Wayang kulit

Wayang kulit blog title pic

Today I want to focus on one of my favourite traditional art forms in Indonesia…I know I have many but this REALLY is a favourite of mine from years past and still is today. Let’s take a closer look at wayang kulit or shadow puppets in the Primary Indonesian classroom.

Wayang, particularly wayang kulit {shadow puppets} is one of THE most popular traditional art forms in Indonesia. Wayang kulit performances can be found in the royal courts in cities as well as small villages all across Indonesia. It’s an art form that is for everyone, from all walks of life; the rich, the poor, the old and the young. And although generally wayang kulit performances are for the purpose of entertaining, they also carry with them the important role of educating society. The performances range from serious topics such as; current political agendas to traditional folklore such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and also modern comical stories performed at night by the light of the moon and an old oil lantern burning brightly behind the screen.

The performances share stories that have been adapted to suit Indonesian culture and have a religious and mythical importance based on traditional Indonesian culture. Performances are held for special occasions in life such as; weddings, circumcision and 1,000 days after somebody dies or even for the removal of bad spirits. A wayang kulit performance usually begins as late as midnight and continues until sunrise, generally lasting up to 9 hours.

Wayang kulit pic

Within the primary Indonesian Languages classroom, I have always incorporated wayang kulit into my Languages program. One, because it’s an important component of Indonesian culture and two, because it’s an interesting, fun and important cultural topic for students of all ages to engage with.

Puppetry is a powerful medium. In the primary classroom it can offer an effective means through which students can learn and express themselves. The broad needs of a puppet production make it an ideal opportunity to introduce and explore a wide range of concepts, skills and knowledge with something for every age, interest and ability.

Puppetry lends itself to a strong cross-curricular approach.

  • Puppetry is a practical activity that extends the cognitive and motor skills of the students as well as developing their collaborative, cooperative, and problem solving skills.
  • Making puppets involves craft, design and creativity.
  • Performing puppets can help overcome inhibitions and stimulate imaginative expression involving drama, music, poetry and considerable language work.
  • Puppetry can also be an entry into the exploration of the history and development of other cultures and alternative viewpoints.

Wayang kulit performance pic

One major learning focus of wayang kulit for primary students is to introduce stories (literature). Stories can range from the kancil folktales {introducing wayang kancil}; you can read more about wayang kancil here. Also, more traditional folktales such as; the Ramayana, a very old Hindu epic, which is the basis of many wayang stories. It is believed that the Ramayana was originally written somewhere between 2,000 and 3,500 years ago in India. Over the years the Ramayana has been translated into many different languages. A shortened version of the Ramayana that I wrote can be found here. {Coz you haven’t got time to read the full version of the Ramayana as it consists of 24,000 verses in seven books!} 

Another major learning focus of the wayang kulit is the visual arts focus. Within visual arts an important point to make and one of the most interesting forms of the human wayang kulit is, the face and the feet of the puppet are side on, while the body faces front on {much like a Picasso portrait!}, and animal puppets are usually side profiles.

Facial features are an important component of the wayang kulit characters and you can tell what type of character each puppet is according to it’s facial features. There are generally two main types of characters, good and bad. The good puppets are placed on the right hand side and the bad puppets are placed on the left hand side of the screen from the view of the dalang {the puppeteer}.

Bad {kasar} characteristics

► bulging eyes

► big noses

► defiant angled head

Good {halus} characteristics

► almond shaped eyes

► long pointed nose

► bowed head

Colours are also highly significant within Indonesian arts and culture. The colour of the puppet can indicate a particular meaning and type of character too.

► gold (emas) = dignity and calmness

► red (merah) = moody and fury

► black (hitam) = anger and strength

► white (putih) = young or good

When making wayang puppets standard classroom materials can be used, which makes it super easy, such as; card {I use manilla folders – they are perfect for this!}, scissors, glue, sticks {fairy floss sticks are great for this!} and split pins. Coloured shadows can be made using cellophane and coloured tissue paper or paper painted with dye can be made translucent with cooking oil. Remember that some parts of the puppet needs to be cut out to create an effective shadow such as; the eyes and decorative clothing etc, this can be done with scissors or for larger sections you could use paper doilies to get that detailed effect.

Wayang kulit buffalo pic

Using templates may be efficient particularly with short time periods for Languages classes but its far more creative to have the students design and make their own puppets. With young primary students you could give them a template of the main characters, however with older students, it’s more beneficial for the students to design and develop their own wayang characters, which could be used to perform a well known Indonesian traditional folktale or they could even create/write their own stories {and characters}.

You can find a wayang kulit template of Rama here and Shinta here.

Back in my teaching days {like a hundred years ago! Ha!} I once developed an integrated unit based on wayang kulit, incorporating bahasa Indonesia, Literature, Visual Arts, Drama and Music. It was an epic term of creativity and fun where we delved into Indonesian folktales, then students worked in groups to write their own stories, created their own wayang kulit puppets relating to their particular story, developed a performance {using various techniques of creating shadows on a screen} and created an instrumental soundscape and sound effects for their story.

Click this link to find the Wayang kulit Integrated Unit of Work.

At the end of the unit, the students put on a whole school performance for all the students in the school and also the wider school community including; their parents and even grandparents. This was a wonderful way for the students to showcase what they had been learning about {and how great the Indonesian Language Program was!}.

If the traditional stories don’t interest you, then you could also consider incorporating a more modern approach, perhaps ‘wayang superheroes’ – featuring batman and spiderman etc. The options of creativity are endless…so {you and} your students can really have some fun! Think about what your students are interested in and build around that.

For further inspiration, check out this article from The Jakarta Post based on I Made Sidia, a renowned Balinese wayang master – Balancing the old and the new. And this awesome video created of I Made Sidia’s Masterclass: Balinese Wayang Shadow Puppetry.

So, if you are looking to incorporate some culture, art and creativity into your Indonesian Languages Program, why not include wayang kulit as a focus point in your program!

Have you seen a wayang kulit performance in Indonesia? Did you just love it?

Have you taught your students about the traditional art forms of wayang?

What highlights do you have to share?

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