Kiai Naga Siluman Dagger Cuts on Both Sides
THE keris (dagger or kris) belonging to Diponegoro, also known as Raden Mas Ontowiryo, was returned by the Dutch government to Indonesia on March 10. The dagger, known as Kiai Naga Siluman, was believed to have been given to the Dutch by Diponegoro. Dutch and Indonesian researchers who studied the kris verified that it was Naga Siluman based on a letter from Diponegoro’s former officer Sentot Alibasya Prawirodirdjo, and a description of the dagger by Javanese painter Raden Saleh, who lived and worked for many years in Europe in the mid-19th century. However, Indonesian kris specialists have casted doubt on whether the old weapon is indeed Diponegoro’s Naga Siluman as mentioned by Sentot. From the details, they say, it seemed that the dagger is a Naga Sasra, which has quite distinct characteristics from a Naga Siluman. These Indonesian experts deem it impossible that Prince Diponegoro would not know the difference between a Naga Siluman and a Naga Sasra. Thus, the National Museum will be waiting for a compromise between kris specialists and historians before exhibiting the dagger, together with other items owned by Diponegoro, at a certain point after the corona pandemic subsides.
WITH the pros and cons surrounding the Naga Siluman, National Museum Director Siswanto is treading lightly. After the dagger was returned to Indonesia, the museum received a mandate to store it. The plan was that the kris would be shown to the public. However, controversy on social media ensued as soon as the dagger was at the center of a public ceremony when President Joko Widodo received Dutch King Willem-Alexander at the Bogor Palace, West Java, on March 10. Traditional weapons observers and kris experts questioned if the returned dagger is indeed the Kiai Naga Siluman given by Diponegoro to the Dutch in 1830.
Their doubts primarily centered on the form of the kris, which is a Naga Sasra instead of a Naga Siluman. Some experts believe that the Dutch and Indonesian historians who verified it did not identify the weapon correctly.
As the debate is still ongoing, Siswanto has postponed plans to exhibit the dagger. “The pros and cons need to be resolved first, because we do not want a heritage from a hero like Diponegoro be a source of controversy,” Siswanto told Tempo on March 19. Also, he added that the National Museum is currently still closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Once the situation improves, the museum plans to organize a focused discussion with several parties, including historians and kris experts. “This is not a matter that can be discussed online.”
Siswanto further said that the exhibition would not only showcase the Diponegoro kris, but also other items of the Prince which had been returned by the Dutch in the past, such as a pilgrim staff, an umbrella, a saddle and a spear. Those objects were returned to their birthplace after the Indonesian and Dutch governments signed an agreement in 1975 regarding the return of heritage items. The dagger had not been included in earlier returns between 1978 and 2015 since its exact whereabouts was uncertain.
Meanwhile Roni Sudewo, a seventh-generation descendant of Diponegoro, is certain that the dagger belongs to his ancestor. However, he agrees with kris experts who say that the weapon’s form is not that of a Naga Siluman. “The kris matches Naga Sasra characteristics,” Roni said in Yogyakarta on March 21. He explained that a Naga Siluman features a dragon on the lower part of its blade. However, only the head would be featured, while the mythical beast’s body disappears into the dagger’s body. As its body is not visible, the kris is called a Naga Siluman. On the kris returned last month from the Netherlands, however, the dragon’s body is wholly visible until its tail. Also, a Naga Siluman kris generally has 13 indentations, while a Naga Sasra has 11. The Kiai Naga Siluman returned from the Netherlands, meanwhile, has 11 indentations.
Roni said it was possible that the dagger was a Naga Sasra, but named Naga Siluman to match the owner’s inner psyche. Another possibility is that Diponegoro was not the kris’ first owner. “He may have gotten the kris already with the name Naga Siluman,” he said. If this were the case, “Naga Siluman refers to the dagger’s name, not its form.”
President Joko Widodo (center) with Dutch King Willem-Alexander (second from left) anD QUEEN Maxima Zorreguieta Cerruti at the ceremony of the return of Prince Diponegoro’s kris at the Bogor Palace, West Java, last March./ANTARA/Sigid Kurniawan
Toni Junus, author of the book Tafsir Keris (Kris Interpretations), pointed out that the verification process should have also involved kris experts, not just historians. Scrutinizing a kris, he points out, must include the viewpoint of Javanese cosmology. Toni also criticized the explanation from Gadjah Mada University (UGM) historian Sri Margana—among those verifying the dagger—who said that the carving at the base of the blade (wuwung gonjo) was that of a dragon’s head. “I want to revise that. Prof (Margana), you’re wrong,” Toni said when contacted by Tempo on March 18. He explained that what Margana saw as a dragon was actually a lion. The lion’s image is a chronogram from the Javane-Hindu Saka year 1558 as part of the euphoria when Javanese King Sultan Agung defeated Adipati Pragola II, a rebel from the Pati Regency in Central Java. Saka year 1558 would be equal to 1636, commensurate with some estimates of the dagger’s age in the Dutch study.
