Last updated
Kris nomenclature.jpg
Moro kalis nomenclature, given in Tausūg, Maranao, and Maguindanao
Place of origin Indonesia (Java) introduced to Eastern Indonesia (Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Molucca, Seram, Talaud Islands), Philippines (Sulu Archipelago, Mindanao, Visayas, Ilocos) [1]
Service history
In service Tondo, Rajahnate of Cebu, Butuan, Rajahnate of Maynila, Ma-i, Sultanate of Maguindanao, Sultanate of Sulu, Bruneian Empire
Used by Moro people (Sama people, Maguindanao people, Maranao people, Tausūg people), Tagalog people
Length46-66 cm (blade)

Blade  typeDouble edged
Hilt  typeWood, ivory
Scabbard/sheath Wood

A kalis (Baybayin: ᜃᜎᜒ or ᜃᜎᜒᜐ᜔; Abecedario: cáli, cális) is a type of double-edged Filipino sword, often with a "wavy" section, similar to a keris. Just like the keris, the kalis's double-edged blade can be used for both cutting and thrusting; except that the kalis is much larger than most keris, making it a sword rather than a dagger.


The wavy portion of the kalis is said to be meant to facilitate easier slashing in battle - since a straight edge tends to get stuck in the opponent's bones, the wavy portion allows the kalis' bearer to more easily pull the weapon out of his opponent's body. [2]

This weapon was featured in the American bladesmithing competition, Forged in Fire (TV series)'s season 1 episode 8. [3]


It is believed that the predecessor of the kalis, the keris, first appeared in the 13th century, originally from the island of Java in Indonesia. From there the keris migrated to the Philippines where it evolved into the kalis.

All the Filipino types of kalis swords are both larger and heavier than those from Indonesia. Although it is considered to be a slashing weapon, the kalis can be effectively used for thrusts and stabs. The larger kalis was introduced back to Indonesia, especially in Kalimantan and Sulawesi, where it is known as sundang, sondang or kerisSulu (not to be confused with the súndang, another native Philippine sword from the Visayas). [4]

Physical description

Various types of Moro kalis (c.1926) showing blade variation Krieger 1926 Philippine ethnic weapons Plate 14.png
Various types of Moro kalis (c.1926) showing blade variation


In this example, the blade's lamination pattern and the darker high-carbon cutting edge of the blade are visible. This harder high-carbon cutting edge is termed as "sinubo" (roughly, "sandwiched"). Kalis seko kris moro sword 2 laminated blade.jpg
In this example, the blade's lamination pattern and the darker high-carbon cutting edge of the blade are visible. This harder high-carbon cutting edge is termed as "sinubo" (roughly, "sandwiched").

The kalis blade is defined as one that is wide on the base and double-edged. It is capable of delivering both chopping and slicing cuts. While many assume the traditional form of the kalis is the fully wavy blade, the half-waved half-straight, as well as the fully straight blades, are equally if not more common, as straight blades were more practical in combat. Moro kalis blades generally range in size from 18 to 26 inches (46 to 66 cm), though as with all Moro weapons there are exceptions. Generally however, the larger blades are found on later pieces, while the oldest Moro kalis tend to be of smaller stature. Damascene patterning is sometimes evident though often not as controlled as seen in the complex pattern welding of the smaller Malay keris.

Guard (gangya)

The demarcation line indicating the separate gangya (guard) can be seen. Kalis seko kris moro sword 2 cross guard.jpg
The demarcation line indicating the separate gangya (guard) can be seen.

The gangya (guard) of a kalis blade is made in such a manner that their lines flow very elegantly into the blade, never interrupting in continuity from transition from gangya proper to blade. Antique kalis (kalis made before 1930) were made with a separate gangya (guard) like their Malay cousins, while more modern made kalis lack this feature and have gangya that are in fact integral to the blade. Some newer kalis do have an engraved line to simulate the appearance of a separate gangya, but when inspected closely it is evident that this is only a cosmetic engraved line, and not a true separate gangya. At some point near the early 19th century, gangya started to be made with a distinct 45-degree angle near the terminus. Opposite the hook-like fretwork on the gangya, exists a curved cavity. It has been suggested that this cavity is representative of the trunk of an elephant, others contend that it is the mouth of the naga (serpent) with the blade being the tail, and still others contend that it is in fact the open mouth of an eagle.

Two Filipino swords, a kampilan (longer) and a kalis (shorter), photographed side by side to demonstrate their size relative to each other. Kalis Kampilan 2.JPG
Two Filipino swords, a kampilan (longer) and a kalis (shorter), photographed side by side to demonstrate their size relative to each other.

