Wayang Kulit, the Shadow Puppet workshop

Detail of the head of puppet, showing the intricate carving and chiseling.
Detail of the head of puppet, showing the intricate carving and chiseling.

Today I took a taxi in to the centre of Yogya to meet Tatang, who had been to the market to buy silk. He was taking me to a shadow puppet carving workshop, owned by a friend. We met outside the central Post Office then we walked a little way. Little did I know what he had in store for me !
There in front was parked his motorcycle and he expected me to get on, telling me it wasn’t a long journey and I’d be fine. My hesitation only lasted a minute, I felt a bit obliged, but I trusted him.
So I had the experience of motorcycling through central Yogya with all the other traffic and mayhem! Holding on wasn’t a problem, but cornering and knowing what to do with ones body when there was a change of direction made me a little nervous.

Tatang and his friends in the workshop.
Tatang and his friends in the workshop.

Any way we arrived safely at the workshop where we were greeted by his friends and invited inside. Three men were hammering away on their benches, making intricate incisions into buffalo hide, the Shadow puppets already cut into shape and recognisable as characters. I was told there are 150 different human characters, 100 God and Ganesh and nearly 100 animal characters.
Wayang, in modern Indonesian language, is loosely translated to mean puppet, Kulit means skin or leather, the material from which the figures are carved.

Detail of man chiseling the hide to create minutely detailed, symbolic pattern.
Detail of man chiseling the hide to create minutely detailed, symbolic pattern.

Special cured buffalo hide is used, not from agricultural animals, where they might be whipped and their hide scarred, but from buffalo raised in East Java, where they grow healthy and strong. The puppet makers I saw used stencils and cut the hide with Knives and chisels, motorcycle spokes had been made into varied shaped and sized chisels and were used, showing me the intricacy of the process. Not only the hide is from buffalo, they use the horn to make the supporting rods and bone to make the rivets holding the moving parts of the puppet together. It takes at least ten days to make just one puppet.

Completed shadow puppet ready for painting.
Completed shadow puppet ready for painting.

After the puppet is carved it is painted, the colours each have significant meaning, creating the essence of the puppet’s character; red= love, spirit and motivation, blue= loyalty and control, black= Power and strength, gold= Amnesty, green= hope and prosperity, pink= happiness and many more.

A painted version of the puppet.
A painted version of the puppet.

I was told that the ancient Indonesian art of shadow play or “Wayang Kulit” pre-dates religion and is a unique combination of ritual, lesson, and entertainment. Lacy shadowed images are projected on a taught linen screen with an oil lamp or electric light behind. The Dalang, or shadow artist, manipulates the carved figures between the lamp and the screen to bring the shadows to life.

Shadow Puppet Play
Shadow Puppet Play

Most shadow plays were based on two epic stories from India. The Mahabarata and the Ramayana, elegantly depicting Eastern philosophies which have inspired many cultures. The Javanese and Balinese have combined the Hindu stories with Buddhist and Muslim ideas and their own folk lore. Sometimes this would involve tailoring the story to accommodate the hosting village’s local events or problems and and the Dalang would then illustrate solutions.

Detail showing intricate painting on the carved figure.
Detail showing intricate painting on the carved figure.

The Dalang would have to have been of strong constitution because the average performance lasted 3-8 hours ! The performance techniques were passed down orally within the families of puppeteers, musicians and puppet-makers. Master puppeteers were expected to memorise a vast repertory of stories and to recite ancient narrative and poetic songs in a witty and creative manner.

The Wayang Puppet Theatre still enjoys great popularity and it is the second major Javanese cultural heritage to batik, UNESCO and the Indonesian government are supporting it’s survival 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.

Using small chisels made from spokes of a motorbike wheel to carve the tiny symbols.
Using small chisels made from spokes of a motorbike wheel to carve the tiny symbols.
Blue for loyalty and responsibility. Sorry can't remember his name, will look him up!
Blue for loyalty and responsibility. Sorry can’t remember his name, will look him up!
The Dalang, or puppeteer demonstrating how the puppet moves.
The Dalang, or puppeteer demonstrating how the puppet moves.
Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Wayang Kulit, the Shadow Puppet workshop

  1. What wonderful treasures you are discovering in Yogya Marina…it is lovely to be able to see all your finds.
    Riding on the back of a motor bike in Indonesian traffic will be one of the highlights I expect…isn’t the traffic incredible?
    Did you buy a puppet? I had no idea they took so long to make.

    Like

  2. Hello, I have been searching for workshops of Wagang Kulit, and glad to found your blog! May I ask more information about the workshop? I am planing a trip to Indonesia in near future. Thank you!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s