The lion symbol usually goes side-by-side with that of an elephant. However, in the said dagger, the lion was not accompanied by an elephant. Even though not all Naga Sasra daggers have both animals, Toni believes the elephant carving on the base of the blade was pried out. This is because he saw remnants of uprooting by the pesi, the lower part of the blade that submerges into the handle. Nevertheless, whether the dagger truly belonged to Diponegoro or not, Toni is convinced that the kris is an original. He suspects that even if it were Prince Diponegoro’s possession, then it was most likely taken from his home, as it is not the type of kris which was used in battle.
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THE Naga Siluman dagger, according to historian Peter Carey, was not mentioned by Prince Diponegoro when he wrote his autobiography Babad Diponegoro. In it, he only mentioned Bandayudha, his sacred kris. Bandayudha was Diponegoro’s main kris. The name ‘Naga Siluman’ only came up in the letter written by Sentot Alibasya Prawirodirdjo, one of Diponegoro’s most prominent officers who later defected to the Dutch.
In the letter, Sentot wrote that Diponegoro gave the Naga Siluman kris to Johannes Baptista Cleerens. Roni Sudewo explained that Diponegoro met with Sentot in 1830 in Magelang, Central java. At that time, Diponegoro was in the midst of negotiations with the Dutch under General Hendrik Merkus de Kock. Cleerens was the representative of the Dutch during that process.
The Dutch officer had promised that Diponegoro would be able to return to Kebumen, Central Java, should the negotiations with the Dutch fail. As a sign of his trust, Diponegoro gave Cleerens the Naga Siluman kris, witnessed by Sentot. “Exchanging gifts was normal, as De Kock had also bestowed two European horses to Diponegoro,” Roni points out.
Cleerens and Diponegoro were friendly with each other, with Diponegoro even calling the officer dimas or younger brother. Diponegoro apparently called De Kock eyang or grandfather. The kris, together with Sentot’s letter, were then taken to the Netherlands by Cleerens and to be given to King Willem I. Javanese painter Raden Saleh, who was living in the Netherlands, also gave a description of the kris, noted on January 17, 1831, on the sidelines of the Dutch translation of Sentot’s letter.
(L-R) EMpu Basuki Teguh Yuwono; SNKI’s head of tradition division EMpu Totok Brojodiningrat; Volkenkunde Museum Curators, Pin Westerkamp ANd Francine Brenkgreve; and Raden Usman Effendi at the verification process of Diponegoro’s kris at the Volkenkunde Museum laboratory, December 2018 (right)./SNKI Doc./Septiana
In the latter part of its two-century stay in the Netherlands, the Naga Siluman kris appeared elusive. In 2017, the Volkenkunde Museum in Leiden started a research project to trace the kris amidst its collection. In the past decades, the kris had been mentioned several times as a heritage item that needed to be returned to Indonesia. I Gusti Agung Wesaka Puja, Indonesia’s ambassador in The Hague, said the project was done out of the public eye due to the kris’ sensitive heritage nature. Puja pointed out, however, that Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Hilmar Farid, director-general for cultural affairs, were duly informed about the project since it had started.
One of the experts involved in the early stages of the research was Susan Legêne, professor of political history and dean of the humanities faculty at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, Holland. The kris, she said, was already mentioned in the early years of Indonesia’s independence. At the Round Table Conference in The Hague—held in the months running up to the Dutch officially recognizing Indonesia’s sovereignty in December 1949—the Diponegoro kris was given as an example of an object with great symbolic value. “Thus, it was politically important in whose possession it would be,” she said.
Unfortunately, its whereabouts was unclear for many years. In 1984 Pieter Pott, Volkenkunde Museum’s director in 1955–1981, started looking for the dagger. Pott, who passed away in 1989, thought he had found a kris he believed was Kiai Naga Siluman. Legêne believes, however, that Pott was not sure of his discovery, and subsequently kept it quiet.
Questions about where the kris might be came up again during a major exhibition on Indonesia in Amsterdam in 2005, and when the Kanjeng Kiai Cokro—a staff belonging to Diponegoro—was returned to Indonesia in February 2015. Finally, in 2017 the Volkenkunde Museum decided to get to the bottom of the matter. “The time was ripe to look into this again,” said anthropologist and Volkenkunde Museum curator Francine Brinkgreve. She was the director of the research into the Diponegoro kris.
