VIRTUAL COLLECTION OF ASIAN MASTERPIECES

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Kris or keris, a dagger with ceremonial and ritual implications
MELRK 24173
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

Because of its age and early history, having been connected to the curiosity cabinet of Duke Fredrik III of Holstein-Gottorp

History of the Object
This particular keris belonged to the Swedish Queen, Hedvig Eleonora (1636-1715). The keris is mentioned in an inventory made by the Swedish Royal Armoury in 1696, which, in translation, describes “5 small “pungiorter” (the Swedish rendering of the poignards, French for dagger) with flame or wave-shaped blades, with accompanying sheaths of wood. One of these poignards has a hilt of ebony, one has an antler hilt and three have wooden hilts. All of them were graciously donated by Her Majesty the Queen Dowager”. The father of Queen Hedvig Eleonora, Duke Fredrik III of Holstein-Gottorp was well known for his library and “Kunstkammer” (Curiosity cabinet). In 1649 the famous and well-travelled mathematician, astronomer and ethnographer at the ducal court, Adam Olearius (1603-1671), became the librarian. It is not unlikely that the five “poignards”, i.e. kerises, come from this Curiosity Cabinet. They probably reached Holstein-Gottorp from Holland, from which place the first expedition to the East Indies was sent in 1595. The shaping of the keris’ hilt indicates that the dagger probably originated in Java. The ethnographic objects of the collections found in the Royal Armoury are long since deposited to the Museum of Ethnography.

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Type
Other 
Materials
Iron, nickel, ebony 
Measurements
Width 3,4cm Length 46 cm  
Creator name
Unknown 
Creator date
Unknown 
Where it was made
Indonesia; Java 
Geography
Indonesia 
Time period
AD 17th century ~ AD 17th century 
Creation date
17th Century; probably 
Function
The kris or keris is a type of dagger known from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. A keris is characterised by two specific features: the blade is asymmetric and is made of layer upon layer of iron mixed with nickel or meteorite iron containing nickel, which is worked into a watered pattern, pamor, on the blade itself. The keris was forged into a weapon for defence, sudden attack, or official execution. A well-made keris is considered to have, kasekten - cosmic energy, which manifests itself as an inherent power in the blade, giving it the ability to avert sickness, danger and sudden death as well as conferring happiness and good fortune. This could explain the surviving tradition on Java to bring your favourite dagger on long journies or to important meetings. However, a keris that is too “powerful” for its owner will bring him unhappiness. The character of the keris should correspond to that of its owner. The shape and decoration of the blade must also be suitable to the owner’s social position. Keris and owner are thus so intertwined that the keris of a man even can act as his deputy. This can be illustrated with the earlier custom of wedding a bride of lower social status than the groom with his keris. 
Acquisition
Long term deposit by the Royal Armoury. Original history, see below. 
Copyright
© Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm 
Acknowledgements
Tony Sandin, Ann Olsén and Ulla Edberg of the Museum of Ethnography for providing and adjusting photographs and for assisting in transferring the material to the ASEMUS web site. 
Owner
Swedish Royal Armoury • Museum of Ethnography 
Museum
Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm 
Credit line
Entry based on text by Elisabet Lind; translated by Johan Fresk; edited and provided details by Håkan Wahlquist 

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