This exploration is for all ages, as the colored smilies show. You can do the Wayang Puppets geography exploration with your whole family together!
The Wayang Puppets exploration is a geography exploration from the Southeast Asia unit in the Mapping Our World course. Layers of Learning has hands-on explorations and activities in every unit of this family-friendly curriculum. Learn more about Layers of Learning.
Wayang puppets come from Bali and Java in Indonesia. The puppet shows have also spread through Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. They’ve been around as a form of art and entertainment for thousands of years and they’re still vying with TV for entertainment value. The puppets are shadow puppets, silhouettes on a stick, held up behind a white screen with a light shining on them from behind. The stories told with the puppets are most often from Hindu scripture, but they could be about anything. Usually, the arms and feet of the Wayang are movable through the use of strings.
Wayang is a Javanese word that means “shadow” or “imagination.” Wayang was the name for both the puppets themselves and for the entire production. The puppeteer is called a dalang and sits behind the screen, manipulating the puppets and narrating with words and songs. The performers in that region of the world are considered talented celebrities. Wayang is the most popular form of puppet theater in the world.
Step 1: Library Research
Before you create your own Wayang shadow puppet show, read a book or two of Indonesian stories. Here are some suggestions, but if you can’t find these, look for books at your library about Indonesia in general. The colored smilies above each book tell you what age level they’re recommended for.
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Indonesian Children’s Favorite Stories
by Joan Suyenaga
All About Indonesia
by Linda Hibbs
The Three Realms
by Martini Fisher
Step 2: Wayang Puppets
You’ll need scissors, copies of the Wayang Puppets printable, lightweight cardboard (like from a cereal box), glue stick, long thin sticks (like wooden skewers), tape, a white or light-colored bedsheet, and a lamp.
Print out the Wayang Puppets template. Glue it onto thin cardboard, like from a cereal box. Cut each puppet out carefully with scissors or with a good craft knife. Tape a stick to the back to manipulate your puppet with. Set up a sheet for a screen with a lamp behind it. Tell a story from Indonesia to go with the figures and put on a show. It doesn’t have to be word for word, just tell the story in your own words.
Step 3: Show What You Know
Perform your show for an audience (like your family or grandparents!) and then tell them a few things you learned about Wayang puppet stories and Indonesia. Answer questions from the audience as well.
Additional Layers are extra activities you can do or tangents you can take off on. You will find them in the sidebars of each Layers of Learning unit. They are optional, so just choose what interests you.
Write out your puppet show in script form.
You can teach your kids how to write a script, use an online tutorial to learn how.
Find Java, Bali, and Indonesia on a map or globe.
Write down ten facts you find out from the internet or books about these places.
Read a story from the Ramayana (Hindu scriptures) and perform it using your puppets. What does the story teach?
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