The basic premise of the study was information that the dagger has been at the Volkenkunde for over a century. When the Royal Cabinet of Rarities, the Koninklijk Kabinet van Zeldzaamheden (KKvZ)—where the kris had been stored since 1831—was closed down in 1883, its collection was disseminated among seven institutions, including Volkenkunde, which at the time was called the Royal Ethnographic Museum (Rijks Ethnographisch Museum). Unfortunately, in that process many documents went missing, including Sentot’s letter on the kris. Consequently, the KKvZ collection that went to Volkenkunde was simply marked as ‘series 360’.
Brinkgreve pointed out that the clearest guideline for the researchers was Raden Saleh’s notes. That information helped the team to sort through 113 of Volkenkunde’s daggers in search for Kiai Naga Siluman. “Raden Saleh explained that there were still traces of gold on the kris’ blade,” she said. The search process held on to the following criteria: originates from Yogyakarta, older than 1830 (year it was handed over), a snake or dragon carved on it, and has traces of gold on its blade. During the process, researchers discovered information that the dagger had been part of the Centennial exposition in Philadelphia, the United States, in 1876, providing more descriptive details of the kris.
As part of the research, two kris masters were invited to Leiden in January 2019: Basuki Teguh Yuwono, lecturer at the Indonesian Art Institute’s kris studies at Surakarta, Central Java; and Totok Brojodiningrat. Their assessment diverged on the kris with the code RV-360-8084. One estimated that the kris stemmed from the time of Sultan Agung in the 1600s, while the other was of the opinion that it was made in 1759. Meanwhile, UGM’s Sri Margana, who came to Leiden in February 2020 to verify the kris, was certain that the animal carved on it was a dragon. Besides Margana, historian Bonnie Triyana and curator Jani Kuhnt-Saptodewo were also part of the research process.
Margana was convinced that the kris he scrutinized was Diponegoro’s. “There must be evidence if someone were to prove otherwise,” he said. Before going to Leiden, this chairperson of UGM’s history department examined research documents from studies done by Pott, Legêne, and Johanna Leijfeldt. In 2017, Leijfeldt scrutinized archives and documents, including one dated January 25, 1831, saying that Colonel Cleerens offered a Diponegoro kris to King Willem I. However, that document did not contain the kris’ name. In 2019, researcher Tom Quist once again minutely traced the dagger’s journey from the end of the Diponegoro War until its arrival at Volkenkunde, including all the related documentations.
A painting of prince Diponegoro by Soedjono Abdullah (1947) in the Aku Diponegoro Sang Pangeran Dalam Ingatan Bangsa exhibition at the National Gallery, Jakarta, February 2015./TEMPO/Nurdiansah
However, Basuki Teguh Yuwono holds on that the scientific accountability of the Kiai Naga Siluman research must be reviewed from several perspectives. “In fact, the supporting data is weak, and the research team had a gap that created a fundamental weakness in that it did not involve kris experts,” he said. Basuki further said that while data used by the researchers was accurate, it was not exactly indicated on the kris itself, creating loopholes for errors.
While in Leiden, Basuki already disclosed details of the kris. He believed that its sheath (warangka) and handle (deder) were disproportionate, as the former was too large for a Naga Siluman. The sheath’s stem (gandar) is also too long in proportion to the blade, while actually the kris tradition has basic methods to determine proportion and size. Meanwhile, he said, the kris in question does not fulfill the Javanese rule of wangun lan mungguh, which approximately means ‘appropriate’ or ‘corresponding’.
Basuki said he had tried to slip the Naga Siluman kris’ blade into the sheath. However, the sheath’s aperture (leng-lengan) did not correspond with the ganja, the part that connects the blade with the handle. Thus, Basuki believes that the sheath is not the original one paired with the kris’ blade. The Giyanti Agreement in 1755, which divided Mataram into Surakarta and Yogyakarta, had a significant impact on the region’s socio-cultural aspects, including its daggers. It became taboo and unethical to combine Solo and Yogyakarta styles. Meanwhile, the Naga Siluman returned by the Dutch had a tangguh Mataram blade and a nunggak semi upper part from Yogyakarta, while its sheath is ladrang capu in Surakarta style. Basuki views this as an unconventional combination.
He also focused on the physical aspect of the kris, which has a damaged blade. He suspects that the steel was not top notch, or might not have been molded long enough. Besides that, the blade’s surface has suffered long years of corrosion.
It is likely, Basuki continued, that it was already in such a condition when Diponegoro gave it the Dutch. “That condition needs to be reviewed, because surely the Dutch have taken good care of it,” he said. Basuki added that there is no need to force the opinion that the returned kris is the Kiai Naga Siluman.