Modern tourist kalis blades can be distinguished by a number of features that once identified are quite easy to spot. Perhaps the easiest to identify feature of a modern tourist/fake kalis blade are the shaping of the waves. Traditional kalis feature gracefully undulating waves that are forged deep into the blade to penetrate straight to the centerline of the blade. Tourist kalis, on the other hand, feature shallow angular waves, that appear to be cut out of the steel rather than forged into the blade.


This example of a non-ornate pommel and simple hilt, wrapped in lacquered fiber for improved grip, is a style of kalis typically used by Moro warriors. Kalis seko kris moro sword 2 hilt.jpg
This example of a non-ornate pommel and simple hilt, wrapped in lacquered fiber for improved grip, is a style of kalis typically used by Moro warriors.

The hilt is either straight or slightly curved (most common on cockatoo (kakatua) pommel hilts). Pommel variations are many, however the most common are the horse-hoof (the most distinctive variation coming from the Sulu Sultanate) and the cockatoo. Commonly the pommel is made of beautiful hardwood burl (such as banati) with the hilt being wrapped in a lacquered natural fiber (such as jute). However, on higher end kalis, belonging to the upper class, the pommel would be made of such exotic materials as ivory, silver plating, solid brass, etc. with hilts often lavishly bound with silver or swasaa (an alloyed mixture of gold similar to red-gold) bands frequently with braided silver wire interspersing the chased bands.


An example of a simple scabbard made of two loose pieces of wood, secured together by loops of brass. Kalis seko kris moro sword 1a.JPG
An example of a simple scabbard made of two loose pieces of wood, secured together by loops of brass.

The Moro kalis scabbard shares many common characteristics with their Malay cousins, but are unique in their own style and form. Scabbards tended to be made of wide grain native hardwoods (e.g. mahogany, teak, narra, etc.), and lashed together with rattan bindings. Sometimes the cross-piece is a separate piece, with the tail-piece socketed in, but quite often the cross-piece and tail are made of one board. Older scabbards feature wider rattan lashings, and normally only cover small sections (e.g. bottom 1/3, 4 inch bands, etc.) of the scabbard.

Kalis blades are wide at the base, double-edged, and can be waved, half-waved half-straight, or straight. Kalis seko kris moro sword 2 overall.jpg
Kalis blades are wide at the base, double-edged, and can be waved, half-waved half-straight, or straight.


Other keris-derived weapons in the Philippines include the balasiong sword and the punyal (or gunong) daggers.

See also

Related Research Articles

A sword is a bladed melee weapon intended for cutting or thrusting that is longer than a knife or dagger, consisting of a long blade attached to a hilt. The precise definition of the term varies with the historical epoch or the geographic region under consideration. The blade can be straight or curved. Thrusting swords have a pointed tip on the blade, and tend to be straighter; slashing swords have a sharpened cutting edge on one or both sides of the blade, and are more likely to be curved. Many swords are designed for both thrusting and slashing.

Kris Indonesian spiritual weapon

The kris or keris in Indonesian languages, is an Indonesian asymmetrical dagger with distinctive blade-patterning achieved through alternating laminations of iron and nickelous iron (pamor). The kris is famous for its distinctive wavy blade, although many have straight blades as well, and is one of the weapons commonly used in then pencak silat martial art native to Indonesia. Kris have been produced in many regions of Indonesia for centuries, but nowhere—although the island of Bali comes close—is the kris so embedded in a mutually-connected whole of ritual prescriptions and acts, ceremonies, mythical backgrounds and epic poetry as in Central Java. Within Indonesia the kris is commonly associated with Javanese culture, although other ethnicities are familiar with the weapon as part of their culture, such as the Balinese, Sundanese, Malay, Madurese, Banjar, Buginese, and Makassar people. Abroad, the kris is considered as a cultural symbol of Indonesia.

Kampilan Sword

The kampilan is a type of single-edged sword, traditionally used by various ethnic groups in the Philippine archipelago. It has a distinct profile, with the tapered blade being much broader and thinner at the point than at its base, sometimes with a protruding spikelet along the flat side of the tip. The design of the pommel varies between ethnic groups, but it usually depicts either a bakunawa (dragon), a buaya (crocodile), a kalaw (hornbill), or a kakatua (cockatoo).


The shashka or shasqua, is a kind of sabre; single-edged, single-handed, and guardless backsword. In appearance, the shashka is midway between a typically curved sabre and a straight sword. It has a slightly curved blade, and can be effective for both cutting and thrusting.

Dha (sword) Burmese knife

Dha is the Burmese word for "knife" similar term to daab or darb in Thai language for a single edge sword. The term dha is conventionally used to refer to a wide variety of knives and swords used by many people across Southeast Asia, especially present-day Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Yunnan, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Barong (sword) Sword or knife

The barong is a thick, leaf-shaped, single-edged blade sword. It is a weapon used by Muslim Filipino ethnolinguistic groups like the Tausug, Sama-Bajau, or Yakan in the Southern Philippines.


