Wayang Golek, Puppeteers of West Java (1/2)


Performers and audience
are gathering for a Wayang Golek performance, in celebration of Indonesian
independence day. The puppets are accompanied by
an orchestra called a gamelan, which consists mostly
of percussion instruments – xylophone, metallophones,
gongs and drums, together with a two-string fiddle
and singers. The group giving this performance
is run by the Rasta family. Atik Rasta
is the puppeteer or dalang. He inherited this position
from his father, who still assists at performances and
sometimes plays in the orchestra. Wayang is the name of a puppet. In central Java you have Wayang Culic
which are shadow puppets, and here in west Java, in Sunda, they have Wayang Golek,
which are rod puppets. They’re carved from wood, and manipulated by the dalang,
the puppeteer. Wayang doesn’t just mean
a single puppet, it means the whole performance. so, you have not just the dalang,
but also many musicians. The person in charge,
in overall charge, not just of the puppets,
but also of the musicians, and usually of business arrangements
as well, is the dalang. He’s a very respected member
of the community, someone that people turn to for help,
come to for advice. Very often the musicians
are members of the family. So, for instance in the Wayang featured
in this programme, the six brothers of the dalang
are all members of the orchestra, as is his father. People who are not literally members
of the family, often become members of the family,
through long association. So, some of the older musicians
were working, not just for the dalang’s father,
but also for his grandfather. There are different kinds
of Sundanese wayang. There’s what we see
in this performance, which is wayang golek purwa – these are stories based on, very loosely based on Indian epics from
the Mahabharata and Ramayana, with many indigenous Javanese
characters or Sundanese characters. In the middle of the front of the stage,
you have two banana logs on a stand. Then behind the banana log,
the dalang has a large chest, which the puppets
are normally kept in, and he uses this chest to produce sound
effects like knocking, and he hangs metal plates from them,
which he rattles with his foot. Then behind him
are the other musicians, most important of whom
is probably the drum player, who is really the link between the dalang
and the rest of the musicians. He interprets the cues,
to stop to slow down, to start a piece and so on. He is very important also
when the puppets are dancing, because the rhythmic patterns
that he plays will exactly mirror the dance movements
which the puppets are doing. And then in fights, obviously he’s
producing extra sound effects of what the dalang is doing
with his foot.

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