Yesterday, we saw the Wayang Kulit show, "Where the wild things are", by Nala Nantha, based on Maurice Sendak's book.
Wayang Kulit is a traditional art form in Malaysia, in which shadows thrown on a backlit white screen, tell a story. It is, if you like, an early form of film, though it is actually "shadow puppetry".
I think it is important for children to be exposed to as many different things as possible, so it was good to take our children to the Wayang Kulit.
The puppet "master", actually mistress, Nala Nantha, first introduced herself, through her puppet persona (a hand puppet), to all the children, individually. Interestingly, the young children accepted the puppet as a real entity, one child in particular, actually being scared of it (he was about five) - and he hid behind his brother, whenever the puppet was near, which was sweet to see.
Tiarnan liked to engage with the puppet and its presence made him grin, beamingly. Ainan, however, when asked for his name, said: "I am a non-puppet, human being.", so the puppeteer referred to him thereafter, as the "non-puppet". Some children were so shy before the puppet that their voices were inaudible little squeaks. It was a good touch that she should acknowledge each child individually like this. However, I do note that it is only the absence of a crowd that made it possible. Nineteen guests were in attendance: seven adults and twelve children. Sadly, the five of us, being foreign, made up a quarter of the crowd...which made me wonder just why foreigners, like us, were more curious about a local art form, than the locals. It is a pity that it was not better supported by Malaysians. After all, if arts are not supported at all, they are lost, never to be again.
The kids enjoyed the show. Perhaps it was the novelty of seeing the story told by shadows. Tiarnan, four, in particular was very involved in it, paying close attention to the story as it unfolded.
Afterwards, Nala Nantha, showed all the kids how Wayang Kulit worked by taking them behind the screen. It was, therefore, educational as well as entertaining.
In the modern age, of films and computer games, it is easy for children to overlook where their culture has come from. Set against these modern entertainments, Wayang Kulit is very tame and, perhaps, quaint - but I think it is important to see such a show - and that of all art forms - at least once, so that the kids can appreciate the development of the arts in their part of the world.
Thanks to the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC), for supporting this traditional art form and allowing our kids a chance to see it. We may never see such a show again - but at least they have had the experience once and know, therefore, what Wayang Kulit is all about.
It was good, too, to see that Nala Nantha, tried to draw attention to the history of Wayang Kulit by highlighting the work of Pak Hamzah (real name Hamzah Awang Amat)(1940 to 2001), who was famed for his Wayang Kulit work. She had one card showing one of Pak Hamzah's puppets: it was remarkably detailed and ornate, so, at its best, Wayang Kulit can reach a surprising degree of sophistication. It was somewhat sobering though, to note that Pak Hamzah devoted his life to such an art form, in the second half of the twentieth century, when the world had already moved on to other things. That, indeed, shows his love of his chosen art form. In a way, that was impressive, to note, if a little saddening, for what it must have been to have been an artist so out of the right time. Rest in peace, Pak Hamzah.
(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, 10, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, 6 and Tiarnan, 4, this month, please go to:
I also write of gifted education, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, megasavant, HELP University College, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, Malaysia, IQ, intelligence and creativity.
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Labels: Hamzah Awang Amat, KLPAC, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre, Malaysia, Nala Nantha, on not losing one's culture, Pak Hamzah, traditional art forms, Wayang Kulit