The keris, a double-edged, wavy-bladed dagger, was for the centuries the principle weapon in use thoughout Malaysia and Indonesia. The Chams, a Malay-related people who now inhibits parts of Cambodia and Southern Vietnam, were also known to have used the weapon.
The origin of keris are obsure, although many theories and prototypes have been suggested to account to its peculiar, distintive shape, including one which proposed the barbed sting of the sting-ray as the model on which it was patterned.
It used was probably widespread in the peninsula before the founding of the sultanate of Melaka and by the end of the 15th century it had spread to all parts of the Malay-speaking region and certain areas of the Philipines.
The keris was designed as a thrusting weapon for fighting at close quarters or in situations where the use of spears or longswords was impractical. The longser version did evolve, a broader bladed sword, the sundang, which was originated among the Bugis of South Sulawesi and a long rapier type keris.
The sundang was a cutting and slashing sword keris and the blade was either curved or straight, usually about 22 inches long widening to about 8 inches at the top.
More than a hundred different styles of keris existed and an extensive vocabulary was used to distinguish the different patterns of blades and hilts. The number of curves of a keris blade, regardless of length, is always odd number.
The process involved in making of a keris was steeped in superstition and elaborate ritual, for every keris was believed to possess a protective spirit with powerful forces which demanded respect and careful treatment.
In former times many other type of dagger were used in Malaysia such as the badek, a short-bladed stabbing weapon with a simple tabular hilt. The tumbuk lada ("pepper crusher"), which was common in the north of the peninsula and Negeri Sembilan, was more ornate version of the badek.
The kerambit , a narrow-bladed claw-shaped dagger, also known as the lawi ayam, was designed for ripping rather than stabbing. A smaller version was popular with woman because its size enabled it to be easily concealed about the body or in the hair.
The bladau was a larger version of the kerambit with a 10 inch long blade and was used mainly in hand to hand fighting. They were two types of spears, (lembing), in use in the Malay peninsula : the throwing spear and one used for fighting at close quarters.
The shaft of the throwing spears was longer and lighter than that of the second variety and had smooth flat blade. The blade of the spear used for fighting at close quarters often had a shallow ridge running up the centre.
With the fall of Melaka in 1511 to the Portuguese, foreign weapons were imported to the peninsula in much greater numbers than before. Two weapons of the European design in particular were widely manufactured by Malays: a light weight iron cannon and a brass swivel gun.
The swivel gun was most commonly used on a ships and was designed to be a portable weapon. Three main types of swivel gun were manufactured: the Lela a long barrelled gun made of brass, the rentaka, which was of the same design, although shorter and made of iron, and the ekor lotong, the smallest of the three weapons with a handle which curved upwards at the breech giving its name,"the monkey's tail".
The manufacture and use of weapons in Malaysia declined rapidly towards the end of the 19th century and many beautiful pieces were either allowed to rust away or were melted down and the metal reused. The finest examples today can only be seen in museums or royal palaces.