Puppets from Indonesia and the world
The Museum Wayang or Puppet Museum showcases Indonesia’s most iconic form of theatre with an extensive collection of many forms of Indonesian puppets, as well as displays of puppets and dolls from around the world, housed on the site of a former Dutch colonial church in Jakarta’s Fatahillah Square.
The museum building was built in 1912 in a style reflecting Dutch townhouses typical of the 17th and 18th centuries. In the early days of Batavia it had been the location of a church, or rather two churches, De Oude Hollandsche Kerk (the Old Dutch Church) first built in 1640 and later in 1732 replaced by De Nieuwe Hollandsche Kerk (the New Dutch Church). Large tombstones of VOC bigwigs that had formed the floor of the churches are on display in the museum’s courtyard.
Wayang means “shadow” or “reflection” and it is generally understood that it refers to shadow puppets, and while this has some basis, the true meaning refers to a shadow of the gods or ancestors or at least the character’s spirit embodied by the puppet. Wayang can be wayang kulit—shadow puppets, wayang golek—three-dimensional wooden rod puppets, wayang potehi—Chinese-style hand puppets, or even wayang wong—masked human theatre, plus a whole lot more. Wayang has played an important role in Indonesia’s history with the artform primarily being used to pass stories from generation to generation, but also used to spread religious or political messages. Early references to the wayang in Indonesia are from first century inscriptions and the form is still popular today with puppet shows on TV and shared via smartphones. Wayang puppet theatre is listed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
A visit to the Museum Wayang while being a visual treat, with an excellent and impressive collection is sadly lacking as a museum. It is poorly maintained with dusty cabinets, poor lighting that either does not work or isn’t pointing at the display, little information is in English and is generally confusing and/or uninspiring. As with most of Indonesia’s museums it could benefit from a little curatorial flair too. Despite these criticisms, if you are into the arts, this is a great place to see one of Indonesia’s premiere forms.
Guides will approach you at the entrance, and while they will certainly enhance your experience of the museum, negotiate a price first. The collection spans the gamut from giant costume–like puppets that are operated with the puppeteer inside to finely crafted pieces with minute details including examples made from leather, wood and grasses. As well as puppets from many regions of Indonesia you can see puppets from Vietnam, India, China, other parts of Asia and Europe.
Look out for the wayang kulit revolusi, shadow puppets with uniformed Dutch soldiers and a turbaned Prince Diponegoro who fought the Dutch in the five-year Java War (and was interned in the prison under what is now Jakarta History Museum across the square) also of interest is the wayang wahyu with haloed Biblical characters.
The museum not only displays the puppets themselves, but gamelan instruments and various props that bring a performance to life. At the conclusion of the exhibition, displays show the construction of various styles with half completed carved wooden wayang golek and the buffalo leather and horn from which wayang kulit are made.
The gift shop offers a range of puppets and puppet themed gifts and puppet performances are held regularly at the museum on Sundays at 10:00 and 14:00, check for details on signboards in the square.
If you are keen to learn more about Indonesia’s puppet traditions, you can visit Makhutarama Puppet Studio around the corner from the Museum run be the affable Aldy Sanjaya who can show you how to make wayang kulit, leather puppets or present private performances in English. He also sells beautiful high quality handcrafted puppets. If you are heading to Bali on your travels, don’t miss Setia Darma House of Masks and Puppets, one of Indonesia’s best museums also dedicated the wayang.
Makhutarama Puppet Studio: 3 Kailbesar Timur, Jakarta; T: (0812) 9834 5999; WA: (0818) 922 489; email@example.com; Open Tu–Su: 10:00–15:00
Address: 25 Jalan Pintu Besar Utara, Jakarta
T: (0216) 929 560;
Coordinates (for GPS): 106º48'45.87" E, 6º8'5.21" S
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Admission: 5,000 rupiah
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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