‘Missing’ wayang kulit puppets being preserved, says curator

The absence of several wayang kulit puppets, including Maharaja Rawana, Hanuman Kera Putih and Sita Dewi at The Malay World Ethnology Museum, has raised eyebrows.

But its curator explained the artefacts are being preserved.

After being alerted by readers of the “missing” puppets, Twentytwo13 visited the museum on Aug 30 and noticed several puppets were not exhibited in the Wayang Kulit Kelantan and Wayang Kulit Jawa sections. There was a sign that read “Artefacts are temporarily released. We regret any inconvenience caused.”

“Kindly be informed that the previous artefacts that were exhibited are now in the conservation department as they are worn out. This is part of our museum’s procedure,” said curator Siti Munirah Kassim.

“We are also in the midst of purchasing a new set of Wayang Kulit (puppets) for the section to promote the arts and culture in Malaysia,” she added.

The museum was, nevertheless, generally informative and its exhibits well-maintained as observed during Twentytwo13‘s visit.

According to the description at the museum, many of the stories performed in Wayang Kuit Kelantan are episodes taken from the Hindu Ramayana epic. The decorative engravings on the puppets derive their influence from the Pattani Kingdom (southern Thailand).

The puppet show, often featuring the characters Hanuman, Sri Rama and Sita, is accompanied by traditional music.

The Wayang Kulit Jawa is common in Johor. It orginated from the Purwa Wayang Kulit of Jawa and most of its stories are also based on Hindu epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Developed before the 10th century, the art of wayang kulit is believed to have originated from thalubomalata – leather puppets from southern India. The art form probably spread to Indonesia, specifically Java, with the spread of Hinduism.

Kelantan banned Mak Yong and wayang kulit in 1998, claiming such performances contain elements that run contrary to Islam. The east coast state, however, lifted the ban last year but said the performances must adhere to Shariah-compliant requirements.