Before the arrival of the internet, tv, moving pictures, the shadow puppets are the closest to an animated reality. It has been said that concept of shadow puppet came some 2000 years ago in the Han dynasty. The Han emperor was extremely depressed after the death of the Empress and was unable to the ruling of the country. Advisor Li who has been devoted to the Emperor was deeply concerned, one afternoon in the street he saw a kid playing with a doll, it was the movement of the shadow that had captivated him. Li used cotton to made the features of the Empress, supported the arms and legs on rod, with a candle behind, a screen was placed in front of the mannequin. The Emperor came into the tent one evening and saw his beloved Empress once again.
This shadow puppet is a Xiao Sheng character, playing roles that are young handsome, well learnt scholar and usually matched by a beautiful diva Dan role.
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This puppet head is the General Deng Ai of the 3 Kingdom period (197-264 AD). The story “Tan Shan Gu” has been made into opera and puppet theater. At the time, China was divided into 3 kingdoms, General Deng was defending the Wei kingdom against the attack of the General Jiang Wei of the Shu kingdom.
This is a Nang Sbek Toch shadow puppet, the smaller of the 2 types of shadow puppet in Cambodia.
Nang Sbek Toch means “theatre of small hides”, these puppets are made out of cow hides which is cleaned, treated, tanned before it is ready for use. A paper template is designed, portion of the hides is then cut out for use; patterns of lines are chiseled out enhance the feature of the puppet. Outline of the puppet are then stained for appearance of the puppet itself, as unlike the Chinese shadow puppet that are thin and translucent, the colouring of the Cambodian puppet will not have an impact on the shadow itself.
(you might want to switch off the sound for this video)
Here is a beautiful photo documentation.
See our other shadow puppets.
This shadow puppet came from a set we acquire from Indonesia, curiously the contained Indonesian characters as well as Chinese ones. Like this particular puppet, the head gear, the costume, the bounded feet, the facial features all points to a Chinese diva. I wonder if the set of shadow puppets were commissioned by a Chinese immigrant in Indonesia who is a bit home sick for Chinese shadow puppet. It became a fusion of the two, just as today’s wayang kilt some of which has departed from the traditional story of the Ramayana to include everyday events such as karaoke.
A warrior of the Hua county in the Shaan Xi province., it is said that Chinese shadow puppetry originated from this county. Shadow puppet theater started its form as a Taoist court ceremony where illusion, shadows, dreams and a bit of imagination formed the idea of after death for the ancient emperor. As time goes by, the religious ceremony took a form as entertainment for the emperor and thus shadow puppet theatre began. The fashion from the courts later was copied by the nobles and then the wealthy, and to the masses. The Hua school of shadow puppet are small and very finely made, it is believed that the tradition came from entertaining small party of the court.
Buta Rambut Geni is character from the Javaness shadow puppet (Wayang Kulit), he is famous for his hair of fire which he able to burn anythign in its path. Symbolically, Rambut Geni is one of the 4 human desires, love and sensual engagement, which must be left behind and one departs from this world.
Behind the scene of the Wayang Kulit show.
Like other forms of Chinese theater, the glove puppet follows the same cast catagories. This puppet head belongs to the Jing category (painted face), a forceful character and the sub category of Black Flower (Hei Hua) which denotes a strong temperament but integrity (a bit like Captain Haddock in the Tin Tin comic). Junior means a younger character, hence there is also Black Flower Senior who comes with beard. Hei Hua Junior is often cast as the talented officers for a respected official
Wayang golek is the traditional West Javanese performance of the wooden rod puppet.
Here is a wonderful documentary about the Wayang golek.
The character of this puppet is Abhimanyu, the tragic hero in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. Son of Arjuna and Subhadra, like his father he was both courageous and a good fighter. Abhimanyu’s education of becoming a warrior started when he was still in womb of Subhadra, his father would go through in length different battle formation. Unfortunately at Subhadra has fallen asleep when it came to the exiting of Chakravyuha and Abhimanyu failed to gain the knowledge and there on the 13th day of the battle he was killed.
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This puppet head is that of a glove puppet, it is of the character Qing Hua Junior of the Jing (painted face) catergory. Qing Hua Junior can portrait characters of a villain or a hero with an explosive attitude.
The making of the puppet starts from selection of Zhang wood (Cinnamomum Camphora), apart from the nature of the wood its also has a function of being a wood pesticide, the required size would be taken out and together with the trimming to the rough form all done by use of a hammer. The details are then carved out, once the carving is completed a thin layer of white slip is applied as a filler to smooth out the knots of the wood. The base colour is then sprayed by a mouth piece and the features hand painted. If there are hair to the puppet, it would be added at the final stage.
There are broadly 2 types of shadow puppets in Cambodia, Sbek Thom and Sbek Toch. Sbek Thom are large shadow puppets, the leather part can get up to 1.5-2m tall and 1.5m wide. The puppeteers for Sbek Thom are part of the performance and are not in disguised, they dances in front and behind of the screen; the epic Ramayana is performed. This shadow puppet belongs to the Sbek Toch genres, they are smaller and usually tell the folktales based on everyday life (unlike Sbek Thom which has a religious significant).