Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Wayang at the Museu Nacional de Etnologia

I am in Lisbon, Portugal now for the EUROSEAS conference, delivering a paper on the beginnings of kethoprak and randai in late colonial Indonesia, and took time yesterday to visit the Museu Nacional de Etnologia, which has a collection of 700+ wayang puppets from Java and Bali.

The museum, which was established in 1965, includes both folk artefacts (mostly farming implements) from rural Portugal collected during the 20th century and objects from former colonies (Indonesia and Brazeil) plus Africa. A permanent display opened in 2012, and includes a large number of puppets from Bali, along with some beautifully displayed puppets and masks from Africa. It is planned that displays in the permanent exhibit will be rotated and that the Balinese puppets will be replaced by a display of Javanese puppets.

The museum is closed on Mondays but I got a personal tour of the museum by Ana Margarida Penedo, who  in 2012 finished an MA on the museum's collection of Javanese wayang in the department of anthropology of one of Lisbon's universities, and works also as a museum guide.

The bulk of the wayang collection was acquired by Victor Bandeira, a Portuguese art dealer who collected objects for the museum in Indonesia between 1970 and 1972, basing himself mostly in Bali. He purchased a number of sets of puppets during this time, and then worked with a Jakarta-based puppeteer to identify the characters. Unfortunately he did not include the names of the original owners nor did he work with local experts in Java and Bali to identify the puppets. So there are many errors in identification. (For example a kemangmang puppet from Cirebon is identified as Banaspati.)

One group of puppets (possibly a full set) is a wayang kulit purwa set in the Surakarta style. Most of the puppets are in excellent shape, and some have prada paint and Javanese inscriptions on them which indicate they date back to the 18th century. There are a large number of Balinese figures from two villages in southern Bali, some of which are now on permanent display.

I had a closer inspection of the figures from Cirebon. There are three sets of puppets from Cirebon in the museum. One is a large set of wayang kulit purwa figures purchased in Cirebon. This is missing a number of key figures (there is no kayon for example) but is in generally good shape. Some of the figures appear to be quite old, others much more recent. One of the most interesting puppets for me was a Kumbakarna puppet in which he is enveloped from head to feet by monkeys. This puppet can only be used in one scene of one lakon (Kumbakarna Gugur), something quite unusual in my experience. A number of the puppets bear the stamps of makers and owners, and might allow this set to be identified.

There is also a smaller set of purwa figures from Cirebon, about 25 in all, collected in Jakarta and of lesser quality.

Finally there is a set of about 70 wayang golek cepak puppets. The carving of many of these puppets is quite fine, but they have been very roughly painted and poorly costumed. There are a few figures which appear to be diseased -- with garments rent asunder showing spots underneath. I had a play with some of the figures and they are expressive and elegant in their movements, even if some have mismatched arms and are broken internally as well.

I hope to return to the museum at some point for more careful study, and Ana Margarida is planning now a (self-funded) trip to Java and Bali to follow up on her MA research. She has been trying to study Indonesian before she leaves.

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