Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

Centuries-old charm of the Balinese shadow puppets

Posted by Kimberly on June 2, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
June 2, 2007, page 15 (726 words)

The cool stone floors and sparse walls of the Lou Kau Mansion seem a fitting stage for Indonesia’s Wayang Kulit or Balinese Shadow Puppets, allowing the audience no distractions and an opportunity to truly appreciate a theatrical experience that originated some time in the first century AD.
The uniqueness of this art form was recognised by UNESCO, who designated Wayang Kulit, a shadow puppet theatre which uses intricately carved and painted leather puppets, a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003.
Consisting of three separate pieces of theatre, the program ranges from the tale of Rama and the abduction of his wife Dewi Sita, to Diah, a virgin bride who, through her ingenious means of story-telling, changes the king’s opinion of women.
When the lights go out signalling the commencement of the play, the only illumination comes from the a flickering flame cast by a traditional lamp known as a blencong, behind the kelir or cotton screen used to hide the puppets and create the shadows.
The program begins with a summary of the story in three languages; Chinese, Portuguese and English, as well as an explanation of the puppetry process and tools.
The Artistic Director, Mr I Made Gde Puasa, agrees to be interviewed minutes before the play’s opening.
The creation in 2002 of the Troupe, Sanggar Seni Madu Raras, has led them to great success, having established a world class standard of performance.
Moonlighting as one of the puppeteer’s assistants, Mr Puasa walks through the door looking suitably attired and with a solemn smile on his friendly face.
“The title is the history of Ramayana. The history is from India but its very popular in Java and Bali,” he says.
Leaning forward, he explains that while the style is popular in both Indonesian islands, “this is the traditional shadow puppetry in Bali.
“Because in Indonesia there are many kinds of puppets, but in Bali the popular style is shadow puppets and in Java island it is the Javanese style,” he says.
Having been a part of this tradition for ten years already, Mr Puasa’s handling of the puppets during the show seems effortless.
With several scenes that require fast, furious movements, the puppets seem to fly across the screen of their own accord.
When asked whether this type of theatre takes incredible practice, Mr Puasa responded with an “of course!”
He adds enthusiastically, “I am an artist so when I have a good heart and a good idea, I practice.”
His love for the Indonesian culture led Mr Puasa to choose this particular path, although this is the first time he has taken his talent overseas.
“Macau is a very nice, friendly place and I can find Indonesian people also here,” he says.
There is no hint of nervousness about his countenance. “I’m relaxed because in Bali I’m in a group of professionals, he says.
“I do this many times in Bali and usually in Bali, one performance is for three hours.
“It’s very tiring because the shadow puppet talks about religion, about culture, about the future and about the world. God. Like that,” he says.

The decision to restrict the sessions in Macau to one hour was done mainly because of the audience.
“The difference is just the shadow talking about the religion. But here is not so much religion…because the idea is not understood about the religion and also our culture,” he says.
The Indonesian culture is nevertheless prominent in the story told, most notably in the language used for narration.
As well, the use of traditional Indonesian instruments, the Riong, similar to cymbals and the Genderrambat, a xylophone, create haunting music one moment, reaching a terrifying crescendo the next.
The play begins with a tree puppet, whose highly amusing dance keeps the audience entertained especially during the intermittent change of scenery.
The realistic images of dogs, giraffes, monkeys and even a rabbit will no doubt keep children entertained for the entire one hour performance.
At one stage, the persistence of one giraffe to get friendly with its mate will almost cause you to laugh out loud, as will the hoarse voice of the narrator, although that would hardly be his intention.
With the opportunity to purchase traditional items used in the production as well as other cultural items, attendees are guaranteed an enjoyable night out, young or old.

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