A more relaxed ‘wayang’
Posted May 31, 2013on:
A wayang golek wooden puppet show presenting Begal Jamaludin, or Jamaludin the robber, stunned the audience at a recent presentation this month at the Soedjatmoko Center in Surakarta in Central Java.
The three-dimensional puppets — as opposed to their two-dimensional leather, or wayang kulit counterparts — are widely known as part of West Java’s Sundanese culture. The puppets are also used as part of the oral traditions for communities along Java’s northern coast, such as Cirebon, Brebes and Tegal.
However, unlike the Sundanese performances, the Tegal version of wayang golek, as presented by dalang (puppeteer) Sri Waluyo offered the audience something new, with patterns of wayang resembling human movement. The young artist from Tegal freely manipulated every point of articulation on the puppets to animate them in a lifelike way.
In a battle scene, for instance, the fighting was rendered realistically with blows, kicks, throws and grapples — even to the point of dismemberment of the puppets, inviting laughter from the spectators.
Equally skilled in creating a romantic atmosphere, Sri Waluyo portrayed Jamaludin and Sutijah in their intimate moments. As the couple began to hug and kiss to the delight of the audience, the cunning dalang hurriedly covered both with pink heart.
“I’ve got to make a breakthrough to offer attractive entertainment,” said Sri Waluyo after the performance. “People usually like something beyond standards, so my shows have to be creative and innovative. I’ve made the puppets myself with modifications.”
Tegal’s wayang golek stories are derived from local traditional tales, including Jamaludin. A legendary hero, Jamaludin was a robber living in Tegal at the end of Majapahit dynasty in the early 16th century. Sri Waluyo, however, turned Jamaludin into an impressive fighter of love.
The story tells of the love of Jamaludin and Sutijah, the daughter of King Anggreng Truna, who ruled the Kali Kemiri kingdom. The romance between the two soured after the family of Sutijah rejected Jamaludin, the son of a thief.
An insulted Anggreng Truna, ordered his soldiers to set Sambung — Jamaludin’s village — on fire. Villagers were killed, their houses burned down and rice fields and farm animals were seized. The peaceful village became chaotic, with the cries of frightened people dispersing in panic.
The melee was ably depicted by Sri Waluyo. He used different puppets, one after another, never making the same gesture twice. The dalang had a full command of his wayang, adeptly maneuvering the wooden figures to distinguish their diverse levels in Javanese society, much to the pleasure of his audience.
In the story, Jamaludin, enraged, decides to follow in the footsteps of his father and robs all royal family members passing through the forest near Sambung. He steals the tribute to be delivered to the king and gives it to the poor.
The next segment began with the introduction of main characters. Although a tragedy according to the standard text, Jamaludin was narrated by Sri Waluyo in a humorous approach that amused spectators. Use of the more direct Tegal dialect — as opposed to the rigid formality of Javanese — made the show even more hilarious.
The use of community legends as the basis for Tegal wayang has made it easier for people to follow storylines. This is unlike the Sundanese wooden puppet performances, where stories and characters are generally adopted from figures in the spread of Islam in Java, such as Walangsungsang and Rara Santang, as well as heroes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics.
With undistinguished figures, puppets are crafted according to the individual tastes of puppeteers. One might have shaggy hair, a wide mouth and big teeth, while another features a bald head with moustache like the famous comedian Gogon, Others resemble Donald Duck. There was even one puppet that could smoke.
These puppets appeared in captivating monologues, thanks to Sri Waluyo’s skill. He could make his characters dance to the music — just don’t expect classical gamelan.
Composer Max Baihaqi provided the performance of Jamaludin with absorbing contemporary score, combining diatonic and pentatonic tones with traditional Javanese and modern songs. Some gamelan instruments were used in collaboration with modern percussions instruments and keyboards.
In the romantic scene between Jamaludin and Sutijah, soft music was played to accompany Cahwati, Sri Waluyo’s wife and a sinden, or traditional gamelan singer, who gave her rendition of a love song popularized by Wali.
The intermission, known in wayang as the goro-goro, featured performances of punakawan or comedians — a distinctly Tegal way of joking. Sri Waluyo’s weird-faced puppets and the slapstick humor frequently triggered loud laughs from the audience.
After the goro-goro, the story was back on track, with Jamaludin’s revolt heard by the furious king, who commanded his prime minister, Sobrang Barang, to devise a ruse wherein he would pretend consent to the relationship between Jamaludin and Sutijah.
As always, love makes people change. Jamaludin thawed. Once a robber like a ferocious lion, he turned abruptly into an obedient lamb. The unsuspecting Jamaludin complied with Anggreng Truna’s request to propose to Sutijah.
In this scene, Sri Waluyo again flaunted his smart technique. A puppet clad in white was pulled by a string to represent the spirit of Jamaludin flying through the sky. Beneath the swaying soul of Jamaludin, Sutijah was weeping with the remains of her lover on her lap. The lamp dimmed and the audience was deeply touched.
“In Cirebon, Tegal and Brebes no dalang dares to perform this episode based on the standard text. They say one can be cursed without offering rituals and doing ascetic acts. But I’ve done it in a different way by highlighting the romantic side with a parody,” Sri Waluyo said.