Jan 21, 2020 Last Updated 2:55 AM, Jan 20, 2020

Puppeteers on wheels

Published: Jul 29, 2007


Rucina Ballinger

Following the fatal bomb blast in Kuta in October 2002, relief, in the form of medical support and money, flooded onto the island. But after the first few weeks of emergency care, Bali residents active in relief efforts began to think about what else could be done to help the victims - not only economically and physically, but emotionally and spiritually, too.

In the aftermath of the blast, people began to show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (Ptsd). Those living in and around Kuta were of particular concern, and the prevalence of Ptsd among them spawned an idea to use shadow puppet performances (wayang) in order to disseminate information about Ptsd to local people.

As the idea developed, I Made Sidia -- a puppeteer (dalang) whose work is well known for its cutting political commentaries, became involved. Sidia gathered together a team of very creative people, and his production improvised on traditional wayang in a number of ways. Firstly, the musical accompaniment to Sidia's production included flutes, percussive instruments and a keyboard. Secondly, instead of using the traditional oil lamp (blancong) that illuminates the screen and the puppets, he computerised the show by calling upon his colleague, Dewa Made Darmawan, to create Power Point images. Thirdly, the screen was extended to three metres in width. Traditionally, dalangs sit cross-legged behind the screens no wider than their arm span. This means that they can march puppets across the screen without moving from their seated position. Sidia's wide-screen forced the dalangs to slide across the floor as they marched their puppets from one side of his wide screen to the other. To ease their mobility, Sidia had them sit on skateboards.

Nyoman Sira, Sidia's brother, made a number of new puppets out of plastic, thus adding yet another novel element to the show. Sira's puppets move beautifully and include some three-dimensional puppets which transform with the flick of a wrist into another being. One is an old woman who turns into a witch, and a favourite among audiences is a man on a giant bicycle, wheels spinning, being chased by a monkey.

For this production, Sidia chose a story called 'The Ten Names of Peace' (Dasa Nama Kerta). The story reminds viewers that demons live within each and every one of us, and we must confront and conquer them. We meet people who have lost loved ones in the bomb blast of 12 October 2002. A mother who has lost her only child (and thereby her only bread-winner), a pre-schooler whose mother was killed, a macho security guard who has lost his lust for his wife and his life, a man who is constantly sick with headaches and stomach upsets. Two clowns of the wayang, Merdah and Twalen, listen to these people's tales of woe and comfort them.

At the end of the wayang, Twalen and Merdah advise that the ten elements of peace -- earth, water, fire, wind, plants, animals, fish birds, humans and God - must be cherished, nurtured and controlled. If not, things may get out of hand, causing floods, forest fires, or even bomb blasts.

The first live show in Kuta on 12 December 2002, was very warmly received. There have also been performances in Ubud, Bona and Kepaon, Denpasar, which is home to a number of taxi drivers who were killed by the bomb. A psychiatrist introduces the show and disseminates information about Ptsd to audience members, who are also invited to stay on after the show, meet the dalang, see how the computer and the skateboards work and, if they want to, speak with the doctors.

Additional free psychiatric and psychological counselling with Dr Nyoman Sura Oka at the International Medical Corps (IMC) is available for Indonesians. Tel. (62 361) 229092.

Rucina Ballinger (rucina@indo.net.id) has been active in cultural and artistic exchange projects in Bali over the past two decades.

Inside Indonesia 74: Apr - Jul 2003

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