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Jakarta Post

Female ‘dalang’ steals the limelight

Tue, March 3, 2020   /   07:25 am
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    Dalang (puppet master) Dwi Puspita skillfully wields a character in a wayang kulit (shadow puppet) performance. The term wayang is Javanese and means “shadow” or “imagination.” JP/Irene Barlian

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    A cupboard displays a photograph (center) of Puspita’s celebrated father, Dalang Priyo Widodo. He is the one who first taught Puspita the traditional performing art of wayang. JP/Irene Barlian

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    Dalang Dwi Puspita enjoys a quiet moment behind the screen of a wayang show before opening “Punakawan”. “Punakawan”, which follows a tragic event in the narrative, presents the four popular comic characters of Semar, Petruk, Bagong and Gareng, and is one of the most anticipated acts in a wayang show. JP/Irene Barlian

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    Sesajen, an offering comprising of rice, fruits and coffee, is mandatory in a wayang kulit performance. JP/Irene Barlian

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    Dwi Puspita opens the performance with a dramatic play of gunungan figures. Gunungan appears in the beginning and the end of each scenes. JP/Irene Barlian

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    The only role in wayang performance that is specially reserved for women is sinden singer. JP/Irene Barlian

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    Puspita (right) and her father Priyo Widodo play instruments together at Priyo’s house in Kemranggen village in Purworejo regency, Central Java. JP/Irene Barlian

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    Dwi Puspita teaches Javanese language at SMAN 7 Purworejo senior high school. She also manages the school’s extracurricular program of karawitan (Javanese music ensemble). JP/Irene Barlian

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    Residents gather to watch a wayang performance in Baledono district in Purworejo regency. JP/Irene Barlian

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    A karawitan music group adds melodies to the wayang performance. JP/Irene Barlian

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    Puspita plays with her toddler Bajra at her house in Purworejo regency. JP/Irene Barlian

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    Puspita undoes her hair after finishing eight hours of wayang performance. She and her family comes home at 5 a.m. JP/Irene Barlian

Irene Barlian

Dwi Puspita, 33, starts her day long before dawn, preparing breakfast  for her husband Sofian and daughter Davina, while attending to the  needs of her 3-year-old son, Bajra. 

As the sun rises, she sets off for SMAN 7 senior high school in  Purworejo regency, Central Java, where she teaches Javanese language  and music.

Puspita, who lives in Bruno village about 30 kilometers northwest of  Purworejo, is more than a mother and a teacher: she is also the only female dalang (puppet master) in the area.

Puspita grew up watching her father Priyo Widodo, a celebrated dalang, as he performed wayang kulit (shadow puppet) shows. 

"I was inspired by watching my father perform,” said Puspita, whose eyes and ears were trained through constant exposure to her father’s performances.

After learning the ropes under her father, Puspita honed her skills at a dalang school in Yogyakarta.

Wayang kulit is a traditional Javanese puppet theater that generally tells stories from Javanese mythology as well as the ancient Sanksrit epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata. In 2003,

UNESCO proclaimed wayang kulit as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. 

A typical wayang kulit performance runs eight hours from midnight to dawn. 

The dalang fills multiple roles in directing a wayang kulit performance, from puppeteer to narrator and to the conductor of the gamelan orchestra, which comprises musicians and vocalists. It remains a male-dominated field in which female dalang are rarely found, even today. [yps]