The wayang or shadow theater is a traditional and popular show in the islands of Java and Bali . Wayang means “shadow”. Its most common form is the wayang kulit , where the figurines consist of flat leather puppets ( kulit means ” leather “). “Wayang Puppet Theater” was proclaimed in 2003 and inscribed in 2008 by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity 1 .

The wayang kulit

The puppets , made of finely chiselled and painted leather , and held by a stem of horn, wood or bamboo , are manipulated by the dalang , behind a sheet and in front of a lamp. Behind the dalang is usually a gamelan orchestra , made up of various traditional Indonesian percussion instruments and sometimes a flute. The dalang lends his voice to all the characters, sings and directs the orchestra. Puppets that are not handled are stuck in a banana tree trunk .

The spectators are located either on the other side of the sheet, and actually attend a shadow theater , or on the side of the dalang , where they can contemplate the work of the latter and the shimmering colors of the puppets. In Javanese country proper, that is to say in the center and the east of Java , as well as in Bali the puppets are made in buffalo skin ( wayang kulit ); elsewhere there are wooden plates ( wayang kelitik ). In Sundanese country , that is to say in West Java, they are in the roundabout ( wayang golek ). In the region of Pacitanon the south coast of Java, on the border between the central and eastern provinces, there is still a tradition, the wayang beber , in which the puppets are replaced by a scroll on which the characters and scenes are painted, and that the dalang unfolds while reciting the argument.

This tradition has been taken up by the artists on stage ( wayang orang ). There are also masked representations called wayang topeng , topeng meaning mask .

The stories that are told take up the Indian legends from the Rāmāyana and Mahābhārata , as well as, in the Javanese repertoire, the cycle of Panji. Occasionally we find other repertoires, such as the story of Amir Hamzah , the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad , Christian images, or representations featuring the great figures of independence like Soekarno .

The favorite repertoire of the Javanese is undoubtedly the Mahabharata, which stages the eternal struggle between Good and Evil, respectively represented by the five Pandawa brothers ( Pândava ) and their one hundred cousins, the Kurawa brothers ( Kaurava ). The Mahabharata is an inexhaustible reservoir of arguments ( lakon ) for wayang shows. These are rituals that will be observed in a number of circumstances, family such as marriage or circumcision of a boy, social and economic as the launch of a cement project, or propitiatory at certain events . The episode chosen by the dalang or the show will be carefully chosen according to the circumstances and objectives of the show.

The Ramayana recounts the marriage of Prince Rama with Shita , the banishment of the couple who is forced to take refuge in the forest, the abduction of Shita by Rahwana the king of monsters and his rescue, with the help of King of the Hanuman monkeys – after many battles! -.

The characters of the Mahabharata are traditional references for the Javanese. Heroes are models that we identify with. For example, Arjuna is considered the “ideal man”, at once skilful, intelligent, fair and balanced, and able to defend without weakness the kingdom to which he belongs. Javanese parents like to give their children names of wayang heroes . The name is chosen with care because, they think, it can influence the character and destiny of the child.

wayang show is a ritual, not an entertainment. Performances are given for parties and ceremonies such as weddings, as well as for any important event of social life. They initially lasted all night, from nine in the evening to dawn; today, the cycles are abbreviated for performances of a few hours, more adapted to the imperatives of modern life.

In addition to the village or the family, the wayang kulit , like other forms of Indonesian theater, could be set in the courtyard. Among the most beautiful collections of wayang kulit are the kraton (royal palaces) of Surakarta and Yogyakarta .

Wayang golek

Specific to the island of Java, it uses puppets with stem 2 and essentially staged stories from the Mahabharata and Ramayana , but also epic or satirical stories of Islamic influence.

The first wayang golek are a priori appeared at the beginning of the xix th century Cirebon . Soon, they will develop, spreading in the villages of the country sunda . They are becoming very popular because now dalangs present their show in local dialect, that is to say the Sundanese . Previously, only the Javanese was used but not included villagers. It is also for the first time that the dalangs manipulate this particular type of wayang, carved wooden figurines like dolls.

The wayang orang

Wayang Orang is an Indonesian dance theater born in the 1830s. It is a theater close to a ritual whose role is to aesthetize violence in order to channel it. It is a tradition that actors know all the roles and do not know which role they will interpret until a few hours before the performance.

The wayang klitik

The rise of Islam will result in a stylization of the faces and bodies of subjects. In the second half of the xv th century, it transposes the wayang kulit in wood that is carved and painted it. From this moment, the shows can be played either at night or during the day. These wayang klitik now play an expanded repertoire that is no longer confined to the sacred texts of Hinduism. The history of the pioneers of Islam is thus treated in a legendary way.

The wayang beber

The wayang beber is not a puppet theater. It consists of stories whose scenes and characters are drawn on leather rollers ( bebermeans “unwind” in Javanese [ref. Necessary] ), whose dimensions are 50 centimeters by two to three meters long. The story is recited as the rolls unfold. The duration of a wayang beber is about an hour and a half 3 .

Today, there are only a few such scrolls, usually kept in museums.

In a representation of wayang beber , the dalang unrolls the roll image by image, accompanying each image of his story and his songs. The argument is based on Ramayana , Mahabharata , Jenggala Kingdom ( Kediri ).

Apart from museums, it is in the region of Pacitan , in East Java , that rolls of wayang beber are still found .

Other forms

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Notes and references

  1. ↑ wayang puppet theater , intangible cultural heritage  [ archive ]
  2. ↑ ” puppet with stems ”  [ archive ] , on The arts of puppetry
  3. ↑ Cook 1961 , p.  224

See also

On other Wikimedia projects:

  • Wayang , on Wikimedia Commons


  • Jeanne Cuisinier , “Theater in Indonesia” , in Theaters of Asia , Editions of the National Center for Scientific Research ,, p. 223-241