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  • Wayang Indonesia: Die Phantastische Welt des Indonesischen Figurentheaters/The Fantastic World of Indonesian Puppet Theater
  • Kathy Foley
Wayang Indonesia: Die Phantastische Welt des Indonesischen Figurentheaters/The Fantastic World of Indonesian Puppet Theater. By Walter Angst, with a foreword by Urs Ramseyer. German and English [translation by Maria Schlatter]. 272 pp., 300 color illus., index, bibliography. Konstanz: Verlag Stadler, 2007. Cloth. $118 (75 euro).

This beautifully reproduced and expansively illustrated work comes from the perspective of the author as collector (of one hundred sets of wayang). It would serve as a helpful tool for identification of geographical origin or hints for dating of figures. Visually and iconograpically, it will be of use to wayang scholars who have little opportunity to themselves examine old collections of Indonesian shadow figures (wooden and scroll figures are only briefly addressed). Illustrations of characters in the multiple regional versions allow one to browse figures in each regional styles in a way that is normally impossible. Even when one has access to an extensive museum collection, one cannot take them in at a glance, the way you can in these side-by-side photographs. Illustrations are four-color and clearly produced. There are many full-, half-, [End Page 382] and quarter-page illustrations, sometimes with a picture of the shadow image as well as the puppet figure. The attempt to create a taxonomy of names shows common sense. However, the text gives little attention to many of the features that will interest a performance person: music, language, story, performance context, and other matters receive little discussion, nor are they used to help sort out issues of categorization. The object and visual focus is central to the author.

The book's ambition—to clarify regional styles visually—is admirable, and the author correctly notes that Balinese (North and South Bali) and Javanese north coast variants (Cirebon and to a lesser extent East Java, Kedu, Tegal, Banyumas, and Demak) iconographically represent older traditions as opposed to the better-documented court traditions of Yogyakarta and Surakarta. These last two, Angst correctly argues, are later evolutions of style. He likewise sees the shadow form of the Betawi (Jakarta) area as a relatively new form influenced by Cirebonese and Sundanese iconography. Angst's chart (p. 224) on the hypothetical style development of wayang kulit purwa is worth considering, as is his classification chart (pp. 120 –121), which explains what different terms in a genre name mean.

One should imagine the reading as a tour of a large and rich collection by someone who has assembled figures from many regions (Bali, Ceribon, East Java, Yogyakarta, Solo, Tegal, Kedu, Banyumans, Demak, and Betawi) over decades and who is trying to interpret the information gathered from significant informants (for example, Dalang Nartha, a respected puppeteer, was his major Balinese informant). We watch Angst (a zoologist by profession) struggle to create an orderly taxonomy with the multiple and sometimes confusing names of genres. He does this by parsing the names into four parts: (1) the overall term (wayang); (2) the material/object (i.e., kulit [leather], golek [wooden puppet], topeng [mask], beber [scroll], etc.); (3) story cycle (purwa [Ramayana/Mahabharata], Panji, Amir Hamzah, babad [chronicle tale], etc.); and (4) region (Bali, Cirebon, Java, etc.). This four-part system makes sense and largely corresponds to the method adopted by those who teach wayang.

While this system works for the material aspect, the author might further consider contextual issues. For example, some of the "genres" he discusses are the invention of a single dalang and have never gone beyond performances of that single maker/performer. In the case of wayang kulit budha jawa, arguably this is not a genre at all, merely a new name attached to individual productions and/or puppets which in performance are just a variant of a model form (wayang kulit jawa). If Angst looked at performance practice rather than just the puppet, he could, I believe, come up with an even clearer classification of such forms. He is sometimes limited by his informants; for example, he quotes Tizar Purbaya as saying that Astrajingga in Sunda is not born of his father's shadow but a biological son (p. 208), but in...