Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tam Chen Siong: Proudly preserving the cultural art of kris

Tam Chen Siong, 36, an Indonesian of Chinese descent who is also known as Kanjeng Raden Tumenggung Hartonodiningrat, has enjoyed success in his efforts to preserve one of the country's most treasured forms of cultural art.

Tam, who earned a technical engineering degree from Petra Christian University in Surabaya in 1992, however, chose to become a master craftsman of kris (a wavy-bladed Javanese dagger).

"In the beginning, my family was very concerned about my choice of profession because they believed the job wouldn't provide enough money. They always said my future would be gloomy," he told The Jakarta Post.

Tam has long been known for his skills in making kris. From the age of 10, Tam, who grew up in Surabaya, was clever enough to make steel knives using workshop equipment that was used to repair and service vehicles belonging to his father's freight business.

Tam learned how to make kris from an older master craftsman from Surabaya, Kanjeng Raden Haryo Tumenggung Sukoyo Hadinagoro, who he met through one of his father's colleagues.

Tam joined other Indonesian master craftsmen in the so-called "kris war" of 2006 -- a dispute with craftsmen from Malaysia and Singapore over the two countries' claims the kris was their own heritage item.

"I knew their intentions were not good ... they wanted to steal information to strengthen their claims that the kris did not originate from Indonesia, but came from their countries," he said.

Tam and other Indonesian craftsmen were outraged over the way in which the neighboring states attempted to "steal" Indonesian culture. Together with other kris artists, Tam approached government officials and urged them to defend the nation's culture and art.

"Fortunately, UNESCO finally decided that the kris belonged to Indonesia. In March 2007, together with other artists, we formed the Indonesian Kris National Secretariat as the coordinating institution for all master craftsmen to fight for the preservation of the Indonesian kris," he said.

Tam's struggle to defend the kris as an Indonesian heritage item made his parents proud of his achievements and career choice.

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