Saturday, August 22, 2015

Indonesian Shadow Puppets

Two giant-sized puppets watch you as you enter the museum.

In Jakarta, we visited the Wayang Puppet Museum located in the old part of the city. There, we learned that Wayang kulit, the traditional shadow play, is an ancient way of storytelling originating from Java.

Some were paper thin and absolutely gorgeous!

How it's performed: a traditional puppet master would control the puppets and narrate a play with about forty different voices. For puppets with arm hinges, the puppet master would usually place the center stick supporting the puppet's body onto a log, allowing both the performer's arms to be free to move the puppet's limbs. The puppets themselves are beautifully crafted with intricate facial features, elaborate clothes and head dresses of bright colors. Having them decorated like this allows them to be used in both daytime and shadow performances.

Others were a bit more on the creepy side...

The displays in the museum had many, many different forms of puppets made from all sorts of materials -some were made of paper, others of hide or porcelain. Puppets with white faces represented good characters, while those who had pink were more unsavory.

A puppet with limb joints.

While the beauty of the shadow puppets is undeniable, I found the  usage of the puppets as a form of satire through the years to be fascinating. These puppets provided the perfect way for the populace to air out their grievances with the politics of the time and poke fun at local officials. 

Story tellers would use relevant tales from the Indian classics like the Ramayana, to insert messages or criticisms. This was especially important during the time of the Dutch occupation of Indonesia (1800s - 1950).

I wish we would have been able to see a shadow play during this trip, but alas! 

Hopefully next time!


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  2. Glad I found this old blog! Not sure why it says unknown, but I wrote this post back in 2015! ~Stephanie Simpson