Wayang conjures images of epic battles, gods and monkeys, all night performances in tropical splendor, the clangorous beauty of the gamelan. The word likely derives from the ancient "bay- ang," meaning "shadow," though some make a case for "sanghyang" (defined by Professor Kathy Foley as "spirit, divinity in a vague sort of ancestral way"). Today, not all forms of wayang include shadow puppetry (wayang topeng uses masks, wayang golek rod puppets, wayang beber painted scrolls and so on), so how has "shadow" persisted as a unifying concept? The shadow has deep resonance in the cultures where wayang has flourished—primarily Indonesia and Malaysia. It can represent the spiritual aspect of existence, which we cannot see directly but only mediated by the screen—as "through a glass, darkly." In the traditional wayang shadow shows, audience mem- bers sit both in front of and behind the screen and are encouraged to move between the two worlds, experiencing, symbolically, as Foley puts it: "the mixed up everythingness of existence." [page 4] Wayang is an ancient form of storytelling— the earliest references (according to some sources) go back to the 9th century—but not as ancient as the stories at its roots: the Ramayana and Mahabharata. One must exercise caution when putting a date on these epics. Some scholars believe the 3rd century BCE is likely, their origins lost in Indian antiquity.
You will learn something of wayang's origins here, but this is NOT a history lesson! Wayang is alive today, and although some forms appear to be dying out, others are evolving and adapting to modern times. A number of articles are by Westerners who have studied wayang and have developed new work out of its forms and techniques, riffing on traditional wayang [Cohen, page 8], creating new forms [Reed, page 23], or using wayang as the philosophical underpinnings for a world view that has informed the rest of their lives [Haverty, page 16].
We cover forms with which many readers may be unfamiliar—the ritualistic wayang kulit of Central Java performed by "dhalang ruwat" [Susilo, page 12] and wayang golek lenong be- tawi, a rod puppet genre that performs traditional Batavian stories [Smith, page 25]. We have two essays on the Malaysian form of wayang siam, now called wayang kelantan, a form that practically disappeared due to pressure from an Islamic government anxious to prove the depth of its piety [Condee, page 32 and Foley, page 28].
There is much more (including a fascinating non-wayang account of Peter Blancan, a puppeteer and showman who toured widely in the colonial United States [Howard, page 42]). As always, we've reserved a number of articles for our website, including a primer on wayang, a glossary of terms and an interview with Sam Gold, whose production of Hamlet was done as wayang shadow show in the style of E. Gordon Craig. There you will also find I Nyomen Sedana's account of presenting Greek Myths with wayang shadow puppetry.
A big THANK YOU to our supportive board of directors, our peer review editor Dassia Posner and all her reviewers, historian John Bell and, in this issue, Karen Smith and Kathy Foley, whose deep knowledge of wayang has enhanced these pages in many ways. We hope that you'll come away, as we did, with a renewed respect for this mosaic culture spread out over many islands, where there are no hard boundaries between the artistic, spiritual, political and quotidian lives of its people, and where contradictory concepts can coexist without a sense of cognitive dissonance.