WAYANG PUPPET THEATER

WAYANG

Wayang is the Indonesia word for puppet and in Indonesia is used to describe theater both with and without puppets but is most often used as shorthand for wayang kulit (Javanese shadow puppet theater). The various art forms associated with it has been around for at least 1,000 years. Wayang shows are major social occasions. They have traditionally been featured at weddings, circumcision parties and festivals. Vendors are usually on hand, selling roasted peanuts, clove cigarettes and drinks.

In 2003, Wayang puppet theater was designated by UNESCO as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Wayang performances often go on all night and it is not uncommon for the audience—and even performers and musicians—to doze off and wake during the drama. The plots are complicated but audience knows most of the stories and characters well enough so if they fall asleep they can pick up the action when they wake up.

The popularity of wayang is declining somewhat as young people become more interested in films, pop music and television. In the cities and town condensed two-hour wayangs are often the norm and puppeteers are having difficulty fining young people and new students interested in learning the art form. One student told AP, “Wayang is out of fashion, it’s boring and I don’t understand the the old Javanese language. It makes me sleepy.” Another said, “I think we should preserve our traditional culture, buy wayang for the young generation is not interesting. It’s less attractive compared with modern culture.”

Renowned for its elaborate puppets and complex musical styles, this ancient form of storytelling originated on the Indonesian island of Java. For ten centuries wayang flourished at the royal courts of Java and Bali as well as in rural areas. Wayang has spread to other islands (Lombok, Madura, Sumatra and Borneo) where various local performance styles and musical accompaniments have developed. [Source: UNESCO ><]

While these carefully handcrafted puppets vary in size, shape and style, two principal types prevail: 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. Both types are characterized by costumes, facial features and articulated body parts. The master puppeteer (dalang) manipulates the swivelling arms by means of slender sticks attached to the puppets. Singers and musicians play complex melodies on bronze instruments and gamelan drums. In the past, puppeteers were regarded as cultivated literary experts who transmitted moral and aesthetic values through their art. The words and actions of comic characters representing the “ordinary person” have provided a vehicle for criticizing sensitive social and political issues, and it is believed that this special role may have contributed to wayang’s survival over the centuries. ><

Wayang is central to alus (refined) appreciation of art and wayang kulit is regarded as more refined and intellectual that wayang golek. The Javanese are so found of wayang they have been described as being brainwashed by it. The art form is believed to have been introduced from India around the 11th century and reached the form seen today around the end of the 18th century. Shadow puppets are also popular in Bali, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Turkey, India and China.

Wayang Stories

Most wayang plays are based on Javanese of local versions of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Hindu epics about the fights involving gods and men that culminate in a great battle that is never resolved. The climatic battle of the shadow puppet play has traditionally come at dawn. Other plays are based on old Javanese legends and folk stories. Many are infused with Islamic and Suf themes.

The great Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer told the Washington Post, "The wayang stories are essentially mythical battles involving gods and kings, good and evil, engaged in constant intrigue and conflict, while the common people stand aside in powerless awe." In most cases in wayang the heros prevail in the end because they have the virtue and self-discipline to direct all their supernatural energy to defeat the enemy. The stories are often very complex and beyond the grasp of people who are not familiar with the Hindu epics. The plays usually feature battles between opposites Light and Darkness, Chaos and Order. Some say the struggle is less between good and evil than between what Javanese call alus and kasar feelings, detached effortless self-control and base animal passions."

In many cases the Hindu epic are so diverse they can be used to address any theme. Skilled dalang (puppeteers) pick stories that are relevant to modern issues and use characters that symbolize modern historical figures. Many stories and characters also have mystical purposes: such as ensuring a good harvest or protecting a village from misfortune.

See Wayang Kulit Stories

Wayang Kulit

Wayang kulit, narrated shadow puppet shows performed to gamelan music, is perhaps the most unique cultural tradition associated with Java. The puppets are flat and shadows from the puppets are cast on an illuminated white cotton cloth hanging between the puppeteer and the audience. The puppets are made out of buffalo leather and painted gold, red, blue and green even though nobody sees them.

