Posted by: mel | May 24, 2009

Puppet show brings ancient Chinese arts to town

Jakarta Post | Sat, 23/05/2009 |  City

Crek… Nong! Crek… crek… Nong! Tok… tok creng… Tong! The deafening sound of Chinese musical instruments, like gembreng (flat gong), gwik gim (guitar), pengling, munyu and bek to, accompanied by Chinese songs and wooden flutes, cymbals and drums, ricocheted at the Kampoeng Tempo Doeloe in Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta.

Behind the 2 meters by 2 meters red screen, puppet master Subur brought puppets to life with his deft hands and with Chinese words, immediately followed by an Indonesian translation for the benefit of the non-Chinese speaking audience, during the Jakarta Fashion and Food Festival, which will run until May 23.

All Subur’s scenes were taken from classic stories from the mainland China kingdoms, including the legend of Kera Sakti (mighty monkey).

Subur’s assistant and son, Alfan, helped to sort out characters during the play, while three musician-puppeteers evoked a Chinese orchestra to provide a classic Chinese atmosphere.

Subur and the rest of the puppet show crew were all Javanese from Jombang, East Java. The show leader, Tok Hok Lay, alias Tony, was the only band member of Chinese descent.

Potehi (Poo Tay Hie) originates from the words: poo (cloth), tay (bag) and hie (puppet). The Potehi puppets are made of cloth.

There is no historical evidence concerning the origins of the Potehi puppets. Some say the puppet show began 3,000 years ago during the Tiu Ong Dynasty.

As the story goes, during that time, four prisoners facing the death penalty played music using various secondhand instruments. Mesmerized by their performance, the emperor Tiu Ong decided to free the prisoners.

Others believe it appeared for the first time during the Jin Dynasty, between the third and fifth centuries AD. It then developed in the Song Dynasty, between the 10th and 13th centuries.

The art was reportedly brought into the country during the 16th century along with an influx of Chinese immigrants. Since that time, performances have been staged in temples across Indonesia.

Public performances of the puppet show, along with other Chinese traditional arts and rituals, was later banned during president Soeharto’s three decade rule. Former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid annulled the ban and allowed the Chinese arts, including Potehi puppets, to reclaim their popularity.

The puppet show will be performed until the end of the festival on Saturday.

– Text by JP/P.J. Leo

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