A puppet and a puppeteer in Old Batavia

After spending the whole morning in Taman Mini Indonesia, it was time for us to move to Jakarta’s historic old quarters, Old Batavia or locally known as Kota Tua. With its old Dutch buildings surrounding a grand plaza, Old Batavia was abuzz with activity, children running around, bubbles floating above our heads, people biking on colorful bikes, and music blaring from cafes surrounding the square. This was Jakarta on a typical Saturday afternoon. 

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The Wayang Museum, one of Old Batavia’s interesting spots

Originally our plan was to go to Cafe Batavia and relax, however fate decided that we were better off exploring Old Batavia before chilling. Since the cafe was closed for an event, we had no other alternative but to head to the Wayang Museum.

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Various puppets on traditional Hindu stories, epics, and traditions

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More dolls

Having seen the life-sized diorama of a wayang show in Museum Indonesia, my curiosity of Indonesian puppetry would finally be satisfied. Moving from one floor to the next, the Wayang Museum offers visitors an opportunity to see different kinds of puppets. Traditional ones representing the country’s mythical beings and Hindu origins all play a central role in puppetry. Numerous Garuda (their god), Rama and Sinta puppets were on display, all in various forms. From time to time these displays would be punctuated with western looking puppets, most likely satires and caricatures of their former Dutch masters.

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Tricia having fun with Rama

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Dutch caricatures

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Life-sized puppets with Ian, Tricia, and Ron

Despite the extensive puppet and musical collection I wasn’t able to pick up useful stuff to help me understand the whole wayang tradition. After going through all of the rooms in the museum we decided to call it a day and look for a cafe to rest and eat. Just when we were about to leave a man approached and introduced himself to us, Aldy Sanjaya, a puppeteer and puppet repairman for the Wayang Museum. He asked us if we wanted to accompany him to learn more about Wayang and to see his workshop and, if we wanted, watch a short version of Rama and Sinta using puppets. We agreed and he whisked us off to his workshop the Rumah Wayang, located behind the Wayang Museum.

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Puppet maestro, Aldy Sanjaya, puppeteer and puppet repairman

Inside Aldy’s workshop were numerous puppets in various state of repair and assembly. Aldy wasted no time giving us a lecture on how shadow puppets are made. Using carabao leather he creates a template on the template and using a hammer and a nail begins creating holes that will eventually transform into intricate lines and shapes on the leather skin. Usually it would take him 2-3 weeks to create a leather puppet and his designs for each are really beautiful and masterfully done.

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A leather puppet or Wayang Kulit

Besides the leather puppets Aldy also makes wooden puppets which are just as beautiful. Handcrafted using fine wood and painted with meticulous attention to detail, the wooden ones are just as good.

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Tricia and Aldy’s 75 year old Rama puppet

As Aldy continued with his lecture and demonstration I felt like I was in a Lonely Planet show meeting a local and learning so much from him. The way he was able to describe a quality puppet and how to properly care for one, the deft movements of his practiced hands and arms to make both leather and wooden puppets come alive. Watching him at work showed his passion and his deep sense of responsibility to pass on this tradition. In fact his workshop is arranged in such a way that he can present shows and also teach children how to make puppets as well.

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Just one of the many puppets Aldy made and sells

Seeing how great his work was my friends and I supported Aldy by buying some of his own work, we bought two leather puppets (Wayang Kulit) and a wooden one (Wayang Golek) to support his endeavors of bringing this traditional art form to a new generation.

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Wayang Golek or leather puppets in different forms

As promised Aldy gave us a short presentation of the epic Ramayana, the story of Rama and Sinta.

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The use of light, shadow, and music creates a very interesting effect

Watching a master puppeteer at work was truly a beautiful experience. Seeing Aldy’s workshop and the masterpieces he makes was a wonderful education that I will truly remember for a very long time.

Wayang Museum 

Jl. Pintu Besar Utara No.27, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta, Indonesia
Open every Tuesday to Sunday from 9am – 3pm (Closed on Mondays)
Contact number: +62 21 6929560

Rumah Wayang 

Kalibesar Timur no. 3Kota Tua – Jakarta Barat
Open everyday from 10 am to 3pm
Contact numbers: 08189 224 89 or 0812 98 345 999
Email: aldy_leo99@yahoo.com
Facebook: aldysanjaya

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