Living in Indonesia has been an interesting learning experience for me in many ways, and one of the things that I’ve gained is a look into the country’s culture, which at times can be very different from my own.
Recently, I got to dig a little deeper into Indonesia’s culture at the Wayang Museum. Wayang refers to the art of puppet shows, and as I learned at the museum, puppets in Indonesia are much more detailed and interesting than your average kindergarten hand puppet.
Most puppet shows are based on classic tales such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, which are both important stories in Indonesia and many other countries.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to learn very much about those particular stories or any others at the museum, as the “translated” signs weren’t very much help.
There were wooden statue-sized puppets.
And there were intricately decorated paper puppets.
Some of the puppets were pretty creepy.
And others were just completely unexpected.
It was a museum full of characters whose stories are embedded in this country’s culture.
And some of them were even familiar to me.
Even though the translations for each display were a little off, there were a few stories that I was able to catch the gist of.
For example, this woman is happy to have delivered a healthy baby son, but she isn’t thrilled that they are unable to detach him from the umbilical cord. The king’s strongest weapons can’t even cut it, and from what I gathered from the plaque, he took his knights on a quest to find a weapon that could sever the indestructible umbilical cord.
Another interesting set of characters are the husband and the wife below who were always busy because they had too many children. (I counted 59 kids between the two of them.) Nowadays, the Office of Family Planning in Indonesia encourages its citizens to limit their families to only two children, and these puppets are supposedly used in that campaign.
The museum itself is fairly small, but it’s crammed full of puppets, and each puppet has an interesting story. I’ll definitely be making a repeat visit after I’ve had time to research some of the popular puppet stories, and since the plaques are pretty useless in conveying those tales, I would suggest that visitors do at least a little reading up before you go unless you’re already fluent in Bahasa Indonesia.
Anybody who has spent time in Indonesia will have seen these puppets somewhere, whether it’s at an actual puppet show, printed onto shirts, or dangling from a keychain in a souvenir shop. They’re a huge part of the culture here, and if you find yourself in Jakarta, I recommend that you visit the museum to see these crazy characters for yourself.
*All photos in this post were taken by Josh.
Unless you’re familiar with Jakarta’s bus system or commuter train line, the best way to get to the Wayang Museum is by taxi, which will drop you off at Fatahillah Square in the historic Kota area.
You’ll also find a history museum and an art museum on the plaza, which makes for a nice morning of sightseeing. For a fancy meal in an air-conditioned restaurant, stop at the Cafe Batavia, which is also at the plaza.
The museum’s fee is Rp. 2000 (~$0.18 USD) for adults, and be warned that the building isn’t air-conditioned, so you might want to make sure you bring a bottle of water and possibly some bug spray, as you’ll probably run into a few mosquitoes.
Unless you’re going to read every single plaque, you can probably plan on spending anywhere from 30-60 minutes there. Even if you take your time, I can’t see anyone spending much more than an hour there.