Tuesday, January 30, 2001
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Posted on: Tuesday, January 30, 2001

Traditions pull the strings

Varied puppets of Asia go on display

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer

A sampling of the South Asian and Southeast Asian puppets on display at the East-West Center:

Kathputli (India): A simple, lively string puppet tradition from Rajasthan, in west India. A typical show offers a series of acts, from dancing girls to the tricks of a juggler or the pounding of a drummer. Puppet voices are made with a reed instrument.

Gombeyata (India): These puppets hang from a ring worn on the puppeteer’s head, while iron rods are used to manipulate them. The puppeteer dances as he performs, giving life to the hanging figures. The stories are based on Indian epics and sacred tales, including stories of the gods Krishna, Shiva, Rama and Devi.

Yokthe Pwe (Myanmar/Burma): Dating back to the 15th century, these are intricately carved, finely clothed and hand-painted marionettes from Myanmar that depict clowns, princes, ogres and animals. They often are used to tell the stories of the lives of Buddha and are accompanied by singers, drums, gongs, xylophones and wind instruments.

Han Krabok (Thailand): These shadow puppets on poles are derived from Cambodia and influenced by Java. They are carved, lacquered, papier-mached and painted. Stories are sung and accompanied by the sweet playing of the phipat, the Thai bronze gong and xylophone orchestra.

Wayang (Indonesia): In this traditional shadow theater of Java, Sunda and Bali in Indonesia, the puppetmaster presents tales based on the great Asian epics. A single performance accompanied by a gamelan orchestra can last from dusk to dawn and be attended by thousands of people. The puppets are carved from light, durable wood, then carefully dressed in batik skirts and sequined tops.

Mua Roi Nuoc (Vietnam): Perhaps the most unusual form in the show, these puppet performances dating from the 12th century take place entirely on water. The base of the puppet rides underwater and the puppets can be operated by hidden poles manipulated from behind a curtain. Text is minimal, but the show is accompanied by drums, bells, gongs, horns, shells and firecrackers.

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