For many years, The wayang kulit has been the most dominant form of
mass communication in Indonesia. Literally meaning 'shadow', the wayang
is performed at night. Puppets portraying mythological tales are manipulated
by the dalangs or story-tellers behind the screen. A strong white
light would be cast on the screen and the audience would watch the
silhouettes of the moving puppets, accompanied by a gamelan -- a Javanese
orchestra of largely percussion instruments.
Many of us view wayangs
as a form of entertainment, just like the modern cinemas or theaters. In
Indonesia, however, the wayang has a more profound role. A refined
art, it is saturated with the morals and mysticism of the Indonesian
religions. In fact, many Indonesians believe that the spirits of the dead
reside in the shadows of the puppets.
Uniquely, wayangs are used as a mass of communication between the
authority and general public in Indonesia. 'Secretariats' are engaged by the
Government to encourage story-tellers of wayangs to transform ideas
such as birth control and rice production into their tales, hence bringing
the messages across to the public effectively. The wayang is also a
convenient political tool, particularly in the event of election.
Pro-government propaganda can be neatly woven into the shadow plays, thus
effectively winning the support and trust of the people.
The subtlety of the wayang kulit is a double-edged sword for it is
also used by those who wish to voice out their heartfelt grievances against
the government. For example, the act of tossing a shadow puppet into a river
and allowing it to be carried upstream reflects the hopeless nature of those
in power. Such discreet and implicit criticism courts less trouble than
outright condemnations in newspaper reports or speeches.
In Java and on the island of Bali, where there is a strong oral
tradition, epic tales of Indian origin are particularly popular. These
include the Ramayanas and the Mahabharata and the Pandavas
and Kauravas. Wayangs are also rituals performed at weddings,
births and other important occasions in Java. Though in most small villages,
wayangs are commonly regarded as a form of entertainment, these
shadow plays also provide an opportunity for meditation. The audience would
gather after the evening prayers and listen, trance-like, to the dalangs
narration till wee hours of dawn.
Indeed, understanding the pivotal role of the wayang, has helped
us become more aware of the Indonesian culture and society.
Wayangs are generally regarded as a form of entertainment in
Indonesia. However, being refined and religion-based, wayangs are
also tools used by the government to bring across desired messages or to
present favorable images of themselves to the public. These are often done
by engaging 'Secretariats' to encourage story-tellers of wayangs to
weave desired information into their tales and project ideas to the public.
Cautious critics also make use of the subtlety of wayangs to
criticize the government, hence, courting less troubles than outright
condemnations. In addition, wayangs are rituals performed during
important occasions. Finally, wayangs also provide opportunities for
meditation whereby the people listen to the dalang's tales in a
trance throughout the night.
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