Malaysian keris-maker keeps spark of weapons craftsmanship alive


By AGENCY

'To learn this craft is to have passion and patience for it. Only then will your work be neat and perfect, ' says Wan Islahuddin. Photo: Bernama

Despite having slightly blurred vision due to a fire sparks accident in 2015, traditional blacksmith Islahuddin Wan Ali, 41, isn't slowing down. He continues his passion in making traditional Malay weapons, especially the keris.

Fondly known as Pak Teh among locals, the man who hails from Kampung Salong, Chini (a traditional village on the coast of the Sungai Pahang) is no stranger to the traditional blacksmith fraternity in Pahang, especially in the Pekan district.

Before deciding to pursue this art seriously, Wan Islahuddin worked as a welder for almost 10 years in an oil and gas (O&G) company.

The art of metal craftsmanship has been his passion since childhood. But Wan Islahuddin, a father of three, only began to venture into this traditional craft seven years ago after coming home from the city in 2013 to take care of his mother in his hometown.

Initially, in his spare time, he'd revive his interest by studying with a traditional artisan in Kuantan, and did not think the art could turn into a commercial business.

"To learn this craft is to have passion and patience for it. Only then will your work be neat and perfect," says Wan Islahuddin.

Wan Islahuddin says the varieties of keris he produces comprise ‘Kris Lurah’, ‘Sepukal Lurut’, ‘Tulang Bulat’ and ‘Sepukal Tulang’. Photo: BernamaWan Islahuddin says the varieties of keris he produces comprise ‘Kris Lurah’, ‘Sepukal Lurut’, ‘Tulang Bulat’ and ‘Sepukal Tulang’. Photo: Bernama

His craftsmanship is in demand and has its own uniqueness as he is among the few who still adopts traditional methods to produce these old world Malay weapons.

The price of a keris without a sheath sells for between RM350 and RM2,000 per piece, depending on the type, iron, size and engraving.

He says the process of making a keris involves welding, moulding, shaping, forging, hammering and engraving on a keris, and to create a quality dagger, the process takes time depending on size, curve and intricacy.

"It takes at least two weeks to make a simple keris, but there is a kind of dagger which the Pahang people often say ‘cendeng' (problematic) because it can take up to seven months to complete just one.

Wan Islahuddin wants to pass on the art of making the keris to the next generation so that it will not be forgotten. Photo: Bernama Wan Islahuddin wants to pass on the art of making the keris to the next generation so that it will not be forgotten. Photo: Bernama

"Other weapons such as knives and machetes are easier to make as they are for everyday use, which is often in keeping with the basic design," he explains.

Wan Islahuddin adds the varieties of keris he produces include ‘Kris Lurah’, ‘Sepukal Lurut’, ‘Tulang Bulat’ and ‘Sepukal Tulang’, which are all different in size, curve and intricacy.

In addition to making the keris, he also crafts the lelawi ayam (where the rear end is shaped like a rooster’s head), badik (developed by the Bugis and Makassar people), pedang (sword), kerambit (small curved knife) and tumbuk lada (mainly found in Sumatra, Riau and Siak and can be held upwards and downwards) in which he also receives orders online through Instagram and Facebook.

Wan Islahuddin examines the intricate details of a keris made in his workshop. Photo: BernamaWan Islahuddin examines the intricate details of a keris made in his workshop. Photo: Bernama

He wants to pass on the art of making the keris to the next generation so that the craftsmanship, which is believed to have existed for over 700 years, will not be forgotten.

In addition, Wan Islahuddin, who is still using the traditional method of moulding, is also seeking financial contributions to help him obtain a RM70,000 moulder machinery that could also create jobs.

"It can be a source of income, for example, if we have the machinery we can hire two or three people to help. It is possible that they could be our future blacksmiths because there are only a handful of skilled craftsmen left in Pahang," he concludes. - Bernama

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