Friday, February 10, 2012

Djiwo Diharjo: Forever striving to preserve ‘kris’

Djiwo Diharjo: Forever striving to preserve ‘kris’
Slamet Susanto, The Jakarta Post, Imogiri, Yogyakarta | Wed, 02/08/2012 10:09 AM
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JP/Slamet SusantoJP/Slamet SusantoThere is no time limit for Djiwo Diharjo, 77, when he crafts the pieces of art known as kris that he has dedicated his life to.

His wrinkled skin and gray hair do not prevent him from hammering iron bars while fasting to turn out a kris, a traditional Javanese dagger believed to have magical power.

Apart from being an empu, a master craftsman at making kris, Djiwo has also helped to develop the local economy by creating a kris village in his hometown of Banyu Sumurup in Imogiri, Yogyakarta. Most of Banyu Sumurup’s residents are now engaged in kris businesses.

For his devotion to the preservation of this cultural heritage of Java and the development of his village’s economy, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) recently granted Djiwo an Upakarti Award for outstanding merit.

Djiwo received awards in 1986 for having boosted kris home industries from the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry, the Cooperatives and Small and Medium Enterprises Ministry and the Industry Ministry.

“I’m devoting my life to kris preservation. It’s the message once conveyed by the late Hamengku Buwono IX and even lately reiterated by President SBY,” Djiwo said.

He just finished a 100-day fast to enhance his spiritual acumen as an empu by avoiding rice, chili, salt and sugar while eating only boiled cassava and other tubers. “Only a handful is allowed to be consumed in the ritual called ngrowot,” he said.

He observes the ritual because in Javanese tradition kris don’t just serve as useful weapons but are also believed to have supernatural power; not anybody can forge such magic blades. Besides practicing ngrowot, an empu is also required to keep vigil during kris making.

Ascetic discipline is required to make his mantra effectively permeate the iron bars being shaped. The time for forging is also calculated in detail according to one’s date of birth, and only two hours are allotted for hammering. “Every time the hammering should only last for two hours and should be done without speaking, while fasting,” he

To produce a wavy blade, an iron bar has to be bent at great heat by burning teakwood charcoal, then beaten tens of thousands of times. The special ritual and technical process makes kris making a time-consuming task, taking at least seven months to finish a single dagger. For a unique kris, it could take years to craft.

“This year I have three orders and they will all be ready at the end of 2013,” said Djiwo, whose works range in price from Rp 1.5 million (US$166) to tens of millions of rupiah. The three kris were ordered by prosperous Javanese living outside of Java for protection against evil.

Djiwo’s customers have hailed from various foreign countries, especially countries with royal backgrounds like Britain, France and the Netherlands. But, most of Djiwo’s buyers are Javanese officials and entrepreneurs wishing to ward off evil forces.

The father of four told The Jakarta Post that his spiritual power as an empu came from God while his kris forging skills were inherited. One of his ancestors was an empu of Majapahit royal descent. In the 13th century, when the Soreng Lono rebellion broke out in the Majapahit kingdom, Empu Supomo fled and settled in Banyu Sumurup in Imogiri.

In this place of refuge, Supomo continued to develop his kris making and handed it down. Today, Djiwo is the 13th generation and in his preservation efforts his third child, Sumaji, has been prepared. “My third child will succeed me and this has come about naturally as I have no way of forcing any of them,” he said.

As a kris maestro, Djiwo is highly sensitive to social issues. In the 1970s, many youths in Banyu Sumurup were jobless and the rural economy was disadvantaged. He gathered 15 local youth in his home and taught them how to shape iron bars into blades, craft sheaths and carve kris.

He continued to instruct village residents amid his busy schedule and eventually set up a cooperative to sell their products. After endeavoring for years, the local community turned Banyu Sumurup into a kris village with hundreds of families making kris to sell as souvenirs.

Djiwo often joined exhibitions, further popularizing Banyu Sumurup’s traditional blades. In 1985, Djiwo displayed his kris in Holland and in 1989 in Australia. In 1992, he toured the Middle East and in 2002 Brunei Darussalam for the same purpose.

A number of counters selling kris have been opened in various places like Jakarta’s Sarinah, Blok M and Ancol and in Bali, Semarang, Bandung and other cities. “The village economy improved in the 1980s and 10 years later different styles of kris were mostly products of Banyu Sumurup,” he said.

At his advanced age, Djiwo is now focusing on the creation of kris with a magic touch.

“As an empu I will never stop working and producing quality kris until the end of my life,” he said.

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