Wayang kulit



Wayang kulit is a form of traditional theatre in Southeast Asia. It involves a puppet shadow play performance with origins that are possibly linked to the Indian shadow play.1 There are many forms and types of wayang kulit in Asia. Those performed in Peninsular Malaysia have either Javanese or Patani (southern Thai) influences. Wayang kulit performance is usually accompanied by a gamelan (an Indonesian musical ensemble).2

Definition
The term wayang kulit literally means “shadows from hide”, and has a few meanings in the Southeast Asian context. In Indonesia, the term wayang kulit refers not only to the performance of a shadow play, but has also become synonymous with the hide puppets used to create the shadows.3 In Peninsular Malaysia, wayang kulit can be translated as a “show of skins”.4


The puppets
The puppets in wayang kulit come in many sizes, depending on the characters they portray. Malay shadow play puppets typically measure not less than 71 cm long and not more than 30.5 cm wide.5 A complete shadow theatre has between 160 and 200 puppets categorised into deities, warriors, ogres, hermits, monkeys, soldiers, princesses, weapons, animals and mountains. Most Malay shadow play characters have only one articulating limb, while a majority of Javanese and Balinese puppets have both arms articulated.6 The puppets are carved out of cow hide in ornate designs, and then beautifully painted with bright colours. Female cow hide is preferred as it is larger and softer.7

The show
In wayang kulit, the puppets are moved behind a white cotton or unbleached muslin screen by a dalang, or “puppetmaster”.8 The dalang presides over the shadow play as its sole controlling performer – telling the story, and interpreting characters and dialogue using a variety of voices. He manipulates all the puppets between a lamp and the screen to bring the puppet shadows to life. Most of the stories in the shadow plays of Java, Bali, the Malay Peninsula and mainland Southeast Asia are based on two well-known Hindu epics from India: the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.9

Wayang kulit is accompanied by the music of the gamelan. While the dalang is speaking, the gamelan is silent except to provide rattles and clanks to emphasise a statement or word. Gamelan players respond and play music intuitively to the timing and narration by the dalang. The repertoire typically consists of an overture as well as specific music for battle scenes, travelling scenes, entrances and exits of characters and the parade of warriors.10

One of Singapore’s last wayang kulit dalang was Wak Taslim Harjosanajo, who died in 1985.11



Author

Endon Salleh



References
1. Mohd. Azmi Ibrahim & Ainu Sham Ramli. (2008). Shadow play: Malay traditional theatre. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation, p. 9. (Call no.: RSEA 791.5309595 MOH); Sweeney, A. (1980). Malay shadow puppets: The wayang Siam of Kelantan. London: British Museum Publications, p. 9. (Call no.: RSEA 791.530959511 SWE)
2. Osnes, B. (2010). The shadow puppet theatre of Malaysia: A study of wayang kulit with performance scripts and puppet designs. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., pp. 23, 79. (Call no.: RSEA 791.5309595 OSN)
3. Long, R. (1982). Javanese shadow theatre: Movement and characterization in Ngayogyakarta wayang kulit. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, p. 1. (Call no.: RSEA 791.53095982 LON)
4. Osnes, B. (2010). The shadow puppet theatre of Malaysia: A study of wayang kulit with performance scripts and puppet designs. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., p. 10. (Call no.: RSEA 791.5309595 OSN)
5. Mohd. Azmi Ibrahim & Ainu Sham Ramli. (2008). Shadow play: Malay traditional theatre. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation, p. 52. (Call no.: RSEA 791.5309595 MOH).
6. Mohd. Azmi Ibrahim & Ainu Sham Ramli. (2008). Shadow play: Malay traditional theatre. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation, pp. 54, 91. (Call no.: RSEA 791.5309595 MOH); Sweeney, A. (1980). Malay shadow puppets: The wayang Siam of Kelantan. London: British Museum Publications, p. 25. (Call no.: RSEA 791.530959511 SWE)
7. Mohd. Azmi Ibrahim & Ainu Sham Ramli. (2008). Shadow play: Malay traditional theatre. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation, p. 47. (Call no.: RSEA 791.5309595 MOH)
8. Long, R. (1982). Javanese shadow theatre: Movement and characterization in Ngayogyakarta Wayang Kulit. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, p. 18. (Call no.: RSEA 791.53095982 LON); Mohd. Azmi Ibrahim & Ainu Sham Ramli. (2008). Shadow play: Malay traditional theatre. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation, p. 13. (Call no.: RSEA 791.5309595 MOH)
9. Mohd. Azmi Ibrahim & Ainu Sham Ramli. (2008). Shadow play: Malay traditional theatre. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation, pp. 13, 67. (Call no.: RSEA 791.5309595 MOH)
10. Osnes, B. (2010). The shadow puppet theatre of Malaysia: A study of wayang kulit with performance scripts and puppet designs. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., p. 79. (Call no.: RSEA 791.5309595 OSN)
11. Rohaniah Saini. (1990, March 10). Wayang kulit enjoys brief revival at Malay VillageThe Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
Ghulam Sarwar. (1997). The Malay shadow play: An introduction. Penang: The Asian Centre.
(Call no.: RSEA 791.5309595 GHU)

Kleen, T. (1947). Wayang – Javanese theatre. Stockholm: Gothia.
(Call no.: RCLOS 792.09922 KLE)

Mubirman. (1960). Wayang purwa: The shadow play of Indonesia. The Hague: van Deventer-Maasstichting.
(Call no.: RCLOS 791.53 MOE)

Veldhuisen-Djajasoebrata, A. (1999). Shadow theatre in Java: The puppets, performance and repertoire. Amsterdam: Pepin Press.
(Call no.: RSEA 791.53095982 DJA)

Wayang kulit warisan teater Melayu [Wayang Kulit Malay heritage theatre] [Videorecording]. (199–). Rawang, Selangor: Perbadanan Kemajuan Kraftangan Malaysia.
(Call no.: Malay RAV 791.509595 WAY) 




The information in this article is valid as at 2002 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Puppet theater--Singapore
Theatre
Shadow shows--Singapore
Wayang
Arts>>Performing Arts>>Theatre
Arts>>Theatre>>Puppets and puppetry