What child, or adult for that matter, doesn’t like a puppet show?
Puppetry is one of the oldest art forms and thought to have originated some 4,000 years ago. Societies from ancient Egypt and Greece to the Middle East and India had their versions of puppet shows. Archaeologists have even discovered a terracotta doll capable of manipulation by a string that dates back to 2500 BCE, which suggests that puppets and Puppet Masters may have been used in the Indus Valley Civilization.
Puppetry in Indonesia goes back to about 800 CE. The term for puppetry, wayang, is derived from the Indonesian word for shadow, bayang. Wayang kulit, shadow puppetry, is a type of storytelling that originated on the Indonesian island of Java. It thrived at the royal courts of Java and Bali and in rural areas as a popular form of entertainment as well as to communicate ideas. It spread to other islands including Lombok, Madura, Sumatra and Borneo, each developing local variations. The puppets vary in size, shape and style. There are two main types of puppets: the three-dimensional wooden puppet (wayang klitik or golèk) and the flat leather shadow puppet (wayang kulit) projected in front of a screen lit from behind.
Shadow puppets present a singular form of narrative theater that makes use of light and shadows. The puppets are made of water buffalo hide and mounted on sticks, which can be made of water buffalo horn, wood or bamboo.
The puppet master, dalang, manipulates the puppets behind a large section of white cloth or screen with a bulb or an oil lamp used as a light source, capturing the shadows on the screen. In times past, puppeteers were regarded as literary experts who communicated moral and aesthetic lessons through puppetry. Wayang stories use characters from a variety of sources including indigenous myths, historic epics and heroes from Persian tales. Some of the plays also included local events or gossip. The repertory and performance techniques were transmitted orally within the families of puppeteers, musicians and puppet-makers.
Puppet shows remain popular in Indonesia, but have had to undergo some changes in style and subject matter to compete with today’s video and digital world.
Wayang puppet theater has been recognized by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
You can add a visit a puppet-making shop in Solo to see how this amazing art form is created on any exploration of extraordinary Indonesia.
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