Wayang is performed in open-air theaters and broadcast on radio and television. Live performances often go on all night and the ending always leads up to another episode sort of like a soap opera. Once there was an announcement that a final episode was going to be held, and people in Java were genuinely worried that the drama might cause the end of world.

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “Wayang kulit (wayang: literally shadow, sometimes puppet; kulit: leather or skin) is still the most popular form of shadow theatre in all Asia. It has been extremely important in the development of Javanese theatre, as most of the other forms of classical theatre have derived their story material, stylisation, and many performing techniques directly from it. Wayang kulit set the aesthetic standard of Javanese theatre, and partly Balinese theatre as well. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki **]

“The stagecraft and equipment are relatively simple, the primus motor being a single narrator-puppeteer, dalang, manipulating the leather puppets on a simple white screen and acting as a narrator to the accompaniment of a gamelan orchestra. It is, however, an art form of immensely rich and intricate symbolism and philosophical content. Shadow drama gave rise to other forms of puppet theatre, for example, wayang klitik with flat wooden puppets and wayang golek with three-dimensional rod puppets. Although these forms of theatre are highly developed, and wayang golek still thrives, they are clearly surpassed by wayang kulit in popularity and complexity.

Book: Javanese Shadow Puppets by Ward Keeler.

History of Wayang Kulit

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “There are two theories concerning the roots of Javanese shadow theatre. According to one theory, it came from India together with the Ramayana and Mababbarata epics during the long process of Java’s Indianisation. The other view maintains that Javanese shadow theatre has ancient indigenous roots. This is often supported by the fact that part of the shadow-theatre repertoire is based on pre-Hindu story cycles, and that all the technical terms of the genre are Javanese and not derived from Sanskrit or other Indian languages. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki **]

“The earliest record confirming the existence of shadow theatre in Central Java dates from AD 907. In the East Javanese period, shadow theatre is believed to have been adopted by the Hindu courts of Bali during the long process of its Indianisation. The Balinese puppets still bear strong resemblances to the so-called wayang-style reliefs in East Javanese temples, discussed above, which are believed to have shared a common style with the contemporary East Javanese shadow puppets. Present-day Javanese shadow puppets are, in turn, believed to have evolved into their extremely elongated and almost non-figurative style during the period of Muslim rule, thus reflecting Islam’s ban on making a human image. **

Wayang stories borrow characters from indigenous myths, Indian epics and heroes from Persian tales. The repertory and performance techniques were transmitted orally within the families of puppeteers, musicians and puppet-makers. Master puppeteers are expected to memorize a vast repertory of stories and to recite ancient narrative passages and poetic songs in a witty and creative manner. The Wayang Puppet Theatre still enjoys great popularity. However, to compete successfully with modern forms of pastimes such as video, television or karaoke, performers tend to accentuate comic scenes at the expense of the story line and to replace musical accompaniment with pop tunes, leading to the loss of some characteristic features. [Source: UNESCO]

Wayang Kulit Puppets

The leather and wood puppets used in wayang kulit have a light shining behind them and placed behind a screen so all you see are their shadows. You can also the little sticks that move the arms and hands of the puppets. Wayang puppets are cut from dried buffalo skin with a knife. Details are added with a hammer and chisel-like stylus, moveable arms are attached, and then the puppets are painted with bright colors. The puppets are painted because sometimes they are used in front of the screen as well as behind it. The sticks used to hold the puppets and their limbs upright are made of horn. The main prop is the kayon, or the “tree” and “mountain of life.” It is also cut from leather and is used to end pieces and symbolize obstacles, clouds, mountains or the sea.

