THE SHADOW OF YOUR . . . EVERYTHING
For a theater guy, the other day had it all. We headed for Batavia, what the Dutch East Indies Corporation called this (now Jakarta) Javanese port in honor of an ancient name for Holland. There’s a big plaza, 18th-19th century European buildings (very white) under restoration. By pure chance, our first stop was Wayang–puppet theater–museum. We’d barely had a chance to look at a couple of displays when a guy whose name turned out to be Aldy approached and began explaining the history, construction, and current state of shadow puppets and their theater.
I knew we were being hustled a bit, but did I mind? Not a whit. We followed him all the way down the hall, outside and around the building to the resident theater where a performance was imminent, with Aldy playing all the roles and manipulating the “actors”.
The show was a brief excerpt from that millennia-old epic the Ramayana, wherein Rama’s wife, Sita, is kidnapped for the zillionth time by the demon king and must be rescued. It lasted fifteen minutes, but could have lasted nine hours if Aldy had given us everything he had. Fortunately he was willing to let the audience off easy except for the sales pitch at the end, a sales pitch which was quite successful for yours truly.
At the top appears on the left, the tree of life on the leaf-shaped fan, the pattern of which is punched out of buffalo hide by hand, hammer blow by hammer blow, using punches of various sizes, then painted. On the right, on the other side of the fan, is a hell-mouth. That demon figure is self-explanatory. The tree of life, whose details are regrettably hard to see, consists of a trunk and branches guarded by a pair of lions, with ascending figures of importance topped by monkeys, symbols of wisdom.
Lastly, in the larger image, we see our epic hero and his true love facing one another on opposite sides of the tree of life. We bought a tree of life/hellmouth, and a Rama/Sita couple. They are shown here in front of the screen, but in the true show, they stay behind the screen and their shadows are cast from behind. Very, very good stuff.
And there was more to come. . .