Academic journal article K@ta

Panakawan's Discourse of Power in Javanese Shadow Puppet during the New Order Regime: From Traditional Perspective to New Historicism

Academic journal article K@ta

Panakawan's Discourse of Power in Javanese Shadow Puppet during the New Order Regime: From Traditional Perspective to New Historicism

Article excerpt

Abstract: Wayang kulit (shadow puppet) has not only been an entertainment; it is a medium to disseminate Javanese values to the public. Therefore, wayang kulit has been a site of power game. Those who could control it have their best opportunity to pass their values to the public. Throughout its history, those in power since the colonial time until the New Order regime had successfully 'used' this medium to 'educate' the public. The New Order regime, for one thing, had used this medium well. Wayang kulit promoted Suharto as an equal of Semar, a wise, god-like character. It also promoted Golkar as the most powerful political party in the New Order Era. Feudalism in wayang kulit was also used to reinforce a feudalistic regime of New Order.

Key words: shadow puppet/wayang kulit, panakawan, clown, power, new order, values, biases

Puppetry has been a part of the Asian theatre for centuries. One of the homes of puppetry in Asia is Indonesia, where it is usually called wayang. The Indonesian wayang "has been acclaimed the world over for its unique character of preserving the old traditions and techniques as primitive a form as is conceivable while being a medium of drama capable of satisfying a wide variety of tastes, both rustic and urban" (Tilakasiri, 1968, p. 49). There are at least 28 kinds of wayang in Indonesia, 17 of which are made of leather, 5 are made of wood, 1 is made of paper, and the rest are either in the form of masks or human beings as puppet actors (Guritno, 1988, p.14). Unfortunately, some of these puppets are already extinct and some others are in the process of extinction. Some, however, especially wayang kulit/wayang purwa (shadow puppet) in the island of Java, remain extant and maintain their popularity.

The Javanese wayang kulit/wayang purwa (kulit means leather and purwa means origin/beginning) performs the Ramayana and Mahabharata tales. These tales have often been compared with the Iliad and the Odyssey of ancient Greece (Sears, 1996, p. 1). According to Sears the Ramayana and Mahabharata stories are much more alive in India and Indonesia today than the stories of Homer are in Europe and America (p. 1). She further notes that the Ramayana and Mahabharata stories are not only performed in human and puppet theatres to celebrate national and regional holidays, but they are read avidly in novels, romances, and comic books; and the characters appear in creative commercial guises in radio and television programming (p. 1). It is believed that the tales were originally written in India between the 4th and 5th BC and compiled by a Brahman called Wyasa1 (Bandem & Murgiyanto, 1996, pp. 38-39). In Indonesia, these ancient tales dated back to the kingdom of King Airlangga (1019-1043 AD) (Guritno, 1988, p. 29). Sears even argues that the Indonesian version might date back to the 1st century AD, and possibly much earlier, when they traveled from India to the Indonesian islands. By the 10th and 11th centuries AD, the stories were sung in Old Javanese meters and performed as shadow plays (pp. 1-2).

The origin of the shadow puppet itself, however, has always been debated by traditional historians. The Ceylonese theatre historian J. Tilakasiri (1968), although he admits that it is so much veiled in obscurity, seems to believe that it originated from India, as the tales did (p. 8). It means that wayang kulit is a certain variant of the Indian shadow puppet. The Dutch historian G.A.J. Hazeu, on the other hand, contends that even though the tales are from India, wayang kulit is originally Javanese. He maintains that it is not from India since none of the main terminology that refers to the performance techniques is in Sanskrit (Guritno, 1988, p. 30). Whichever is right is now up to traditional historians to prove, if they could at all.

That the Ramayana and Mahabharata tales are from India is no question. They traveled to Indonesia together with the spread of Hinduism. The main characters in wayang kulit, therefore, are similar to those in the Indian shadow puppet. …

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