Tag Archives: http://www.cafebatavia.com

INDONESIA – Wayang Museum Jakarta

23 Apr


Growing up a Dutchie, I loved eating Saté Ayam, Nasi Goreng, Babi Pangang, Krupuk (Kroepoek) etc. and enjoyed listening to history tales of the V.O.C. For this reason, I was quite excited to visit the former Dutch colony of Indonesia. Our first stop was Jakarta, formerly known as Batavia and the capital of the Dutch East Indies.

With one available day of sightseeing, I opted for Fatahillah Square. This square used to be the centerpiece of Batavia, the town built by Dutch colonizers in the image of their cities back in the Netherlands. The square still houses graceful townhouses, several colonial looking museums and even a canal with a drawbridge. The area is really bustling, especially at night!

In the late hours of the day, street performers, food stalls and live music acts (being enjoyed by youngsters sitting on large plastic mats), give the square a real special vibe. We observed this scene, while sipping a delicious “White Koffie” at Café Batavia (http://www.cafebatavia.com). This gorgeous, 19th century café is a real step back into the colonial era. Such grandeur! The many pictures on the wall (including those of Indonesian and Dutch royalty), tell its tales.


Café Batavia & Fatahillah Square, Jakarta at night


During the day, I was drawn to visit the square’s intriguing Wayang Museum.

This museum, dedicated to Javanese puppetry, keeps collections of Wayang and dolls from various territories in Indonesia and countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Suriname, China, Vietnam, France, India and Cambodia.

The building that houses this collection was constructed at “De Oude Hollandsche Kerk”, a former, old, Dutch church location.


The Wayang Museum, housed in a former Dutch Church


A couple of giant puppets at the entrance of the Wayang Museum

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Wayang (or “shadow” in Javanese) refers to traditional theatre in Indonesia. To be more precise, Wayang is nowadays most often associated with the puppet theatre performance or the puppet itself.

In 2003, UNESCO designated the Indonesian shadow puppet theatre; Wayang Kulit, as a “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage to Humanity”. In return for the acknowledgment, UNESCO required Indonesians to preserve their heritage.

There is no evidence that Wayang existed before Hinduism and Buddishm were brought to Southeast Asia. This leads to the belief that the art was imported from either India or China, both of which have a long tradition of shadow puppetry and theatre in general. However today, Wayang is both the most ancient and most popular form of puppet theatre in the world.





After guiding me through the Wayang Museum, my capable guide Aldy took me to his humble, private workshop. Here, he told me that his Dad was a skilled and well-known puppet maker in the region. When I asked him if his he had passed on his shadow-puppet making skills, he honestly admitted, that he had tried….but failed. Aldy did not have it in him, and his father did not want to go bankrupt!

Such an art. Wayan Kulit or shadow puppets are carefully chiseled with very fine tools from dried buffalo leather, and mounted onto bamboo sticks or supported by carefully shaped buffalo horn handles.

Master models, typically on paper, are traced onto the buffalo skin or parchment, providing the figures with an outline and with indications of any holes that will need to be carefully cut (such as the mouth or eyes).

One small Wayang puppet could take up to a month to make and requires the finest precision. One tiniest mistake and the puppet maker would start all over again. The detail of these puppets is truly incredible!


Shadow puppets, carefully chiseled with very fine tools from dried buffalo leather

Instead of passing on the art of making Wayang, Aldy’s father taught him the performance skill, at which he became very good (pictures of him presenting to international dignitaries graced his walls). I was fortunate to receive a private shadow puppet performance from this well-known dalang (the genius behind the screen who narrates the story). Usually these theatre acts take about 8-9 hours, but I was already pleased with the shorter 10-minute version.

The plays are typically based on romantic tales (the story of Ramayana – an epic tale from India which is more then 2000 years old), or local stories/happenings. It’s the dalan or master puppeteer that decides the direction of the play.

Wayang kulit is a form of theatre that employs light and shadow. Historically, the performance consisted of shadows cast on a cotton screen and an oil lamp. Today, the source of light used in Wayang performances is most often a halogen electric light.


Wayang Kulit – shadow puppet performance

The Gunungan (or Tree of Life) is the most important in Wayang theatre. It is used to signal the beginning and the end of a performance, or to evoke strong emotions, scene changes and the elements of fire, earth, air and water.

The Kayon is decorated with a Tree of Life on one side and the face of the demon Kala (time) on the other. The Tree of Life (see below) represents the Universe and all of the creatures that inhabit it, from the demon giants located at the base of the tree to the birds that perch on its peak, the latter symbolizing the human soul.


The Gunungan or Kayon – the “Tree of Life”

The demon Kala (below) is surrounded by a halo of flames. His presence represents the evil forces that exist in the universe.


The enflamed demon Kala, who is believed to send evil spirits away

Because of the intricate artwork and the blessing it provides to the seller’s family, it’s near to impossible not to pick up one of these pieces of theatre art. And so with 2 puppets, a Tree of Life to bring me good fortunate, and some wonderful memories, I said goodbye to dalang Aldy and the Indonesian Wayang.


For a shadow puppet show, workshop or to buy Wayang, visit:

Note: Twenty percent of all sales from this studio go to support the training of young, Indonesian, Wayang makers. In order to keep this traditional form of Indonesian art alive (which unfortunately is slowly diminishing), Aldy’s dad regularly teaches youngsters his craft.

Ki Edan Aldy Sanjoyo (aka Aldy) @ The Puppet Studio

(around the corner from the Wayang Museum)

Kalivesar Timur No. 3, Kota Tue – Jakarta Barat

Tel. 081-8922489

Email: Aldy_lio99@yahoo.com, FB: aldysanjaya