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “The wayang kulit puppets, skilfully cut and chased in leather, are in themselves works of art following strict iconographic rules. A single performance may require the use of 100–500 puppets, varying from some 20 to 100 centimetres in height. The body of the puppet is usually depicted frontally, but the face and feet and the extremely long movable arms and hands are in profile. The different characters, as well as their social status and psychological qualities, are marked by the size, colour, and other details of the puppet. There are, for example, fifteen eye shapes, thirteen nose shapes, and eleven mouth shapes, which together with specific costumes, headdresses, crowns, and jewelry typify the characters. The noble, so-called alus, characters are usually small, the strong gagah characters are larger, and the demons full of aggressive power are the largest. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki **]

“Like the genre as a whole, the puppets of wayang kulit form an endlessly rich world of their own, a kind of science, which to an ever-increasing degree leads the initiated viewer into the secrets of the “wayang world”. The noble hero puppet, for example, follows the Javanese hero ideal of utmost beauty. His body must be slender and well proportioned his nose long and pointed, and his eyes must be shaped like soya beans. He must also look downwards, a reference to self-control and humility, the greatest virtues of Southeast Asian heroes. **

“The stronger characters may look straight ahead, and the more arrogant ones may even look upwards. The noses of the strong characters point upwards, and they have round, bulging eyes. The requirements of the male hero also apply to the royal princesses, whose refinement is taken to the extreme. Colour symbolism gives added detail to the characterisation of the puppets, specifying their mood or temporary emotional state. Gold, the dominating colour, indicates dignity and serenity; black is a sign of anger or maturity; red is for tempestuousness; and white is the colour of youth. To make matters more complicated, the principal characters can be represented by several puppets during a single performance, according to the situation, mood, or age. For example, Arjuna of the Mababbarata, the Javanese hero par excellence, has thirteen different puppet shapes.” **

Wayang Kulit Stories

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “The story or plot of wayang kulit as well as other Javanese drama performances is called lakon, roughly meaning the course of events or action. The plots are derived from various sources, for example, the Indian Mababbarata and the Ramayana, the East Javanese Prince Panji cycle, and later Muslim stories. The four oldest cycles, dealing with the ancient history of Java, are collectively named wayang purwa (purwa: primeval, original, ancient). This includes both pre-Hindu material and lakon based directly on the Mababbarata and the Ramayana epics, whose heroes are regarded as the mythical ancestors of the Javanese. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki **]

“There are several hundred lakon. They serve merely as guides to the performances, including lists of scenes and personages, and descriptions of the action in the actual play, which in practice includes a great deal of improvisation not written in the lakon. However, a lakon follows a more or less standard structure. Sometimes the lakon are faithful to the original texts, but in many cases the epic heroes have been removed from their authentic contexts and have been written into new, purely Javanese, fantasies. **

“The play begins with audience scenes in the palaces of opposing monarchs, where the main conflict is presented. In the ensuing sections, the opponents send messengers to each other until they finally meet in person. Whilst preparing for battle, the hero will experience many doubts and inner conflicts. The climax is a great battle, which is also a drastic turning point in the action. Finally, the victorious noble hero presents himself in his full glory at the home palace, and the plays usually have happy endings, the obligatory victory of the right. The themes are highly ethical, and the mood is generally serious, although the whole includes comic scenes with stock clown characters, slapstick, and even topical satire. Javanese theatre thus combines highly noble qualities with earthy comedy and even obscene grotesqueness. **

“On a philosophical, one could almost say an esoteric, level, the play, as a whole, symbolises the human life cycle. The first part symbolises youth, the middle part adulthood, and the final part old age. The steps from one period to the next are emphasised by the change of the mode in the accompanying gamelan music. On the deepest philosophical level wayang kulit as a whole, including the screen, puppets, dalang etc., represents the cosmic human body, a conception derived through Hindu-Buddhism and Tantrism from the Indian concept of purusha, the primeval cosmic man. **

Semar and Other Wayang Characters

The characters in wayang kulit shadow plays are usually gods and goddesses or characters with their origins in the Hindu epics or Javanese folklore. The characters include demons, holy men, evil spirits, Hindu gods, kings, warriors, saints, buffoons and clowns, monsters, monster ghosts, giants and fantastic animals. Characters from the Mahabharata include the great warrior Bima, the fickle nobleman Arjuna, the Hindu god Krishna, and the dwarf clown Semar. Characters from the Ramayana include Rama, Sita, Rawan and Kumbakama

