Wayang, Indonesian Puppet Show
Wayang originally meant shadow, but it has also come to mean a puppet or a performance.
Wayang kulit (kulit – leather) is the best known of the Javanese puppetry traditions and can be used to describe any puppet theatre using flat leather puppets which cast shadows on to a screen.
The puppets are carved from buffalo hide and painted. As a general rule they have jointed arms, which are manipulated with horn sticks (tuding). The puppets are supported by another piece of horn (gapit) which is split down the middle with one half extending up each side of the figure.
The puppets used in Java are highly stylised, which is thought to derive from the Islamic influence (which forbids literal representation of human figures) on the arts of Java. In Bali, which retained Hindu beliefs, the puppets are much more realistic. The most popular stories (lakon) are those based on episodes and characters from the great Indian epic poems – the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The performances follow a formalised dramatic structure and include humorous interludes featuring a number of clown characters. Traditionally a wayang takes place overnight, lasting approximately nine hours.
A performance is given against a large screen, traditionally lit by an oil lamp. The dalang (puppeteer) is in overall charge of the performance and not only voices all the puppets, but also sings and controls the musical accompaniment by means of a variety of cues.
Traditionally wayang performances were accompanied by a gamelan wayang, a smaller gamelan with fewer saron, a small number of kenong and kempul and without bonang. Today a full gamelan is usually used and a wayang kulit performance is an exciting, colourful and typically Javanese event.