Fri, 14 Jan 2000

Popularizing 'wayang' via the Internet? Why not

By Kanti Waluyo

JAKARTA (Antara): The communications revolution has changed people's lives.

The world has become a huge system of information exchange. In 1988, one optic fiber cable could carry 3,000 electronic messages at the same time. In 2000, they carry an estimated 10 million.

Now, with the aid of technology like the Internet, information is at our fingertips.

The globalization of information will undoubtedly affect the socio-cultural fabric of life in Indonesia. Most of the information on the Internet comes from industrially advanced countries with very different cultures from Indonesia's. How can we anticipate the influence of these different values? A single cultural reference might be used to investigate the possibilities.

One such reference which still has the attention of the Indonesian community is wayang. By bringing wayang to the frontiers of global communication, Indonesians, as well as the rest of the world, can benefit from its instructive, moralistic and indelibly Indonesian character. Wayang has positive values, it imparts a sense of identity; it is a healthy entertainment, and it preserves and celebrates Indonesia's unique and vibrant cultural heritage.


The wayang is a part of Indonesia's cultural heritage that lives on, especially in the Javanese, Sundanese and Balinese communities, as well as in the communities of Banjar and Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara.

According to the pakem (book of Javanese wayang stories), each wayang message is conveyed through specific scenes and figures involved; the quality of the performance depends on the style and perception of the dalang (puppet master).

There are various kinds of wayang in Indonesia. The most popular one dates back thousands of years: the wayang kulit (leather puppet show). Its basic stories are taken from the Mahabharata and Ramayana. These stories are our living link with Hindu doctrine, but we love them for their adaptations to local culture.

The basic stories for wayang Klitik/Krucil (show with flat wooden puppets) -- wayang Timplong, wayang Tengul, wayang Cepak, wayang Sasak -- have their origins in the Babad Tanah Jawi (chronicle of Java glorifying the Javanese kings) and the Serat Menak (for the dissemination of Islam).

The wayang Suluh takes its story from the Indonesian national history such as the stories about Pangeran Diponegoro, Untung Suropati. The basic story of the wayang Wahyu is based on the Bible. An example is the story of Yusuf Winisudo in which Dawud gets the wahyu.

So what role can the wayang play for Indonesians in an era of global communication?

Firstly, with freedom of information anything can be accessed on the Internet. One therefore faces a competition of values, both negative and positive.

Because of that, a source of positive values is needed. The wayang's could function to give psychological, intellectual, religious, philosophical, aesthetical and ethical inspiration.

For example, there is the story of Pandawa, an Amarta knight who protects his people from suffering. By contrast, Kurawa acts out of self-interest, being afflicted by the passion of greed. In the Bharatayuda war, Suyudana ordered his people to wage war against Pandawa out of personal interest.

Secondly, wayang helps to maintain the identity of the nation's culture. The younger generation living in this Internet era gets most of their information from foreign cultures without first having a sense of their own identity.

In order to recapture the nation's identity, it is useful to consider the teachings in the wayang, the teachings of a cultural life or a way to appreciate one's parents, teachers and fellow human beings.

For example, at the beginning of the Bharatayudha war Arjuno suddenly lost his fighting spirit. He was heartbroken. He could not fight his own brothers and teachers whom he thought showed great dedication in having educated and cared for him since his childhood.

Kresno could not stand to see the doubt afflicting his younger brother. He reminded Arjuno that a knight could not withdraw from his national duty. At critical times he had to uphold his mission, especially the obligation to fight evil without regard to whether it be relative, a teacher or his own family. With this advice from Kresno, Arjuno's spirit was finally aroused again.

Thirdly, wayang provides healthy entertainment. Each wayang performance presents love stories, serious dilemmas and great sacrifices as a form of dramatic entertainment. One such performance is that of Ki Timbul Hadiprayitno.

This artist presents dialogue that moves his audience to sadness or happiness. Ki Anom Suroto's performances are full of Islamic teachings, yet he is also deft at presenting humorous and enticing dagelan (jokes) both through Limbukan and Goro-goro scenes. This, as well as the songs by the sinden (women singers with gamelan orchestra), compel the audiences rank him a favorite wayang performer.

Fourthly, wayang maintains a specific cultural heritage. The wayang shows the trait of gotong royong (mutual help) by very nature of its performance.

Without good cooperation there is no wayang performance, especially when a wayang is held in rural or remote areas. Two weeks before a show, the rural community already knows through word of mouth who is going to be the host of the wayang , in what context the performance will be held, where the venue is located, and who the dalang will be.

The rural community, through gotong royong, builds the stage for the wayang performance and sets up the tents to sell refreshments for duration of the wayang performance.

What can be done so that wayang can play a role in global communication? One way is to produce wayang on CD-ROM, including an introduction to wayang figures and stories, and subsequently to market the CD on the Internet. Things must be done in an interactive way in accordance with consumer demand. However, the philosophy of wayang must always be maintained.