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Three-dimensional male humanoid puppet: large head (part b) fits into body with jacket and skirt (part a), and a control rod (part c) with a long shaft passes through the body and fits into the neck of the figure's head. The body has jointed arms, each with a long controlling rod attached. The figure has a dark brown face, large round eyes positioned forward, black eyebrows, moustache and thin beard. Red lips surrounding gold teeth; upturned, pointed nose. Headdress consists of gold diadem (jamang) and upswept curve (gelung supit orang). Black hair hangs down back to shoulders. Clothing consists of close-fitting jacket in black cloth with beige cuffs and off-white frontispiece. Yellow bowtie, suspender-like chest straps. Red and black belt over wide brown waistband. Tufts of colourful fabric (mainly red and yellow) on figure's right breast and on shoulders. Arms are painted gold and each has a talon-like hand. Beige, brown, and dark blue batik skirt with flower and geometric motif.

History Of Use

Javanese puppetry as an art form probably developed by the 11th century. The three-dimensional, wooden, wayang golek puppets of western Java, which are to be distinguished from the earlier and more sacred wayang kulit shadow plays puppets or other forms, appeared during the 16th century. Originally the plays depicted Javanese mythology, but after the Indian conquest of Java the Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, were incorporated into the cycles, which comprise about 200 plays. An individual or group hires a dalang (puppet-master) to celebrate important occasions. The performances often last all night and are generally presented in three acts, with vocal and instrumental accompaniment. The individual plays vary widely in detail but usually involve conflict between good and evil. They serve a moral and religious purpose, and more recently, one of political commentary. Each puppet's character is represented by its appearance and placement onstage; protagonists with strong elements of good are placed to the right, antagonists of violent or evil nature to the left. Bima appears in the Mahabharata cycle of plays, which is concerned with an inter-familial feud between the 99 Kurawa brothers and the 5 Pandawa brothers who constantly defeat them. The Pandawa cycle covers a span of 12 generations beginning with the god Vishnu, the Pandawa's ancestor, to Parekesit, supposedly the first historic king of Java, Jadajana: legitimizing the Pandawa divine right of kingship. Bima is a crudely powerful, blunt, honest, plain speaking warrior/knight of renowned strength who seeks to become perfect. He goes on a dangerous journey to find his inner self. On his supernatural journey, he pierces the serpent monster with his long thumbnail signifying his attaining that goal by leaving the physical world, gaining the knowledge of his origin and ultimate destiny.

Cultural Context

Theatrical performance.

Iconographic Meaning

Gelung supit orang (upswept open curl) indicates a refined, noble character, as does medium sized pointed nose. Eyes positioned directly forward suggests assertiveness; dark-coloured face indicates inner calmness. Batiked skirt also indicative of wealth, as is rest of costume. Most striking feature of puppet is long, claw-like thumbnail, a characteristic of Bima, second of the Pandawa brothers, a prince and warrior; it is symbolic of the 5 Pandawa brothers joined in unity, meaning a concentration of willpower.

Item History

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