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April 20, 2016

Cleaning a Kris to Rejuvenate Its Spirit

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – For those who have not been following these columns, a kris is a dagger-like weapon used by the Malays. It is used in a thrusting motion for offense and defensive purposes.


When the kris was forged, a spirit entered the kris and it became male or female. It also took on the ability to stand on its tip (see my Facebook page) by a person who also possesses a kindred spirit. A spirit imbued kris also was much more dangerous in battle.


A person who has this spirit can make the kris stand, those that do not cannot make the kris stand. This ability is known by the Malay word semangat. Sometimes, the spirit in the kris becomes weakened. The kris will not stand on its tip. Then, the kris needs to be cleaned.


We had obtained a rusty kris that has been buried for a few hundred years in dirt on Mount Santubong. The mountain has been a holy spot for the land Dayaks for at least a thousand years probably longer. It rises about 2,685 feet and looks out over the South China Sea. The kris had been given to us when we purchased two equally old spear heads with it.


We had met two Australians, who live on an island off the Queensland coast. He had experience in metal working and was knowledgeable in cleaning a kris. They stayed in Kuching because the monsoon season in tropical Australia was a bit much for them to take.


Mike was very interested in the kris and had done research on the item. I asked my wife if it was okay for them to clean the kris and she said it was find as long as I was with them. What that had to do with anything was beyond me, and I wasn't going to ask.


We needed some supplies. The list included pure soap, limes, banana trunk, a metal brush and very fine sandpaper. Kerry, Mike’s wife, who is into natural everything, provided the soap. Suriani's dad gave us the banana trunk from his kampong garden. The metal brush and the sandpaper was supplied by Mike, while I was in charge of buying the limes.


I walked a about a kilometer to the wet market which sells vegetables, fruits and meats. My wife wrote down the name, in Malay, limau nipis. I didn't see any limau nipis, so I asked an old Chinese man and he assured me the green oranges he was peddling were indeed limau nipis. I even went through the motions of pulling out an imaginary kris and cleaning it. I purchased 10 and I didn't see any problems with the purchase.


My wife hit the roof. They had to be limau nipis. The market closed at 10 a.m., so I rushed back and after a search where the Chinese yelled in Chinese language throughout the market if anyone had any. One person re-opened a box and I purchased 10 of them. She had a smirked on her face like "what would this white man want limau nipis for."


We had everything together and Mike and Kerry arrived. We chatted a bit while Suriani (my wife) cooked lunch. We started by cleaning the very rusty kris. We washed the kris very lovingly in soap and water. We used the brush and sandpaper and worked over the metal very carefully.


Next, we had to thrust the kris into the banana trunk and remove it all in one motion. Now, I don't know how many of you have ever thrust a machete into a banana plant trunk and pulled it out in one motion, but it isn't easy. I got it half way in and it stuck. I pushed in the other half and it stopped. Then I tried to pull it out. My wife looked at me with "like can't you do anything," and she thrust it in and out all in one motion.


We then cut the limau nipis (lime) in half and bathed the kris. This took about half an hour. We made sure every nook and cranny had been exposed. The rest of the rust dissolved. Toward the end, after wiping it off, we had nice clean kris.


The test came when my wife, who had the segamant (spirit) would try and stand the kris on its tip, which we hoped now had the segamant after the cleaning. It stood on the first try. My said the kris had a very strong spirit now.


We all sat down and had a nice lunch and she discussed the spirit world and how it mingles with inanimate objects. As a science person I would have poo-pooed the idea until I had seen it with my own eyes. Now I am not so sure.


...Life is good. . . . .


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