Defending Malay culture with the keris
THE keris has captured their hearts since they were little, when the traditional weapon was wielded by a Malay warrior in old films.
However, Suhaimi Nasrain, Sharif Rashid and Shahrial Tahar collect keris not to become swordsmen. On the contrary, they have turned their hobby into an effort to preserve Malay culture.
Their passion has cost them tens of thousands of dollars. A good-quality antique keris in their collection, which are between 100 and 500 years old, is worth $500 to $10,000.
"The aim to collect these keris is not only to please myself, but also to study them in detail to defend the Malay people's culture and existence," said Mr Suhaimi, 44, a public transport worker who is one of the founders of the Yayasan Keris Singapura (YKS).
He has been collecting keris for eight years, and has nearly 30 antique keris.
Mr Shahrial, an information technology analyst aged 47, began his hobby 30 years ago.
"As a symbol of Malay tradition and philosophy by its design and workmanship, the keris can offer a glimpse into the Malay culture from various areas in this Malay archipelago," said the owner of 20 keris of good grade, who also has nearly 100 reference books on the weapons.
He is also active in researching the background and history of keris.
"Although my interest in Malay culture generally lessens with each day, I feel proud because there are those who try to preserve Malay culture," said Mr Shahrial, who is also a founder of YKS, the cultural wing of Perguruan Seni Silat Gayung Singapura.
Mr Sharif, a driving instructor, has been active in the world of keris collecting for 25 years and owns a collection of 50.
Other than buying keris and other traditional Malay weapons from the Malay Art Gallery in Bussorah Street, the three keris collectors source for the artefacts on Facebook and eBay, linking up with suppliers and keris enthusiasts from Malaysia, Indonesia, Europe and the United States.
"Keris enthusiasts are not limited to one area or race. In fact, it is a global hobby," said Mr Shahrial.
Mr Shahrial, Mr Suhaimi and other members of YKS conduct talks about keris at schools and cultural events to raise awareness among the Malays on the various aspects of Malay culture.
Mr Sharif, 58, feels that the first step that has to be taken to raise interest in the art of keris collecting is to dispel misconceptions.
"It's quite sad if the Malays associate keris only with the occult, because the keris is a work of art that was like the calling card of ancient times," said Mr Sharif, who is also secretary of a body known as the Sri Ikatan Pusaka Melayu Singapura.
"By studying the unique properties of a keris, we can ascertain the origins and even the rank of the person owning it."