Join Date: May 2006
Gustav, I accept without question that you are very well informed in respect of the theoretical aspects of the wayang, however, I am not writing from a theoretical base, I am writing from a base of general knowledge, all of which has been acquired in Central Jawa over a 50 year period.
At one time I had a very highly regarded dalang who gave TV performances as a next door neighbour, two doors away I had a Balinese student of the ASKI (now the ISI, previously the STSI) who was studying to become a dalang, my housekeeper had a niece who was a working dalang (yes, these days there are female dalangs) , there was another ASKI student just across the road, but I did not know him well, the two gentlemen on my side of the street I saw and spoke with regularly, and I spoke with the niece on an irregular basis. During the 1970's and early 1980's I had a relative who was a middle level dalang and wayang kulit maker, he usually acted as my driver when I was in Solo.
In short, I have had a lot of contact and a lot of conversations with dalangs, I have attended a lot of wayang kulit performances and wayang wong performances, I attended one wayang beber performance back in the 1980's, that was in Pacitan, down on the south coast, I doubt that there is anybody now who plays wayang beber. Apart from wayang professionals, any performance of wayang will always generate a lot of discussion amongst people who attended and people who wanted to attend but could not, so I've had a lot of these lay conversations also.
I have never studied the wayang, but I am reasonably well read in wayang literature, one needs to be if one is serious about keris study, and I do have a small number of books and other literature that deals with wayang.
From a personal perspective I do not like wayang kulit, it is clever, it can be relaxing, but I'm good for probably no more than 2 hours maximum of a wayang kulit performance. I do rather enjoy wayang wong, but only in long separated doses.
So Gustav, I am coming at this wayang thing from a different direction, and that direction is a direction that I learnt to follow in Solo, Central Jawa. If my direction does not sit well with you, that's OK with me, you have no need to speak with Javanese people on a daily basis, but I do, and I'm not going to adopt ideas from books in conversation with these people. You stay with your books, I'll stay with my community beliefs.
Now, having laid all that out on the table I'll do a little bit more quibbling.
For anybody to state with certainty that wayang golek began at any particular time is indeed a very brave act. But we can state that wayang golek menak began at a relatively certain point in time. Yes, wayang golek menak is mostly associated with West Jawa.
Raden Patah gets into the story because even as the ruler of Demak the imams would not give permission for him to see the wayang performed in the traditional way with puppets in the round or with painted puppets, so he duly issued the required edicts to prevent playing wayang in the old ways, but then the imams gave permission for only the shadows of the puppets to be seen. A lot of people, including it would seem, some dalangs, believe that this was the point where they really had to learn how to hold their audience, and that involved more humour, more social comment, more moral comment.
In respect of the word "wayang".
Wayang is a form of story telling, sometimes those stories are told with the aid of puppets made of leather that are manipulated by a dalang in a way that throws the shadows of the puppets onto a screen, this is "Wayang Kulit".
However there are many other different ways of presenting those stories, some use the painted puppet in front of the screen, some use other puppets of various forms, sometimes a scroll with illustrations can be used, sometimes the story is told by human players, and this last is "Wayang Wong".
Wayang is story telling with illustrative assistance.
The most common form of wayang now is wayang kulit. The first mention of wayang involving the use of leather puppets dates from about the middle of the 800's, the word used to refer to this was either "ringgit" or "aringgit" --- if "aringgit" it would be reference to a performer, "ringgit" would be the type of performance, and both refer to the use of leather puppets. There is an inscription from the early 900's that says (I think) "Ki Galiki mawayang", in English this is:- "The Honorable Galiki played wayang".
Yes, leather puppets have been wayang props for a long time --- and so have other, less popular wayang props.
There are many forms of wayang, many more than I can remember, and probably more than I have ever heard of. They all involve telling a story. That story might be one of the old ones inherited from India that are included in the Wayang Purwa repertoire, or it might be something modern that involves the struggle against colonialism, or even modern politics or social agendas.
The established traditional forms of wayang have over-lapping repertoires These repertoires can contain stories with the same name, but they can be told in a different way.
From the traditional perspective, the wayang provides a means & method of social and moral guidance, to a great degree it fills a need that in traditional Western societies is filled by the Sunday Sermon. The characters and stories from the wayang form a reference point for the value systems of the Javanese people, both at grass roots level and amongst the elites. People will be likened to one wayang character or another, in accordance with personal traits and behaviour, or appearance; the correct way in which to act will often be influenced by the lessons that have come from the wayang.
Possibly some academics might have a different perspective of the wayang than I do, but my perspective has been gained over a very long time living with and relating to the people for whom the wayang is an important part of who they are. As with any belief system the beliefs surrounding the wayang are perhaps sometimes a matter of truth being that which is accepted by the greatest number of people.
Now, the comic punakawan.
There is absolutely no disagreement between us that in some Javanese monumental art there are elements of humour included. I think this sort of falls into the category of "Javanese Sculpture 101".
The people of Jawa are now, and have always been members of the Human Race, I might be wrong, but I believe that all communities of Human Beings, right across the world include in their make-up, an element of humour, and probably have always done so.
The statues and bas-reliefs of Old Jawa were a way of communicating with the members of Javanese communities, and all communication becomes a little more effective where an element of humour is involved. So humourous scenes were included in some narratives shown in the bas-reliefs on candis and in other places in order to keep the viewer continue with his viewing.
These narrative bas reliefs were in the nature of comic strips, just like Superman and Captain Marvel, if you wanted people to come and visit your candi and pray to you, or communicate with you through meditation, or to bring you offerings, you gave them something to keep them coming back. That something was the narrative bas relief. The comic strip.
Exactly the same as a story teller including humour in his stories so the audience will stay put.
Yes, humour did exist in Jawa before the 15th century. I agree absolutely that this is so.
However, to refer to a figure in a bas relief as a "punakawan" when that person is not able to be identified as Semar, or Petruk, or Gareng, or Bagong, or alternatively as a member of a defined group is simply not acceptable.
Even more unacceptable is to take an unidentified character in a bas relief and relate that character to an identified character in a wayang performance (of any type). To name one of these characters as a "punakawan" he must be one of the Semar group, or a member of some other identified group, he cannot be just a stray person who has wandered in off the street (so to speak).
The comic punakawan is related only to the wayang, and his role intensified as less and less people were able to understand the archaic languages, the element of humour in the role of the punakawan intensified when the dalang was forced to work only with shadows.
On the other hand, any member of a retinue or a group of followers can be referred to as a punakawan, and this usage can apply not only in wayang, but in common colloquial usage.
We need to understand the purpose of the punakawans in wayang. The wayang performances have the princes and the warriors and all the other elite characters speaking in Kawi or in Old Javanese, almost nobody today understands those languages, so in order to follow the story-line, the archaic languages need to be translated, the punakawans deliver the gist of the story in ngoko, which everybody can understand, and they intersperse this delivery with humour and asides.
When the dalangs were deprived of actual physical characters by the 15th century prohibitions, and they needed to rely on only their voice and some shadows to tell the story, they needed to work harder to hold their audience, and the belief is that they did this by increasing the humour delivered by the punakawans.
Maybe we can get back to keris hilts?