Other well known characters included the five Pendawa kings. Judistira, the oldest, has white blood instead of red blood; his hot blooded brother Bima "stabs people with his long fingernail" and “sleeps standing up with his fists doubled;" Ardjuna is "calm, very cold" and "the nicest-looking man in the whole world, with many, many wives." The other two pednawa kings are the twins, Nakula and Sadewa. [Source: "The Villagers" by Richard Critchfield, Anchor Books]

Perhaps the most popular character is Semar, a ugly clown-servant with a beer belly, a big butt and single lock of hair. Semar usually appears at first to be a fool but he uses his buffoonery to disarm his rivals and emerges at the end of the play as the smartest character and the one who gets the last laugh. Strangely enough Semar is the Javanese equivalent of Jesus. Semar’s sons Gareng, Petruk and Bagong are also comic figures They are regarded as mouthpieces of truth and wisdom. Clown figures often smoke clove cigarettes, have enormous rear ends and let out big farts.

According to the Javanese creation myth at the beginning of time the entire world was covered by forest except for Semar's rice paddy. During the shadow plays this "god in all too human form" is often depicted throwing feces at his enemies and chasing away naughty children with his smelly farts. Anthropologist Clifford Geetz described Semar as "the lowliest of the low" and "at the same time, the father of us all." [Source: "The Villagers" by Richard Critchfield, Anchor Books]

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “Some of the puppets are revered as sacred objects, and they can even belong to the sacred court heirlooms called pusaka. One of the most sacred puppets of a wayang kulit set is, surprisingly, not a noble hero but Semar, the head of the servant clowns or punakawan of the ethically good party. Semar is old, fat, short-legged, and flat-nosed. He is far from noble or handsome, but his eyes are those of a wise and kind person. With his soft breasts and round bottom, he is regarded as a hermaphrodite, the “father and mother” of his servant sons, the long-nosed Petruk, the limping Gareng, and the shy Bagong. The servant clowns assist the noblest heroes, and they are permitted to utter the most daring jokes. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki **]

The mood of a performance usually becomes intensified when they appear on the screen. Semar is basically seen as a god in the guise of a clown, who helps the hero achieve his goal with kindness and humour. The origin of the punakawan has led to much speculation. It is maintained that they are old indigenous deities, which have been adapted to later Indianised mythology. This suggestion is supported by, for example, the stylisation of the Semar character, which differs drastically from the other puppets. On the other hand, clowns play a central part in numerous forms of theatre in Asia. This is also the case in Indian drama, where the sudraka, a noble-born but lazy Brahman, acts as the king’s adviser.” **

Wayang Puppeteers

The driving force behind wayang is the dalang (puppeteer), who animates all the puppets by himself . He performs all the speaking rolls from memory with "strange, squeaky voice" and improvises the dialogue as he goes along. He sits in a cross legged position and rarely gets up during the entire show. Iron clappers and wooden blocks are used for sounds effects and the gamelan music gets more intense as the performance goes on, perhaps to keep everyone awake. Lots of puns are made with the Sudanese words for "kiss," "sit," and "water" which mean "drink," "go home" and "feces" in Javanese. Some members of the audience like to watch performance from behind the screen so they can see the dalang at work, [Source: "The Villagers" by Richard Critchfield, Anchor Books]

Dalang are believed to infuse their puppets with deep mystical spirituality. At the same time they can infuse their shows with acerbic political and social commentary. The art form helped spread anti-colonial messages during Dutch rule and many dalang were blacklisted or forced to tow the government line in the Suharto years.

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “Wayang kulit is, to a great degree, the art of the narrator. The performance of the dalang is the focus of the whole, often 10-hour-long performance, which traditionally begins at 9 p.m. and ends at sunrise. The dalang is also responsible for the rituals performed in connection with the play, and he must know by heart the main lakon, which are in a way revived with the addition of much improvisation. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki **]

“The dalang have traditionally had a priest-like role, and the profession has passed on from father to son. Today, dalang are also trained in special schools, but they are still highly respected members of their communities, the best dalang being famous throughout the island. The dalang thus carries on the ancient oral tradition passing on the main body of classical literature, but at the same time he must be able to improvise and add even the most topical items to the whole. He must also be skilled in recitation, singing, the vocal characterisations of the roles, and the elevated and vulgar levels of the language, along with manipulating the puppets in front of the screen.” **

Life of Wayang Puppeteers

Many dalang earn little for their work and are forced to travel from village to village as itinerant entertainers to make a living. A dalang typically charged around $100 for a six-hour show in the early 2000s that included dance, theater and gamelan music. They are often hired to do the shows at weddings or boy's circumcisions. Well known dalang can often make reasonably good money doing television and radio shows.

