THE JAKARTA POST
Features – Leisure Wednesday, August 28, 1996 Page 9
Traditional Techniques Still Applied to kris-making
By Jimmy S Harianto
The 67-year old Empu Djeno Harumbrodjo, is the only empu – spiritually powerful kris maker – who still uses “traditional” methods.
According to his family tree, Djeno who lives in Gatak village, Moyudan Sleman, about 10 kilometers west of Yogyakarta, is the 15th descendent of one of the most well-known empu of the 14th century Majapahit Kingdom, Empu Jokosupo.
Djeno was still very young when he started helping his father, Supowinangun, who was also an empu at the keraton, the sultan’s palace. As he grew up, however, Djeno chose to work as a farmer in the rice fields.
He made this decision after his brother, Empu Yosopangarso, died in 1940, followed by the death of his other brothers, Genyo Dihardjo and Wignyo Sukoyo.
Djeno considered the hard work put into making the kris not warranted by the measly orders and high costs.
Only after meeting a German sailor in 1972 did Djeno consider taking up his family’s career again. The German, Dietrich Drescher, said he had long been interested in the making of kris, ever since he read some old books in the keraton library.
Thanks to Drescher’s encouragement, that year Djeno started building a besalen – a workshop for making kris – and embarked on his new profession at the age of 43!
Djeno currently maintains an “old style” in making his krisses. This involves the use of mysticism; he has to fast, present offerings and carry out a number of Javanese rituals, including conducting a gathering to ensure the success of the process, before and after the kris is made.
Two of Djeno’s masterpieces were ordered by the late Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX of the Yogyakarta sultanate. He made the first kris in 1984, and the second in 1985.
The reemergence of Empu Supowinangun’s family in the kris-making industry proved to invigorate the enthusiasm of kris makers in the neighboring city of Surakarta. What’s more, many of the kris makers who came up in Surakarta were young and eager to mix modern techniques and approaches with existing traditional methods.
Empu Djeno and the kris makers of Surakarta still use the old techniques: they heat layers of iron and nickel, forge the metal and “fold” it with hammers. They do this repeatedly until the layers form streaks of nickels. Unlike old times, however, they now use equipment such as electric grindstones, which help to increase the efficiency of their work.
“We don’t carry out the traditional rituals that Empu Djeno does because we take a more artistic approach and are more concerned with the beauty of the kris,” said Yantono, 45, a young empu from Surakarta. Yantono, who currently teaches kris technology at the Surakarta Academy of Arts (ISI, Institut Seni Indonesia), has developed the pamor technology to make it suitable for modern knives such as the Bowie model and the traditional Swedish Puoko…
Kris-making technology is now an optional subject for fifth semester students at the academy. Meanwhile, many students of the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) and Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University also study the metallic properties of the kris for their final papers.
“I need at least a month to make a high-quality kris. The longest part of the process is the finish, after the metal-forging is over,” Yantono said. His kris cost between Rp 1,5 million and Rp 6 million each.
However, the modern approach used by the empu from Surakarta currently faces constraints caused by problems in the domestic marketing of the product. Luckily, Yantono gets regular orders from Australian businessman, Alan Maisey for his pamor knives.
During the kris exhibition at Bentara Budaya Jakarta, Yantono also received an order from a businessman in Jakarta who distributes Japanese pamor weapons to the United States through Singapore.
The Javanese kris, at the end of the 20th century, seems to be casting an ancient spell on the global market.
* The writer is a journalist at Kompas Daily, and he had interviewed exclusively Empu Djeno at his home on August 1996.