Wayang Kulit is one of the many types of puppet play performed in Indonesia. The word wayang refers to both the puppets and the theatre. Wayang Kulit is probably the oldest form of shadow theatre in Indonesia and dates back to the mid 16th century.
Making the puppets
The hide of a buffalo or goat is scraped thin and flat, then cured so it will not warp. Using a template as a guide, the puppet maker scratches the outline, and guidelines for details into the hide. He cuts the body free, and cuts separate pieces for the arms. The details are punched using a wooden mallet and metal punches and chisels. Puppets are finished with buffalo horn or bamboo stick handles. The leather arms are hinged at the shoulders and elbows with metal, bone or bamboo studs, then attached to sticks for the dalang (puppeteer) to move. Finally, the puppets are painted using traditional pigments or paint and gilt. Wayang kulit are produced in workshops by skilled artisans. The craft is often passed down through the generations.
Most shadow performances in Indonesia are based on two epic stories from India - the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The Balinese and Javanese have combined these Hindu stories with Buddhist and Muslim ideas and their own folklore. The stories illustrate the fight of good against evil through conflict between different forces, culminating in the triumph of the good forces and the destruction of evil.
Javanese shadow performances aim to educate and entertain and take place in the royal courts and villages of central Java. Shows last several hours. Balinese shows take place as part of temple celebrations or special events, where the performances aim to bless the occasion and bring good fortune.
Puppet shows can take place during the day or in the evening, when they are shadow shows. Each performance is in three parts. Firstly, the main characters are introduced along with the problem between the opposing sides and each side expresses its point of view. Then the action speeds up as the clowns appear, joking and giving advice. Finally, the hero and his forces fight the enemy, defeat them in the final and biggest battle, rescue the princess and declare victory. The celebrations of the hero and his forces continue into the dawn.
As well as the main story, the performance can include current events, political satire and village gossip. Clown characters are very popular, providing light relief with jokes and slapstick humour. The performance is varied to keep the audience interested throughout the long show.
The dalang (puppeteer) is a skilled and experienced performer. He tells the story, manipulates all the figures, interprets characters and their voices, and produces sound effects punctuating speech and movement. He speaks all the dialogue, adapting his voice to the different characters, from the gentle voice of a princess to the shouts of a warrior or the noises made by the animal puppets. The dalang also blesses the performance and surrounding areas with mantras before the beginning of the show, sings and cues the musical accompaniment. The music is provided by a gamelan, a group of musicians who play percussion instruments such as the gongs, drums and marimbas to match the action on stage.
The stage is formed by a wide linen sheet, stretched between two vertical bamboo poles or set into a wooden frame. The screen is usually positioned on a raised platform to allow the audience to view the performance clearly. The bottom of the screen is staked into 3 long sections of trunk from a banana tree. The puppets are held in place by stabbing their pointed handles firmly into the soft banana bark. Characters of less importance are placed on the lower log so that they appear to be seated on the floor.
The dalang can move two puppets at once. Often the rods are fixed in the banana stem and he only moves the arms. A puppet stuck in the lower stem is sitting. A bow is a tilt forward. During battles puppets are whirled in and out, even tossed in the air. The puppets have certain positions - good characters are located to the right of the dalang and the bad ones on the left. The puppets are all set into the banana stems from the largest at the outsides to the smallest in the centre.
Every character in the puppet stories is unique and each has different features. These tell the audience what kind of personality the character has, and whether he or she is good or bad. Good characters are called halus; evil characters are kasars.
Inclined heads, long straight noses and narrow downcast eyes are distinctive of good characters and a sign of noble birth. These characters are usually kings, queens, princes, princesses or ministers. They are considered to possess noble qualities such as honesty, calmness, courage and wisdom. Halus move gracefully and delicately, even in battle. Their voices are soft and they speak politely and gently. Noble figures tend to have faces and bodies which are black, gold or white.
Bad characters tend to have larger features and they can be recognised by their round bulging eyes, big noses and bared teeth. Their bodies are bigger than halus and they move clumsily, looking straight ahead or upward. Kasars shout and are rude and abrupt. These characters are usually demons, ogres or clowns. Kasars usually have pink or red faces and gold or pink bodies.
Warriors can be on either side. They look straight ahead and tend to move forcefully with long steps. There are many battles in the stories.
Some characters are partly identified by their colour: black denotes maturity and tranquillity; red shows a fiery temperament and white represents beauty and youth. Posture is also important. A bowed head is used for patient, calm and dedicated characters. A head held high means impatience, aggression and irritability. When a character's feet are close together this shows circumspection, while feet which are wide apart indicate speed and capability.
Most of the puppets wear kain, a typical Indonesian loincloth. Gods and royal characters wear crowns and dodot, a royal dress which is larger than kain, and worn with trousers. Hermits, priests and holy teachers wear turbans and officials wear headcloths. Puppets' hair is always black, worn either loose or dressed in a knot. Bracelets adorn the upper and lower arms of the noble characters and they may also wear necklaces, anklets and rings. Almost every character wears a sumping: a piece of jewellery worn behind the ear.
Besides the characters of humans and gods, there are puppets of birds and all kinds of domestic and wild animals like elephants, tigers, horses. There may also be sets of weapons.
The puppets are said to represent the physical part of the character, while the shadow represents the soul.
Wayang Kulit are still performed in Indonesia, though they are not as common as they were during the time of the royal courts.
Similarities between Wayang Golek and Kulit
Wayang Golek and Wayang Kulit are both types of Indonesian puppet theatre. Wayang Golek are rod puppets made from wood and cloth and Wayang Kulit are shadow puppets made from leather. Both types of puppet theatre perform plays of the Ramayana and Mahabharata and traditional Indonesian tales. The dalang single-handedly manipulates the puppets, directs the music, sings songs, narrates the story outline and provides the voices for every character. In Golek, the characters are arranged on stage in the same way as in Kulit - good characters to the right and bad characters to the left. The sticks from the puppet bodies are stuck into the banana trunk at the base of the stage and the dalang moves the arms and legs. The stage is different for the rod puppets and the shadow puppets.
Puppet On Right Height:76.5cm