Indonesians in Focus: Djiwo Diharjo
The Javanese traditional kris — a wavy, double-blade dagger, sometimes spelt keris — has a significance that goes beyond its role as a weapon. A kris can be a symbol of a man’s social status and power. Some kris are believed to possess supernatural qualities and only certain people are allowed to make them. Only master craftsmen are believed to have the skills and knowledge required to make a kris with special magical powers. Banyu Sumurup kampong is famous for producing kris — both souvenir kris and kris that possess magical powers. The kampong, which is located in Imogiri, Bantul, 25 kilometers south of Yogyakarta city, is home to 70-year-old master craftsman Djiwo Diharjo. Djiwo is well known, not only among government officials around Indonesia, but also with foreigners.
Empu (master craftsman) Djiwo said his ability to make kris was a hereditary skill. This father of four is a descendant of a master craftsman from the Majapahit Kingdom according to Slamet Susanto.
Around the 13th century, the empu Supomo ran away to Imogiri. At that time, the Soreng Lono rebellion was underway in the Majapahit Kingdom and the life of the master craftsman was threatened.
He settled with his family at the edge of Thousand Hill area in Banyu Sumurup.
As a fugitive, the skill to produce weapons like the kris proved useful; it was never lost and has been passed down through the generations.
“I represent the 13th generation from empu Supomo,” said master craftsman Djiwo.
Empu Djiwo said in order to produce a good kris that has magical powers, a master craftsman must be strong, undergo fasting and deprive himself of sleep to sharpen the ascetic and spiritual elements involved in making a kris.
“The ability to become a master craftsman is a blessing from God,” he said.
He said before making an heirloom kris, a craftsman has to fast and present offerings of flowers or food when the iron is first struck. The aim is to put magic in the kris to make it powerful.
Making a kris may only be done once every sepasar (five days, according to the traditional Javanese calendar), he said.
“Every time I want to make a kris, I have to fast … during that time I may not speak because a master craftsman has to remain quiet.
“If the rituals are broken, then the magical power will be lost,” he added.
He said he needed at least eight months to complete an order for one kris.
“If it’s a special kris, then it can take years.”
In order to produce a kris, a high temperature is required as well as teak wood charcoal for heating the metal. One kris needs hundreds of folds of hot iron, sometimes even more than a thousand.
“The folding technique is important and requires special skill. But the most important thing is the sharpness of the kris and this can only be achieved through following appropriate behaviors,” said empu Djiwo.
In 1972, concerned by the unemployment rate in Banyu Sumurup and the state of the economy, empu Djiwo trained 15 young men from the kampong to make iron and aluminum kris, warongko (kris sheaths) as well as how to make carved kris.
“At that time, many tourists were interested in buying kris for souvenirs and I thought the manufacture and sale of kris could help the local economy and the welfare of the people,” he said.
The master craftsman established a cooperative tasked with collecting the work of the community and marketing the products. Despite being kept busy making sacred kris, he continued training village men in the art of kris and handicraft production. After several hard years of work, his efforts started to bear fruit.
In 1978, Djiwo staged a kris exhibition in Jakarta. In the same year he also held exhibitions in Semarang, Bali and Bandung.
The kris from Banyu Sumurup started becoming famous from then on and Djiwo continued to promote the kris through exhibitions.
In 1980, kris orders came from everywhere — Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Brunei and many other nations. The name of Banyu Sumurup became internationally famous.
In 1985, Djiwo held a kris exhibition in the Netherlands, and in 1989 in Australia. In 1992 he went to the Middle East and in 2002 Djiwo exhibited in Brunei Darussalam.
Shop counters displaying Banyu Sumurup kris for sale have been opened in many places such as Sarinah, Blok M, Ancol, Bali, Semarang, Bandung and other cities.
“They are for sale in almost all cities in Indonesia that the exhibitions visited,” he said.
Now, almost every household in Banyu Sumurup is now able to make kris; about 200 people are involved and kris manufacture has become a home industry in the kampong.
The marketing of kris is now facilitated by the Daerah Istimewa (special area) Yogyakarta provincial government and the Bantul Regency Government.
“Till 1990, all kris orders were met by the people from this village. They wanted to make different brands, but the orders came to the Banyu Sumurup community,” he said.
“What’s made me happy is that now almost all the local people can make a living from manufacturing kris and the unemployment rate is lower,” he said.
In 1986, for his services in helping develop a home industry, Djiwo Diharjo was given three awards; from then manpower minister Sudomo, the minister for cooperatives Bustanil Arifin and the minister for industry Hartarto.
These days, the price of an heirloom kris can range from Rp 2.5 million (US$270) to tens of millions of rupiah.
“Everything depends on the order; whether the kris is covered in gold or not, if the handle is made of wood or ivory from an elephant tusk, and what level of magic power is required in the making of the kris.”
The more power the kris has, the longer and more complex the creation process is, with the manufacturing time taking longer.
In an average year, Djiwo can get between six and ten orders for kris costing from Rp 2 million (US $215) up to hundreds of millions of rupiah.
“Completing a kris can take up two years, or even more … making a kris requires time and care,” he said.
Djiwo said most orders came from officials who ordered kris to improve their blessings, to increase their power and authority, or to ensure a peaceful heart.
“Most officials in Indonesia have ordered a kris,” empu Djiwo said as he held a kris ordered by an official from Semarang, West Java, the price of which exceeded Rp 30 million (US$3,250).
Foreigners have also ordered kris from the master craftsman.
“Some of them have come from England, France and Holland and have ordered kris from me.
“The order from France was from a professor. When he visited me after the 2006 earthquake, he told me his life had become calmer since he bought a kris.”