Wayang: Art of Indonesia

The neck is disproportionately long in relation to the body and the arms nearly touch the feet. The features of the puppet don't present human characters in a naturalistic way. This puppet is called "wayang", which also means an Indonesian art form which reflects the thought, feelings and the way of life of the Javanese, using "wayang" puppets.


The Wayang is used not merely for entertainment, but also for exorcism, invocation of ancestral spirits and religious ceremonies such as purification, weddings or circumcision festivals. 


Puppets of Gods, demons and heroes cast their shadow on a screen, developing epics which originated in ancient India, and teach people how to live wisely. This type of Wayang is called "Wayang Purwa,"  the words meaning 'shadow' and 'ancient' respectively.


The wayangs are made of buffalo hide, tooled, perforated, painted and gilded, and supported and strengthened by beautifully polished horn handles. The puppeteer who manipulates these wayangs is called a "dalang." The dalang is the sole puppeteer controlling about 100 characters and is the director of the entire performance, signalling to the musicians who sit behind him. He narrates, sings and speaks for all the puppets, changing his voice and style of speaking. He also groans, grunts, cries and shrieks in fighting squences.


There is no definite script. Although the course of action is decided, the story is developed by the dalang's impromptu creativity. Sometimes an ancient character even appears in a modern car or on a motor bike, which surprises and delights the audience. The same story is presented differently by a different dalang, and the same dalang develops the same story differently on different occasions.


The Wayang have also been used as a means of education and enlightenment for people or farmers who have few chances to get education; for example the drive for better nutrition or family planning. Therefore, the dalang must be proficient in describing and evoking the scene, and in music and literature; and he must be humorous, and of course he must be a skilled puppet master. The dalang may be the real hero of the show rather than wayangs themselves.


#61 Parkway Vol. 7 No.4 August 1993