The traditional Wayang Klitik Wooden Puppets, East Java

Wayang is a generic term denoting traditional theatre in Indonesia. The performance is usually accompanied by Javanese gamelan. There are many kinds of wayang not only in Java but also in several areas outside the island such as Bali.

Wayang klitik is one of them. Wayang klitik are similar to wayang kulit (shadow puppets) but instead of being made from leather, they are made from thin wood and are used the same way as shadow puppets. Their sizes are also the same as shadow puppets.

Wayang Klitik is flat wooden shadow puppets that are operated from below by rods connected to the hands and a central rod that connects to the body. Today, little is known for certain about the history of wayang Klitik, but scholars have speculated that it most likely originated in China and arrived in Java sometime in the 17th century.

During battle scenes, wayang klitik figures often sustain considerable damage, much to the amusement of the public, but in a country in which before 1970 there were no adequate glues available, breakage generally meant an expensive, newly made figure. On this basis the wayang klitik figures, which are to appear in plays where they have to endure battle scenes, have leather arms. The name of these figures is onomotopaeic, from the sound klitik-klitik, that these figures make when worked by the ‘dalang’.

Originating from the kingdoms of Eastern Java, mainly Jenggala, Kediri and Majapahit, wayang klitik is a relatively rare form of the art of wayang, or theatrical performance with puppets. From the Jenggala and Kediri era, there are stories of Raden Panji and Cindelaras that tell of the adventures of villagers who loved cock-fighting. Meanwhile, during the Majapahit era, there is the Damarwulan story, which tells of the struggles between the Majapahit and Blambangan kingdoms, in which Damarwulan gains honor.

Just as with other forms of wayang, wayang klitik tells tales of heroes and kings, using light and shadow as the main form of communication. In particular, the story that is specific to wayang klitik is the account of a prince-hero from Majapahit who brings down a mighty enemy of Majapahit’s queen and rises to power. The story is popular with the public to this day as a dalang often makes the story more relevant by incorporating the latest local gossip into the play for additional entertainment.

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