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Asian Theatre Journal 20.1 (2003) 93-95

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Voices Of The Puppet Masters: The Wayang Golek Theater Of Indonesia. By Mimi Herbert with Nur S. Rahardjo. The Lontar Foundation, Jakarta, and the University of Hawai'i Press: Honolulu, 2002. 252 pp. Ill. $50

Voices of the puppet masters and others resound from Banten in West Java to Blitar in East Java. Wayang golek is Java-centric in Mimi Herbert's account of this puppet performance tradition with all its diversity of form and multiplicity of the stories told. And there is also the voice of a puppet master from afar, that of American pioneer Kathy Foley, of the University of California at Santa Cruz. There has never been a work of such passion devoted to wayang golek providing not only a wealth of scholarship, but also a rich canvas of [End Page 93] extensive pictorial studies allowing the imagination to enter the physical and spiritual world of Javanese puppet traditions.

Two principal divisions of wayang golek occupy the book's ten chapters, in which accounts of puppet theatre are provided by the dalang (master puppeteers) and their devotees. The affable style is at once conversational and studious. They talk of wayang golek purwa and wayang golek cepak forms and styles, illustrating them at the end of each chapter with stories peculiar to their respective performance repertoires. Hinduism is the root for the purwa stories, although the presence of Sufi mysticism and Islamic principle values is also to be found in the puppet versions of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. In Chapter 1, Saini Kosim philosophizes on the syncretism of the wayang purwa through illustrations of Sundanese cosmology and "unio mystica" symbolizing the union of Man and God.

According to Kamarudin, in Chapter 4, there are hundreds of stories in the wayang cepak repertoire, drawn from two main sources, indigenous and Islamic tales. The Panji and Damarwulan legends, historical tales of Central and East Javanese kingdoms, are those of the indigenous peoples. Of outside origin are Islamic tales such as the Arab-Persian stories of Amir Hamzah, aka Wong Agung Menak, the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad.

Herbert adeptly introduces wayang golek through the evolution of wayang as an art form. In addition, she furnishes detailed descriptions of repertoire, the puppets, the puppeteer and the ensemble, and the gamelan and the music, concluding with a brief discourse on wayang golek from the point of view of politics, government programs, and private support. Despite the academic approach in Herbert's twenty-two page introduction, the breadth of her research is inadequately illustrated, particularly in reference, for example, to evolutionary forms of wayang, the wayang beber and wayang suluh.

When the dalang speak in their various chapters voices are heard from both the past and the present. In Chapter 2, we learn that Otong Rasta had followed in the footsteps of his father to become a wayang cepak master puppeteer. Aki Mama Taryat is described in Chapter 3 as a revered shaman skilled in the ritual of the ruwatan, a wayang performance given as an exorcism or purification ceremony. Keeping the tradition is the role of the master puppeteer, Kamarudin, who describes his performances of the wayang cepak Panji tales in Chapter 4, calling them wayang Panji. Endang Subrata, a passionate guardian of wayang golek purwa, is the sentinel of a treasured heirloom (pusaka), a miniature keris (a Javanese ceremonial dagger) invested with magic power. Among the purwa stories he tells in Chapter 5 are animist tales predating the creation of the wayang purwa puppets and the advent of the Hindu era.

Not forgotten amidst the fame of the master puppeteers are the creators of the puppets. Ahim is a consummate carver of purwa puppets who talks in Chapter 7 about his experiences during the Dutch colonial period and the Japanese occupation. Tizar Purbaya called him "the master"; he used Ahim's unpainted wayang heads as prototypes for craftsmen to copy. Activist [End Page 94] and entrepreneur are apt descriptions for the aforementioned Tizar Purbaya in Chapter 8. This...