Indonesian Wayang Golek Wooden Puppets


The Javanese of Indonesia are world renowned for their wayang kulit shadow puppets.  To their west are the Sundanese who prefer wayang golek wooden puppets—no screen, no shadow, just let us see the puppets.

 Jogjakarta may be the cultural capital & heartland of the Javanese, but it’s such an artists’ magnet, that it’s got a bit of everything.  So, even though this is not strictly wooden puppet land, when you visit the puppet workshops & studios of Jogja, you’ll sooner or later run into wayang golek wooden puppets & even wayang wong masks worn by “human puppet” actors.

We rode a becak bicycle-rickshaw to Putro Wayang Puppet Workshop inside the walls of the Jogja sultan’s palace.  There we found shadow puppets to be sure (see previous two blogs), but . . .  

we were surprised to see quite the collection of wooden puppets. 

Our gracious Javanese host immediately started showing us around—starting with wooden versions of the shadow puppet forms. 

He then led us to a collection of the traditional wayang golek wooden puppets, highlighting a prince in his crown . . . 

and the pale monkey of Hindu lore, Hanoman. 

A red faced villan, hung—strangely—beside a display of Arabic Islamic text.  Traditionally Islam has eschewed anything that may be interpreted as a human or animal form, but Javanese art passions have often circumvented such strictures. 

The ultimate marriage of seeming opposites is the form of hunchbacked Semar formed from Arabic calligraphy.  Semar, a figure that emerged in the Javanese versions of the Ramayana epic but never known in India, is loved by the Javanese & regarded by many to be “the spirit of Java.”  Crowds laugh uncontrollably whenever he appears on the puppet screen or stage.  One Indonesian president-Abdurrahman Wahid (a.k.a. Gus Dur)--actually made political hay by encouraging Javanese . . .

who comparied his bent over, blind visage to wise & entertaining Semar.

Then we discovered a Javanese woman puppet that leaned more toward realism.  

But the Javanese won’t let just puppets have the stage.  They love to tell a lot of the same stories using human actors—in masks, thus the art form wayang wong—human puppet shows. 

 No Pinocchio here, a complete Javanese puppet workshop will also let you sample a broad range of masks so that you as a single actor can act out a dramatic range of characters on stage.

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