Shadow play

In Indonesia Wayang Kulit is an important and much loved traditional art form. It is another way of telling stories, and has its own conventions.

  • Puppets are made from buffalo hide, and may have moveable parts.  The puppets are often highly decorated, although this colour and detail does not show on the projection screen.

  • Rods of buffalo horn are used to support the puppets and to move the limbs.

  • The screen is of fine white cotton, sometimes oiled to make it more transparent.

  • The light source, which projects the shadows of the puppets onto the screen, is traditionally an oil lamp, which provides a soft yellow light.

A puppet show, especially if it is telling a range of stories from The Ramayana, may take up to 9 or 10 hours.  Children are allowed to stay up late to watch the performances, and adults and children eat, chat (and sometimes sleep) during the performance.

The puppeteer is called a dalang.  He sits behind the screen with the good puppets to his right, and the bad puppets to his left.  The puppets not in use stand upright with their control rods poked into a banana tree log to keep them ready for use.

  • The puppeteer does all of the voices, for the characters and to tell the story.

  • A traditional Gamelan Orchestra plays during the performance, making ‘theme’ music to fit the action on the screen.

  • Heroes and ‘good characters’ usually have pointed noses and slit-like eyes.  Villains have round noses, large eyes and pointed teeth.


How can I make my own shadow puppet theatre?

Interactive version   Print version

click here



2002 Department of Education, Tasmania.