Dalang are held in high esteem. They are regarded as moralists and pundits as well as craftsmen and humorists. They are sought after as friends by politicians and headmen. Describing a 60-year-old itinerant dalang, who had plied his trade for 36 years Jamie James wrote in the New York Times, "A jaunty, compact man scarcely five feet tall, he has the sunny countenance and self-confident air of an artist at the top of his profession." The puppeteer told the New York Times, "It is in my nature to be a dalang. In the beginning I had no teacher, no texts, no puppets. I borrowed a set of puppets and when the owner took them back, I learned how to carve my own...Two of my great grandfathers were dalangs but the intervening generations were not."

Dalang often become so attached to their puppets they talk to them like friends. In a single show a dalang may perform for ten hours without a break, and speak 125 voices in four different languages such archaic Pali of medieval India, Javanese and Balinese. Some of the great dalangs, it is said, glowed in the dark and were able to perform shadow plays without a light. [Source: "Ring of Fire" by Lawrence and Lorne Blair, Bantam Books, New York]

Wayang Kulit Stage and Gamelan Music

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “The wayang kulit puppets are opaque, and on the screen they are seen as dark shadows articulated by precise lace-like perforations. The screen is divided into two, the right-hand side being reserved for the good characters, and the left for the evil party. This polarity, however, is not rigid, since both parties include characters with qualities that could belong to the opposing one. At the sides of the 4-metre-long screen the puppets stand in rows with their rods stuck into the soft trunk of a banana tree placed below the screen. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki **]

“When the play begins, the gunungan, a tapering structure resembling a temple spire or a tree, is removed from in front of the screen. The gunungan is the symbol of the “wayang world” and is a kind of “curtain” marking the beginning of the play, changes of scene, and the end. It is also used for special effects such as storms, or even the disruption of the cosmic order. Like all other features of wayang kulit, the gunungan has many symbolic meanings; it is said to symbolise, for example, the World Mountain, the tree of life, and the cosmic order. **

“The dalang displays expert knowledge of the music so essential to the performance. He leads the gamelan, an ensemble of up to thirty musical instruments: gongs, metallophones, xylophones, drums, flutes, zithers, and stringed instruments along with a chorus of female singers. One set of metallophones carries the recurrent melody, which is elaborated by other metallophones, xylophones, and gong sets, with the drums leading the rhythm, while another set of metallophones gives the dalang his pitch. **

“The gamelan accompaniment is indeed an integral part of the performance. Each principal character has his or her own musical theme or Leitmotif, and the gamelan drastically accentuates the three decisive turning-points of the performance, changing from the rather low-keyed accompaniment of the beginning to an ever higher pitch and faster tempo towards the end. **

“In earlier times it was customary for men to watch the play from in front of the screen, while women sat behind it, thus being able to see the orchestra, the dalang, and the brightly coloured puppets. This custom is no longer maintained, at least in large-scale public performances, and today the performance can be freely viewed from both sides of the screen.” **

Derivations of Wayang Kulit

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “The steady popularity of wayang kulit has also made it a platform of various later ideologies. It was used to propagate the Islamic faith, and Western missionaries have also spread the message of Christianity with their Western-influenced puppets. In the mid-1950s the naturalistic puppets of wayang pancasila (Pancasila: the doctrine of the spiritual foundations of the Indonesian Republic) presented the history of Indonesian independence to the people. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki **]

“The Chinese minority of Java has also developed its own shadow puppets, combining Javanese and Chinese features. There are also many wayang kulit-related drama forms, of which the most archaic is wayang beber, now practically extinct. In wayang beber the dalang illustrated the story by opening a painted scroll supported by two poles. Another now rare form is wayang klitik, based on the Islamic Damar Wulan story cycle. It was performed without a screen with flat, wooden puppets carved in relief. **

