Carving the Keris

A Morning With Norhaiza

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to visit Norhaiza when he was carving a Keris hilt of his own design. I had never seen fine carving in action, and it was with some pleasure as I looked on as he applied his craft. His tools are also hand made, sharpened and honed for the perfect cut.

The work as you can see is fine, the carving action controlled, but the unseen discipline and preparation are what makes this event special. For today was not any ordinary day, as he explained, it was a day that was free of care, free of other concerns – a day that starts with the morning oblution for prayer, and the asking of Allah’s blessing for the task ahead.

The preparation of mind, body and spirit are the essential ingredients for the master woodcarver. He must be ‘free’, so as to allow the meeting of man and his materials, between man and his task. This is what Norhaiza learnt from the late Nik Rashiddin, his guru and mentor. Carving is an art that has been handed down from generation to generation, but for Nik Din, and later for Jah it was necessary to seek out that guru and strive for that perfection. The work of Nik Rashiddin was among the finest of his generation. For Jah it is important to emulate that excellence, so for now he walks that path of refinement, of┬ácontinuing study searching from within.

The Keris hilt is symbolic in many ways. It represents one of the few remaining arts of the Malay world, arts that are dwindling. Over time the demand has reduced, to the extent it is now hard to find the artist carver, someone imbibed with the art itself – the legends, the mystical elements wherein the artist carver is joined to his carefully chosen material, a material that must have ‘semangat’, put simply ‘life force’. But it is a two way street, both material and man must have that life force, the special element.

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