By: RaY KinZoKu

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Monday, 11-Aug-2008 17:30 Email | Share | Bookmark
ORGHAE KITO ( 2 ) : The Blade, The Wood and The Master Carver


The next stop in Orghae Kito series. See previous


The Blade, The Wood and The Master Carver


A Keris is just a blade, without its sarung ( sheath ) and hulu ( hilt )

and the sarung and hulu are perhaps nothing more than a wooden case and a handle

without the special touch of a master carver like May Kris.


Meet May Kris ( read : Mae Kergheih ) or real name, Rosman Ramli .....

A young master carver in his early 40s, very talented, skilful and well specialized in the art of traditional Malay woodcarving, particularly in the making of sheath and hilt for the Malay blades.

An endangered breed of craftsmen, a man like him in Japan, is without doubt a Nin-Gen Kokuhou or a Living National Treasure - a recognition which made a person, eligible for special protection and support.

I wonder whether there's such thing in Malaysia ....

* Rosman, at one of his working tables, proudly showing one of his nearly finished masterpiece.

I first met Rosman while on an assignment, some eight months ago.

A couple of small but strategically placed signboards, by a roadside at Kampung Banggol, led me to his workshop cum his home, located some few kilometers from the town centre.

Rosman was initially a " backup plan " in my attempt to document the art of Kelantanese woodcarving in Kota Bharu. I was actually eyeing for a different person, a renowned master carver specializing in ornate wooden panelling, furnitures and such. However I was turned down at the mere mention of " photo-taking ". The reason to that, was not explained.

Later, I decided to give Rosman a try. Surprisingly, this time, it was totally different.
Rosman was amazingly warm and welcoming, even allowing me to snap his work, gadgets and his working tables. He entertained my curiosity by further explaining and describing the art of Malay woodcarving, the hidden ideas and motives, even going as far as sharing his deep regret and sadness over the very lack of attention from the authorities in helping to revive the dying art of his trade. The only real attention he said, was from outside Malaysia - far, far away from the Western World.

From the meeting, I found out that Rosman is indeed a type of person who the Kelantanese often cited as " ado patak sipuk ", literally speaking, " having the snail's backside ". A Kelantanese colloquial term for a " naturally talented person " which actually refers to the whorl on one's thumb, like the logarithmic spiral of a snail's shell, believed to be the natural sign for artistically gifted. He is the man who could make flowers and leaves to grow, even create clouds and waves on a piece of palm-sized wood. Truly talented and uniquely gifted.

Unfortunately, I learned from Cikgu Nasir, a school teacher cum Malay weapon enthusiast who keeps a blog about the latter, that Rosman was diagnosed with Leukemia and has been in the hospital, bed-ridden for already 6 months. Just two months after I last saw him.

Cikgu Nasir, upon realising Rosman's condition, decided to come up with an entry, rallying for contributions. He even went further by setting up a special blog for the purpose of fulfilling Rosman's wish in having his precious works sold, in order to catch up on his medical bills and daily expenses.

Though I hardly know Rosman ( he hardly know me either ), well, other than the fact that he is an expert woodcarver specializing in Keris sheath and hilt, I feel obliged to lend him a helping hand.

As a start, I would recommend my dear readers to click on the above links to Cikgu Nasir's blog(s) and .... you know what you should do !

Praying for Rosman's recovery, whatever the chances are.

God Speed, Pahlawan Bangsa !

* Rosman, holding one of his most prized masterpiece, a Keris Tajong.


Cikgu Nasir's Blog : May( Man) Keris

Malaysian Bladeforums : Keris Master of Kota Baru

Malaysian Bladeforums : Keris Master Rosman Ramli Part 1

Malaysian Bladeforums : Keris Master Rosman Ramli Part 2

The Magnificent Keris Tajong

One of Rosman's most prized work ( if not the most ), is the Keris Tajong - a type of keris with a very distinctive hilt and sheath, unique to Pattani and Kelantan and to some extent, Terengganu.

