Raising the Curtains on… Wayang Kulit!

This week on raising the curtains, we will be learning about a rare type of performing arts. It is quite hard to see this peformance nowadays, as it is not very well known among the younger generation. Wayang kulit is a traditional form of puppet-shadow play. It was originally found in the Borneo and certain places in Indonesia such as Lombok and Bali. It then made its way towards north Malaysia, Kedah and Kelantan. Wayang could refer to either the puppet or the entire performance whereas kulit means skin, as to what the puppets are made of.

Wayang kulit is a form of theatre, where the puppeteer, called the dalang manipulates carved leather figures between the lamp and the screen to bring the shadows to life as he narrates epic dramas together with live music. The puppet figures are rear projected on a taut linen screen with a light. Wayang kulit performances are occasions that will last throughout the night, accompanied with an orchestra.

Stories performed by the dalang are normally taken from epics such as Ramayana and from Java’s own history and legends. The stories generally include morals and ethical dilemmas faced by the characters and how they overcome difficulties in their journey of life, love and war. However, nowadays wayang kulit underlines on stories that are applicable to current occasions, national or worldwide issues, just as satire and amusement.

Generally, wayang kulit draw huge crowds from every neighbourhood who sit on both side of the screen: the shadow side and the dalang side. Previously, individuals regularly viewed from the shadow side. Today, exhibitions are set up for the group of spectators to watch from the dalang’s side of the screen.