Indonesian Kriss


19th century

Indonesia, Sumatra ? Uncertain provenance.

Iron, wood and ivory

Inv. No. GC.ARM.12a.1899.38136


The kriss consists of a long elongated dagger or sword with a straight or sinuous blade sharpened on both edges. When the blade is sinuous, the number of its curves is always odd. The choice of this form depends on the status and function of the patron.

The oldest known kriss were made in the 14th century in Java, where they probably originated, and spread to the rest of the Indonesian archipelago, the Malay Peninsula and the southern Philippines. However, very early known representations of kriss are already found on bas-reliefs in the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan (9th century) in Central Java. The kriss became popular in the 16th century, with the Islamisation of Java and the development of commercial traffic on the coasts of Southeast Asia. For the record, until 1910, two kriss were represented on the national flag of the Kingdom of Thailand.

Charged with magical powers, the weapon is also a ritual object. It belongs to only one owner who is spiritually involved in its design with the blacksmith. It is so important that it can replace its owner during a ceremony. It cannot therefore be lent, given or sold to others as it would lose all the magic it is imbued with. The two-coloured blade betrays the process by which it was made: the darker carbon steel is welded to the lighter nickel-rich soft iron.

The handle of the kriss housed in our collections is made of ivory. It represents Averta or Garuda, the bird-man who, according to Hindu mythology, carries the god Vishnu. The blade is slightly sinuous and the wooden scabbard, symbolising an orchid, has a wicker scroll around the end.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, this ritual object became very popular through its use in Balinese dances. The kriss and its manufacture have been listed as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO since 2008.

Christelle Schoonbroodt

Photo caption

Indonesian Kriss with scabbard, 19th century, wrought iron, carved and polished ivory, wood.