National Geographic : 1971 Jan
Javanese royalty, can and sometimes does welcome foreign visitors into her home. This charming lady, notified of our coming, invited us to tea. We sat with her in a half open octagonal sitting room, served by duck walking girls. Then, to my amazement, she asked if we would like to see her private quarters. I was up and out of my shoes as quickly as decorum permitted. Turning to Ku mar, her highness said in Indonesian, "Why should we close our doors to foreigners?" She led us into a suite of three high-ceil inged shadowy rooms which gave the effect of simplicity on a regal scale. When we left, Kumar whispered delightedly, "If I tell my friends in Djakarta I had tea with a princess, sitting at her level, and entered her quarters, they will never believe me. Never!" A member of the noble family, Suseno, showed us collections of art objects and weap ons that would have graced any museum. I told him that ever since my childhood I had longed to own a fine kris. I'd looked at hun dreds of the serpentine daggers, never finding one that felt right to me. As any Indonesian knows, there is a special relationship between these intensely mystical objects and the people who care about them. The right kris announces itself, and, under the right circumstances, delivers itself to the right man. A kris must happen to you. Pleased by my interest, Suseno referred me to a master woodcarver who was believed to own a true pusaka weapon-a royal heirloom. We sought him out at once. He welcomed us, sent for tea, and went to fetch the treasure. I unsheathed it, looked at it, and wanted it so badly my teeth itched. "It is a pusaka kris," said the owner in a mild, gentle voice. "It was made in the 16th century, by a smith named Ki Guling who shaped the blade with his bare hands when it was red hot. It is decorated with pure gold, diamonds, rubies, and sapphires." The price was high. I hadn't the required amount with me, and couldn't have spent it if I had. "Take the kris," the carver said. "Pay nothing. Send money when you can." There, I thought, was the miracle that should accompany the acquisition of a kris. Not until later did I learn that the man risked nothing; if I had failed to pay, the kris, of fended, would have flown back to him. The deal was not made in a day. My offers were courteously refused. In the end, kris like, the treasure became mine at a price lower than I had proposed. "That is a very good thing," said Kumar. "The kris wants to come with you. It will help you." It did. Suseno, impressed by my fascination with the sacred weapon, offered to lead me further into the realm of mysticism. He sum moned a dukun-a soothsayer-to meet me at the kraton. (Continued on page 40) Drip-dry uniforms of these ballplayers in Pangandaran keep them from soiling school clothes. With increased emphasis on educa tion, illiteracy in Indonesia-a staggering 93 percent in 1941-shrank to only 40 percent in recent years.