* Rosman Ramli's Keris Tajong.

The hilt - carved in the form of a demonic, anthropomorphic figure with a long nasal protrusion, which many mistook it as a " kingfisher " - is the most interesting feature of a Tajong. I have always been fascinated by one. A type of Keris which could be regarded as " uniquely " Kelantanese.

To me, it is a Keris - with an " attitude " !

The Tajong is much and well described in many books and publications.
There seem to be a lot of references in the Internet too - like the following excerpt, though not the best description, is among those I found helpful in generally describing it.

Click on the link to find out more :


    The tajong is one of the more well known and yet least understood
    keris of the Malay Archipelago. Better known as the pekaka, pekakak
    or kingfisher, the tajong is certainly one of the most flamboyant and
    dramatic keris variants in the family of keris forms.

    Most commonly associated with the ethnic Malay region of Pattani in
    Southern Thailand, the tajong and other variants are also known to have
    originated in the Northwestern Peninsular Malaysian state of Kelantan.
    This area formed the core of the ancient empire of Langkasuka which
    some scholars suggest was centered somewhere near the present day
    city of Pattani.

    From : Keris Archipelago - The Tajong

* Some sample of Tajong hilts, both real and on paper, featured on the Internet.

The Tajong is highly prized now as it was highly prized then.

Interestingly, not only by the Malays of the said region, but also by many Europeans who came across it, during the colonial era.

Sir Henry Norman, a late 19th century English journalist and writer, cited an example in his book - The Peoples and Politics of The Far East ( 1895 ), while describing about Cerlo Ferdinando Bozzolo, an Italian administrator who served the British in Hulu Perak ( a district in Perak, bordering Pattani and Kelantan ).

Norman described Bozzolo as a witty but cunning man, who while craving for an ivory Hulu Tajong to be fitted to his old Keris blade, decided to use those qualities to outsmart an elephant owner - just to get the very much needed ivory for his hilt, as told in the following excerpt from Norman's book.

Note that the author used the term Perkaka - or kingfisher-head - handle in making reference to the Hulu Tajong :

* From the book, The Peoples and Politics of The Far East by Henry Norman.
Page 538 ~ 539 ; Chapter XXXII : A Jungle Journey In Unknown Malaya.

First published in 1895, in London by T. Fisher Unwin.

The book, The Peoples and Politics of The Far East is an interesting work by Henry Norman.

Interesting, as he had his 1890 journey through Kelantan - among the first European to accomplish so - mentioned in the book.

The journey is to be featured in my upcoming entry, " On a Raft Through a Forbidden State " .

.. emmm but not sure when, probably soon.

Oh yeah, back to the Tajong and to sum all these up,
here are some other photos of it that I think, might be interesting ( speaking about being unique and special ! ) :

* The Keris Tajong featured on the old RM 50, Malaysian banknote ( right hand side )

* The Keris Tajong, as worn by The Yang DiPertuan Agong as a part of Malaysian Royal Regalia
- a symbol of Pattani-Kelantan on the waist of a Malaysian supreme ruler.


I learned from Cikgu Nasir's blog entry, that Rosman Ramli or May Kris had just passed away.

He was laid to rest on the morning of 20th August 2008, probably at the old Kubur Banggol, just few steps away from where he used to live and work.

He left a wife and several children and he was 43 years old.

A great, great lost indeed.

Lee Chong Wei got his RM 300,000 and RM 3,000 monthly pension for striking silver for Malaysia in the Beijing Olympic and yet, there was this man who dedicated his entire life for the survival of the Nation's heritage and identity .... and received nothing.

How ironic.

Somewhat reminding me of the late Nik Rashidin Nik Hussein, also a highly talented master carver, who also died of cancer in his 40s.

Semoga Allah mencucuri rahmat ke atas rohnya. Amin.

Al Fatihah dan secebis doa buat arwah .....