The gunong is a knife from Mindanao and the Visayas islands of the Philippines. In ancient past, it was called bunong by the Tagalog people. It is essentially a diminutive form of the larger kalis or kris. The gunong serves both as a utility knife and as a thrusting weapon used for close quarter fighting—usually as a last defense. It is most often associated with the Maranao, among whom the gunong was traditionally carried by both sexes, although it exists in other cultures throughout Mindanao and the Visayas. The weapon is generally tucked into the back of a waist sash.

Panabas Sword

The panabas, also known as nawi, is a large, forward-curved sword or battle axe used by certain ethnic groups in the southern Philippines. It can range in size from 2 to 4 feet and can be held with one or both hands, delivering a deep, meat cleaver-like cut. In its heyday, it was used as a combat weapon, as an execution tool, and as a display of power. Occasional use as an agricultural and butchering tool has also been noted.

Dahong palay Sword

The Dahong Palay, literally "rice leaf" in Tagalog, is a single-edged sword from the Philippines, specifically the Southern Tagalog provinces of Batangas and Mindoro. The sword's name could either be a reference to the similarity of its shape to the leaves of rice or to local green "dahong palay" snakes, purported to be extremely venomous. The snake is probably the green specimen of the Philippine Pit Viper, Trimeresurus flavomaculatus, though it is sometimes identified as various relatively harmless green snakes, like vine snakes. The dahong palay was originally used as a farmer's tool, for clearing thick grass growths. However, during the Philippine revolution of 1896, farmers from Batangas soon came to favor it for its slashing and thrusting "feel".

Weapons of silat

Listed here are the weapons of silat. The most common are the machete, staff, kris, sickle, spear, and kerambit. Because Southeast Asian society was traditionally based around agriculture, many of these weapons were originally farming tools.

Balato (sword) Type of Sword

Balato is a sword that originates from Nias, an island off the west coast of North Sumatra, Indonesia.

Badik Type of Knife, Dagger

The badik or badek is a knife or dagger developed by the Bugis and Makassar people of southern Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Wedung Type of Ceremonial Knife, Machete

Wedung is a traditional large knife of the Javanese people and the Balinese people originating from Indonesia.

Alamang or Sonri is a sacred sword or cutlass of the Bugis and Makassarese people in Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Bangkung Sword

The bangkung or bangkon, is a short sword originating in the Sulu Archipelago of the Philippines. The bangkung was used primarily by the Moro people of the Sulu and is not associated with Moros in other areas such as Mindanao, although it is sometimes found in coastal regions. The bangkung is a slashing weapon, meant to deliver hacking type blows. While the bangkung is a very effective sword, it was not popular unlike the panabas and the pirah and for this reason it is one of the most rarely found Moro edged weapons. Few were produced and even fewer survive.

Pisau raut Whittling knife

Pisau raut is a whittling knife that is commonly as a tool to prepare the rattan and other fine carving found throughout the entire Malay archipelago. It is well known as an accompanying knife placed in the same sheath with the mandau, a traditional weapon of the Dayak people.

Dao (Naga sword) Sword

Dao is the sword of the Naga people of Northeastern India, mainly in the Indian states of Assam and Nagaland. The sword, with its wooden hilt, and unique square form is used for digging as well as for killing.

Rudus Type of Cutlass

A Rudus is a sword or cutlass associated with the Malay culture of Sumatra. Together with the pemandap, the rudus is among the largest swords of Malay people. Rudus is also a symbol of certain Malay state in the Island, e.g. the Province of Bengkulu in Sumatra, Indonesia.

Balasiong is a Filipino sword used by Muslim Filipino ethnolinguistic groups in the Southern Philippines. It is a type of kalis but differs in that the double-edged blade isn't wavy but instead slightly convex. It also tapers sharply to the tip. The hilt, like in the kalis is shaped like a pistol handle, an element known as the kakatua (cockatoo).

Keris bahari

A keris bahari is a long version of a keris dagger mainly used in Sumatra. It is also called kerispanjang. Keris bahari is dubbed by European people as "Sumatran rapier kris" or "execution keris".


  1. "Traditional Filipino Weapons".
  2. Raiders of the Sulu Sea (Documentary). Oakfilms3, History Channel Asia. Retrieved 2009-02-08.[ permanent dead link ]
  3. "The Moro Kris". History. Retrieved 2018-09-10.
  4. Albert G Van Zonneveld (2002). Traditional Weapons of the Indonesian Archipelago. Koninklyk Instituut Voor Taal Land. ISBN   90-5450-004-2.

Further reading