Although wayang golek [see below] is performed in many places, wayang kulit is still the most popular form of Javanese puppet theatre. It is the origin of the whole “wayang family”, and has provided the general aesthetics, characterisation, and repertoire of Javanese classical theatre as a whole. In its many variants, wayang kulit is performed throughout Java on feast days. Performances are regularly staged by the kraton, and they are also broadcast frequently. Shadow theatre still partly has its traditional, deep, and even sacral meaning, and performing and viewing the play can be experienced as a kind of spiritual exercise. However, many also claim that it has recently been too heavily popularised and is thus becoming only a form of entertainment. **

Wayang Golek

Wayang golek (wayang klitik) is like wayang kulit except the puppets are carved in relief and used without a screen. The three-dimensional puppets are carved from wood and elaborately painted and costumed. They have movable heads and arms and are manipulated with rods by a puppeteer below the stage. Many of the stories are the same Hindu ones used in Wayang Gulik but some are also inspired by Islamic stories.

Wayang golek is particularly popular in West Java and is associated with the Sundanese ethnic group. It is regarded as more populist and artheri than wayang kulit. It has traditionally been performed in Sundanese, the language of southwest Java. The puppets are often elaborately crafted. Some of the newer ones can stick out their tongue. Philip Kennicott wrote in the Washington Post, “They are extraordinary works of art even when inanimate; in the hands of a dalang their rudimentary motions take on exceptional subtlety. They strut and mope, bean each other on the head a lot, and enact complex stories while all the time swaying, just a little bit, rather like people on the edge of a dance floor.”

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy Helsinki wrote: “Wayang golek is a still popular form of rod puppetry, which, according to tradition, was invented by a Javanese Muslim ruler in the late sixteenth century. Its main repertoire is derived from the Menak cycle, dealing with the Muslim hero Amir Hamzah. Local variants of wayang golek have evolved in various parts of Java. The tradition is strongest in West Java, where it has been used in performing the stock repertoire of wayang purwa, that is, the Ramayana, the Mababbarata, as well as local tales, and the East Javanese Adventures of Prince Panji. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki **]

“Wayang golek uses a set of 60–70 puppets, which do not always portray specific characters, but stock types, the puppets thus being interchangeable. The heads and arms are carved three-dimensionally in wood, and the lower part of the body is covered by a batik sarong, beneath which the dalang operates the rod that makes the puppet’s head turn. He uses his other hand to manipulate the rods for the arms and hands. There is no screen, the dalang, the orchestra, and the singers all being visible to the audience.”**

Wayang Cepak

Wayang Cepak is a style of wayang golek practiced in West Java. It is a dying form practiced mostly around Cirebon. It has been around for at least 700 years, making it one of the oldest continuously performed forms of theater in the world, and is known for its distinctive style of carving.

Describing a Wayang Cepak show presided over by a dalang named Warsad Darya, Jamie James wrote in the New York Times, "The stage, a pair of stout banana trees, was flanked by a brilliant array of 130 puppets, all carved and painted by Warsad. They were costumed in lustrous silk and satin, and adorned with glittering spangles, bugles and beads. A fluorescent tube, mounted on a beam overhead and shaded by a pink curtain, cast a soft light. From the beam dangled offerings to the ancient pre-Muslim gods of Java: pineapples, pumpkins, passion fruit, bottles of soda and beer, cigarettes." [Source: Jamie James, New York Times, March 26, 2000]

"After a clangorous overture, a 15-year-old girl came out in front of the stage and impersonated several characters from the wayang, wearing masks and scarves and moving with grace or heavy-limbed power, as the character demanded....Then Warsad, seated in the floor behind the stage began to work his magic: no other word suffices. The puppets floated across he stage, their heads and arms manipulated from below by slender rods. An aristocratic lady rushed into view, tossing her head fretfully and flailing her arms as the dalang crooned her cry of distress...A handsome prince entered, strutting purposely, his virile confident voice offering her solace. One by one the characters were introduced and planted in their places, carrying on complex conversations, punctuated by songs, which propel an enormously complicated plot." [Ibid]

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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