The kris – the blade of glory
Surrounded by mythological mystique, the kris, with its distinctively asymmetrical, wavy blade, is regarded today as a spiritual insignia of heroism and invulnerability. With meticulously carved, delicate details on the rare wood and precious metals, the dagger – indigenous to Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand and the Philippines – also evokes cultural refinement in modern times, and is the pride and prized possession of vaunted museums and avid collectors.
The intricate decorations on the kris, evoking intrinsic natural elements such as water, wind, fire, earth and the soul, represent the highest level of Malay creativity. Made by craftsmen called empu, the kris also has delicate inscriptions on the bottom of its blade – a trait not found in any other dagger. Male attire was once considered incomplete without a kris as an accessory, but in contemporary society, it’s a treasured family heirloom handed down through generations and worn during sacred ceremonies such as weddings.
The traditional artistry of the kris continues to be regaled in royal Javanese courts and studied by enthusiasts such as award-winning Singaporean author Isa Kamari, who owns more than 50 such antiques and is working on a novel about a kris collector.
Singapore Airlines first adopted the kris in the 1970s, as a hallmark of its exemplary service, and the word ‘kris’ now graces many of its features and offerings. The Airline’s frequent-flyer programme, for instance, is called KrisFlyer, and its inflight magazine, SilverKris. Its inflight entertainment system is called KrisWorld, while its online retail store, which allows for duty-free shopping onboard flights, is named KrisShop.
Batik – waxing poetic
The wide diversity of batik patterns, with an array of motifs that symbolise hope, community, strength and other positive traits, represent a confluence of far-flung influences across the globe, from Arabic calligraphy to Chinese phoenixes and Indian peacocks. Present-day artisans are fiercely proud of the heritage they uphold through this venerated art form. While the tradition of batik has been adopted by the tribes in Nigeria and Senegal, as well as countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, it is most widely associated with Indonesia, where the wax-resist fabric was once worn exclusively by Javanese royalty. An abundance of cotton, beeswax and natural vegetable dyes has given rise to its popularity as a national dress there, with more than 3,000 recorded patterns.
Batik was quickly embraced by the Malay community when it arrived in Singapore in the 19th century, during the colonial trading days; back then, it was largely worn as sarongs and kebayas. It was later propagated through the Peranakans’ (Straits Chinese) bright and bold interpretations.
Batik’s renaissance has inspired both international and independent local labels, such as Ong Shunmugam, Baju by Oniatta and Gypsied, to update their fabric with modern twists. In 2015, for example, Adidas, in collaboration with local sneakers boutique Limited Edt, released limited-edition sneakers with batik swatches to commemorate Singapore’s 50th year of independence. The batik resurgence has even extended to the food industry, with local online bakery Batikrolls by Nura showcasing colourful batik illustrations on its Swiss rolls.
In 1974, Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain updated the batik sarong kebaya ensemble for Singapore Airlines stewardesses that has since become ‘the soul of the Airline’, according to Ian Batey, the creator of the iconic Singapore Girl. Balmain’s original design is the longest-lasting uniform of any airline, as timeless as the batik it is tailored from, personifying Singapore Airlines’ exceptional hospitality, and instantly associated with Singapore in airports around the world. The sarong kebaya’s global renown was captured for posterity when the Singapore Girl became the first commercial wax figure to debut at Madame Tussauds London in 1993, with a second introduced in 2015 at Madame Tussauds Singapore.
Here’s a closer look at how the kris and batik are woven into Singapore Airlines’ heritage and identity:
– TEXT BY DESIREE KOH
PHOTOS: 123RF.COM, BATIKROLLS BY NURA FACEBOOK
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.