Indonesian Wayang: Masterpiece of human oral heritage, out of the shadows

307
Si Unyil doll made by Drs. Suyadi is an iconic doll character from Indonesia was in display on Wayang Museum. (photo: IO/Aldo)

IO – Indonesia is the world’s biggest archipelago. With its many islands, Indonesia is rich in ancient cultures and languages, inheriting a treasure trove of cultures with immense historic value. A nation must be proud of its cultural heritage, and must strive to preserve it. One of the best means to preserve a cultural heritage is for it to be recognized by UNESCO.

There are 13 aspects of original Indonesian cultural heritage acknowledged worldwide. One of these championed by UNESCO is wayang, an original Indonesian puppet show that has developed steadily in Java and Bali. It is also very popular in other regions, such as in Sumatra.

UNESCO, as the cultural arm of the UN, certified wayang, the famous Indonesian shadow puppet theatre, as a “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” on 7 November 2003.

Puppet shows are to be found not just in Indonesia – other countries also have similar events. However, the wayang shadow puppet show in Indonesia has its own unique style and parlance, which reveals that “this is an original Indonesian masterpiece”. For that reason, UNESCO includes wayang in the List of “Representative Intangible Heritages of Humanity” since 2003.

The earliest reference to date of the word “wayang” is in the Balitung Epigraph, i.e. in the phrase “Si Galigi Mawayang” (“The Divine Puppet Master”). When Hinduism entered Indonesia in the 4th Century, it adjusted to an existing native culture. The performance arts serve as effective media for disseminating the tenets of the Hindu faith, by adapting the religious dramas of Ramayana and Mahābhārata into wayang scripts.

In his 1897 dissertation, “Bijdrage tot de Kennis van het Javaansche Tooneel” (“Contribution to Knowledge of the Javanese Screen Shows”) Dr. G.A.J. of Leiden, stated that wayang is an original Javanese theatrical art. This is proven by the fact that wayang mostly uses native Javanese terminology, such as kelir (a background screen), blencong (a coconut oil lamp), cempala (knockers), and kepyak (metal percussive plates).

In order to preserve our cultural inheritance of wayang, then-Governor of Jakarta Ali Sadikin inaugurated the Wayang Museum on 13 August 1975. The Wayang Museum in Jakarta has a collection of 4000 wayang-related items, comprised of wayang kulit (flat leather shadow puppets), wayang golek (wooden puppets), wayang kardus (cardboard puppets), wayang rumput (puppets made of plaited grass), wayang janur (puppets made of plaited coconut leaves), masks, wayang dolls, wayang beber (paper dolls), and gamelan (the native percussive orchestra generally accompanying wayang shows).

This museum also contains figures from various places in and outside of Indonesia. The foreign wayang collection includes shadow puppets from India, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Thailand, Surinam, China, Vietnam and Colombia. The most precious native collection in the Wayang Museum is the Wayang Purwa, made of hand-cured and -carved buffalo skin.  The pieces are coloured according to the age-old convention of pulasan (colour coding) of the wayang pedalangan, and given shafts made of carefully-processed kerbau bule (albino buffalo) horn.

The building that currently houses the Wayang Museum of Jakarta was originally De Oude Hollandsche Kerk (“Old Dutch Church”), which was constructed in 1640. It was renovated in 1732 and had its name changed to De Nieuwe Hollandse Kerk (“New Dutch Church”), and it stood proudly until it was damaged in an earthquake in 1808. A new building was constructed in 1912 on the same spot, and used as the Batavia Museum, inaugurated formally on 22 December 1939.

The Wayang Museum of Jakarta is housed by an old building in Fatahillah Gardens, to be precise at Jl. Pintu Besar Utara 27, Old Town, West Jakarta. It is only a few meters away from the Jakarta Museum of History (Fatahillah Museum). The museum is open daily, from Tuesday to Sunday. Its operational hours are 09:00 to 15:00 on weekdays, and 09:00 to 21.00 on Saturdays and Sundays.

(Muhammad Akbar)