Wan Islahuddin pursues long-forgotten iron craftsmanship

PEKAN : Being exposed to fire sparks in his eyes in his early involvement as a blacksmith has never dampened the spirit of Islahuddin Wan Ali, 41, to continue his passion in the arts of making traditional Malay weapons, especially the kris.

Wan Islahuddin Wan Ali

Fondly known as Pak Teh among locals, the man who hails from Kampung Salong, Chini near here, a traditional village on the coast of the Sungai Pahang, is no stranger with the blacksmith fraternity in Pahang especially in the Pekan district.

Before deciding to pursue this art seriously, Wan Islahuddin worked as a welder for almost 10 years at an oil and gas (O&G) company.

The art of craftsmanship has been his passion since childhood, but the father of three began to venture into the artistry seven years ago after coming home from the city in 2013 to take care of his mother in his hometown.

Initially, with his spare time, he revived his interest by studying with a traditional artisan in Kuantan, and did not think the art could turn into a commercial business.

“To learn this craft is to have passion and patience for it. Only then your work will be neat and perfect,” he told Bernama.

His craftsmanship is in demand and has its own uniqueness as he is among the few who still adopts traditional methods to produce weapons that symbolise the power of the Malays since time immemorial.

The price of a kris without a sheath sells for between RM350 and RM2,000 per piece, depending on the type, iron, size and engraving.

He said the process of making a kris involves welding, moulding, shaping, forging, hammering and engraving on a kris, and to create a quality dagger, the process takes time depending on size, curve and intricacy.

“It takes at least two weeks to make a simple kris, but there is a kind of dagger which the Pahang people often say ‘cendeng’ (problematic) because it can take up to seven months to complete just one.

“Other weapons such as knives and machetes are easier to make as they are for everyday use, which is often in keeping with the basic design,” he said, whose vision was slightly blurred due to the fire sparks incident in 2015.

Wan Islahuddin said the varieties of kris he produces comprise ‘Kris Lurah’, ‘Sepukal Lurut’, ‘Tulang Bulat’ and ‘Sepukal Tulang’ which are all different in size, curve and intricacy.

In addition to making the kris, he also crafts the lelawi ayam (where the rear end is shaped like a rooster’s head), badik (developed by the Bugis and Makassar people), pedang (sword), kerambit (small curved knife) and tumbuk lada (mainly found in Sumatra, Riau and Siak and can be held upwards and downwards) in which he also receives orders online through Instagram and Facebook.

He wants to pass on the art of making the kris to the next generation so that the craftsmanship, which is believed to have existed for over 700 years, will not be forgotten.

In addition, Wan Islahuddin, who is still using the traditional method of moulding, is also seeking financial contributions to help him obtain a RM70,000 moulder machinery that could also create jobs.

“It can be a source of income, for example, if we have the machinery we can hire two or three people to help. It is possible that they could be our future blacksmiths because there are only a handful of skilled craftsmen left in Pahang,” he said.

By Ahmad Erwan Othman – BERNAMA

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