce the blade, the craftsmen need to know the ‘tujuh pa’ metal
combination that represents the elements relating to valour and what is mixed
into the metal.

The mixed metal will be heated up and thinned out with seven pieces of the
metal tied together with a wire and heated up again to merge them. The process
of merging the metal must be done properly as this step is important in
producing a high quality keris.

“The real blade will have 15 layers of metal, seven each in the front and
back while a layer of steel in the middle alternated between soft iron and
undascened steel.

“Ironsmiths need to know the characteristics of metal so that the metal does
not break when heated, forged and shaped. We will heat the mixture until sparks
rise which signals that the metal is soft enough to be forged,” said Pak Mazin.


Once the blade has been shaped, Pak Mazin will place a mixture of sulfur,
fine salt and vinegar on the keris and let it sit for a week. This will allow
the striking lines and grooves to emerge on the keris.

He said the lines formed through the process determines the type of keris,
whether it is an ‘isi petai’, ‘beras tumpah’ or other variety.

“During this process, I will make the hilt, sheath and top sheath. Among the
types of wood used is kemuning and petai wood to ensure quality.

“There are types of hilts such as ‘jawa demam’, ‘ayam teleng’, ‘ayam sejuk’,
‘pinggang kerengga’, ‘tapak kuda’, ‘ulu pekaka’ and ‘buah jering’. Jawa demam is
not for us as our religion forbids the use of human figures so it was replaced
with another shape.

There are three categories in making the sheath; the upper portion of the
keris sheath, casing and the terminating end of the casing.

“There are two top sheaths, a sampan or sailboat shaped, while the casing is
the same for all keris. The end of the keris comes in three types namely
‘kasut’, ‘ekor lipas’ and ‘raga’ depending on the customer’s request.

“Raga was often used by dignitaries and noblemen and it was made from gold,
silver or copper,” said Pak Mazin who is also skilled in making other Malay
weapons like the golok.

Commoners, on the other hand, used top sheaths made from ivory or tusks.


Despite his advancing age, Pak Mazin never stopped encouraging the younger
generation to continue preserving the rich Malay heritage.

“The keris symbolises the power and the valour of the Malay people. Wearing
it symbolises the strength of self-defense. Don’t ever forget it. Now I have
people following in my footsteps.

“In the 1960s, there were 30 Malay weapons craftsmen with four skilled in
making keris. Now there are only four to six who can make Malay weapons, and I’m
the only one who makes keris,” said Pak Mazin who is dubbed as ‘pandai besi’
(blacksmith) of Kuala Kangsar.

The minimum price for a keris is between RM1,000 and RM5,000 depending on
the type and quality.

Pak Mazin is often invited to demonstrate keris making at the National
Museum, Selangor Museum and various universities.