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Library Exhibits

Wayang Golek: the Enchanting World of Javanese Puppet Theatre

Wayang Golek: the Enchanting World of Javanese Puppet Theatre

About the Exhibit

Wayang Golek

What is Wayang Golek?

Wayang golek (literally, “rod puppets”) is a traditional form of puppet theatre prevalent in Java, Indonesia.  It dates back to the early 16th century and combines Hindu stories with Buddhist and Muslim ideas and Javanese folklore.  Often the stories depict tales from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, illustrating conflicts culminating in the triumph of good against evil.  Each puppet has a carved and painted head with an elaborate headdress.  Using rods, the puppeteer manipulates the arms of his characters and can work two puppets at once.  Headdress, costumes and colors vary for each puppet and indicate to the audience what kind of character it represents: white means purity, virtue and moral integrity; red can denote aggressiveness and anger; blue and green face colors mean cowardliness and hypocrisy.  Performances most often take place in the open air and are used to celebrate significant events such as births and weddings.  During these performances, which can last all night and sometimes days, the dalang (puppeteer) is  accompanied by a gamelan orchestra (percussion instruments) and singers. 

(Sources:  “Indonesia Wayang Golek Puppets,” World of Puppetry, ; “Wayang golek rod puppets,” Object Lessons, )