Basuki, the author of Keris Naga (Dragon Kris) and seven other books on kris daggers and Indonesian heirlooms, views the argument that ‘Naga Siluman’ is just a name as a weak one. In the kris world, he explains, names or titles are usually carved on the gandar or sheath’s stem, and this was not found on the kris returned from Leiden. Prince Diponegoro was not known to be in the habit of giving names or titles for his sacred items, such as a kris’ dhapur or blade form. Toni Junus agrees with Basuki, pointing out that nobleman Diponegoro was a kris connoisseur. “It’s impossible that he would be mistaken in differentiating between a Naga Sastra and a Naga Siluman,” Toni said. He further questioned the content of the document saying that the kris is called Kiai Naga Siluman.
The controversial engraving on the Naga Siluman kris, whether it is a dragon or a lion./TEMPO/Nurdiansah
Asked about doubts from Indonesian kris experts over whether it was actually Diponegoro’s, Brinkgreve underlined that the research was not an exact science. “We did it to the utmost of our abilities by delving into documentation and information,” she said. Surrounding the debate about the kris’ name, the research team pointed to Sentot’s letter. “One thing that we’re quite certain of is that this is the same kris taken by Cleerens to the Netherlands in 1830.”
Diponegoro expert Peter Carey believes the authenticity of Sentot Alibasya’s testimony. For him, the question as to why Diponegoro referred to the kris as Naga Siluman is part of a historical puzzle. Carey said it was possible that Diponegoro called the kris Naga Siluman. “Even someone like Diponegoro would sometimes lie to make himself appear greater,” he said. Meanwhile, Empu Subandi Suponingrat, a kris maker residing in Solo, Central Java, said that the naming of a kris was Diponegoro’s right as its owner. “It’s difficult to ascertain what is correct, depending on which viewpoint we use. If we want to change the prevailing history based on the dhapur (kris form) theories, then go ahead and do so,” he said. Regarding the warangka, or the sheath, that did not match, Peter Carey said that could not be used as a referral. According to Carey, Diponegoro once bought a kris sheath in Manado, North Sulawesi, for Bandayudha, his favorite weapon. The sheath attracted Diponegoro for its luxurious appearance. “So, don’t get stuck on the sheath, because that could have been bought (not together with the kris).”
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ASIDE from the controversy, historian and heritage specialist Martijn Eickhoff views that the return of heritage items, such as the Diponegoro kris, has moral and social significance. “That object does not belong in the Netherlands,” said Professor Eickhoff, a senior researcher at the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies NIOD in Amsterdam. He expressed hope that this return would be a good momentum to review Diponegoro’s position in the joint history of Indonesia and the Netherlands.
Meanwhile, University of Indonesia historian Bondan Kanumoyoso views the return more as Dutch goodwill to build on its good relationship with Indonesia. “Not just in politics, but also in history and culture. The Netherlands sees that Indonesia is starting to play a strategic role in Southeast Asia and Asia,” he said. Bondan points out that the Indonesian government and people should take advantage of this momentum to push the Dutch to return more heritage items.
diponegoro Kris Document./Oud Archief
In 2013, the Netherlands had offered to repatriate close to 12,000 objects to Indonesia, after the closing of the Nusantara Museum in Delft. After a long and complicated process, finally some 1,500 items arrived at the National Museum in Jakarta in December 2019.
Heritage researcher Jos van Beurden pointed out that repatriation of heritage items to Indonesia still has a long way to go. He gave the example of Diponegoro’s rein, which is still stored at the Bronbeek Museum. “The museum should have given it back a long time ago,” he said, pointing to the heritage return agreement signed in 1975 by both countries.
Jani Kuhnt-Saptodewo, curator at Austria’s Vienna World Museum, added that there was another kris related to Diponegoro still residing in Europe. The kris measuring 48.7 centimeters entered the museum in 1886 from a collector named George Lodewijk Weynschenk. Weynschenk was born in Yogyakarta in 1847, the son of Georg Weynschenk and a Yogyakartan woman named Ramag. George returned to Austria as an adult, taking with him 26 items from his birth place, including two kris daggers. He subsequently bequeathed one them to the Austrian Empire. According to information from George, the kris was named Sri Pengantih and used to be owned by Sultan Hamengku Buwono IV. This dagger was said to have been a talisman throughout Diponegoro’s Java War, and was apparently used by the prince.
Jani further said that the return of Diponegoro’s kris should be appreciated. “If we as a people do not accept it gracefully, then it would make European museums wary and halt these repatriation steps,” she said.