Balinese Keris

Keris in Bali

While living in Bali in 1973, I bought 130 antique keris from two knowledgeable dealers who stopped by my bungalow at Puri Agung, Peliatan, whenever they thought they had one or two that might interest me. In most cases, only the blade was available, as the handles and sheaths had been previously sold. But many of those blades have proved to be remarkable examples of the rare art of the Balinese keris maker.

I gave a few away before leaving at the end of that year, shipped the rest home, and did little with them until about a decade ago. As I returned to Bali more frequently after 2009, I always brought a few with me. I’m now working with a network of craftsmen dedicated to transforming an old rusty keris blade into a gloriously renewed artifact of ancient tradition.

Among them are ironsmiths and keris workers who repair and restore old blades and sheaths; carvers of wood, bone, moose antler, and whale-teeth who fashion new handles; workers in brass, silver, and gold, who decorate sheaths in traditional motifs and create miniature figurative sculptures exquisitely designed both to fit a hand and sit atop a sheathed blade like it was born to the position.

The photos in the slide show on this page show these craftsmen in their forges, workshops, and studios.

All the photos are by Anggara Mahendra of Denpasar, Bali. All are copyrighted; please contact Bali Arts via the contact page if you are interested in using any of them.