    اَللَّهُمَّ اغْفِرْ لَهُ وَارْحَمْهُ وَعَافِهِ وَاعْفُ عَنْهُ، وَأَكْرِمْ نُزُلَهُ، وَوَسِّعْ مَدْخَلَهُ،

    وَاغْسِلْهُ بِالْمَاءِ وَالثَّلْجِ وَالْبَرَدِ، وَنَقِّهِ مِنَ الْخَطَايَا كَمَا نَقَّيْتَ الثَّوْبَ اْلأَبْيَضَ

    مِنَ الدَّنَسِ، وَأَبْدِلْهُ دَارًا خَيْرًا مِنْ دَارِهِ، وَأَهْلاً خَيْرًا مِنْ أَهْلِهِ، وَزَوْجًا

    خَيْرًا مِنْ زَوْجِهِ، وَأَدْخِلْهُ الْجَنَّةَ، وَأَعِذْهُ مِنْ عَذَابِ الْقَبْروَعَذَابِ النَّار

Note :

The family decided to keep all his precious works and none will be sold.


I just realised that there is indeed such thing as Nin-Gen Kokuhou ( or equivalent ) in Malaysia. I learned about it through today's news, that one of its recipients had just passed away.

It was very recently announced by the government on the 25th July 2008, based on the following news report from Utusan Online, 26th July 2008 edition :


    Tokoh Warisan Orang Hidup diumum

    KLANG 25 Julai - Kementerian Perpaduan, Kebudayaan, Kesenian dan Warisan
    hari ini menyenaraikan lima tokoh budayawan sebagai Warisan Orang Hidup bagi
    menghargai jasa mereka terhadap perkembangan kesenian tradisi negara ini.

    Lima individu berkenaan ialah penggiat seni penglipurlara dari Johor, Ali Badron
    Sabor, 75, Abu Bakar Jaafar, 83, dari Pulau Pinang (boria), Losimin Majanil, 83,
    dari Sabah (bobohizan). Dua lagi individu ialah Tan Hooi Song, 62, yang aktif
    dalam seni gendang Cina dan Vatsala Sivadas, 66, penggiat seni tari masyarakat
    India, Bharatha Natyam.

    Menterinya, Datuk Seri Mohd. Shafie Apdal berkata, kelima-lima individu berkenaan
    diiktiraf atas usaha mereka mengembangkan kesenian tradisi masyarakat sama
    ada di dalam atau luar negara.

    "Mereka diisytiharkan sebagai tokoh warisan kerana telah memberi sumbangan
    yang besar meliputi seni budaya dan muzik yang menjadi identiti masyarakat negara
    ini," katanya kepada pemberita selepas mengadakan lawatan ke Galeri Diraja Sultan
    Abdul Aziz di sini hari ini.

    Ditanya sama ada kelima-lima individu terbabit akan diberikan ganjaran atau
    sebagainya, beliau berkata, setakat ini pihaknya tidak membincangkan mengenai
    perkara itu. Sebaliknya, pihaknya akan menampilkan individu berkenaan dalam
    pameran kesenian yang dianjurkan oleh kementerian termasuk menjadikan mereka
    sebagai rujukan warisan bangsa.

    "Kita tidak fikirkan soal ganjaran atau kewangan, tetapi mereka ini kita akan
    ketengahkan selain menjadi rujukan kepada generasi kini dan masa depan," ujarnya.

    From :
    Utusan Online, 26 July 2008 - " Tokoh Warisan Orang Diumum "
    ( Living National Treasures Announced )

    Related :
    The Star, 9 August 2008 - " She’s a national treasure "

However, the recognition seems to be more on performance art and nothing from Kelantan was put forward ( even though I personally see Dikir Barat as much more popular than Boria .. he he he ).

Reading and judging from that, even if Rosman Ramli is still alive and kicking,
I doubt that he or any person like him would get enlisted.

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