Weekly Photo Outing

This week I’m going to share one of my many trips to Thailand’s troubled southern regions of Pattani, Yala, and Naratihwat.  You’ve probably read about these provinces in the Bangkok Post and other papers and know there have been more than a few bombings, beheadings, shootings, and other forms of violence.  I’ve taken more than a few trips to these regions to investigate and photograph the ongoing conflict, but this time I’m going to share something I consider much more enjoyable, my visit to the Kris Master who hand makes beautiful traditional kris daggers by advanced order, and regularly makes one off pieces for HM the King and visiting/honored heads of state.

Dragger makers in the South of Thailand

During the time of my visit the bombings and violence were at their normal levels so my contact in the Thai SF community set me up with an armed military escort of roughly 23 men.  We convoyed to the kris masters home where he greeted us with smiles and his entire family were there to greet us as well, meanwhile the soldiers secured the perimeter and advised me that they wouldn’t recommend staying past a certain period of time in case anyone decided to organize a neighborhood welcoming committee.

Soldiers and dragger makers

Once we made the introductions we got right down to business and they showed me how they made these beautiful works of art using hand tools, a homemade forge, and an array of home built tools and jigs.  He also showed us the steel he mixed during the forging and hand hammering which included certain types of metal chain, boat anchors, railroad track, leaf springs, and other items selected for their specific content of iron, steel, nickel, zinc, and other metals.  It really was amazing to learn and see how they made such handsome weapons from what appeared to be discarded and rusty scrap.

A kris dagger in the making

After we’d seen his outdoor shop, forge, and work area he went into his home and came out with a armload of sample kris’s.  Laying them out on a table I took my time and admired each individual piece, each one having a unique and distinctive pattern running through the blade brought on through the design of that one blade.  To decide how he would build the blade he would ask the customer specific questions ranging from the spiritual to military experience and then in what he described a spiritual process spend the next 3-8 weeks fashioning just that one blade!  These are not hastily made, the average kris takes at least three and a half weeks, some take that many months.  They work on it as they have spiritual inspiration, and then work on another one, and then will come back to it again when they feel it’s the right time.  He estimated that roughly 120-500 man hours goes into each kris.

Finished products

The drive down south is interesting, and once you reach Pattani and head south into Yala you’ll notice fewer (much) temples and more mosques, more Muslim clothing, hair styles, and other traditional Muslim garb, foods, and events.  Despite the ever present threat of violence and being targeted simply for being a foreigner I very much enjoyed my time in the south on this particular trip.  I DO NOT RECOMMEND this area for the casual tourist.  This is an area you should only go with a specific purpose and guidance of the local police department and/or military outpost.  This is not an exaggeration.  If you desire to travel in these parts I strongly encourage you to rethink your plans, and if you must make sure you get the advice and support from others with experience and contacts in the area.

Muslim girls in the neighborhood
Muslim biker girl with matching helmet and bike