Lessons from traditional Wayang Jawa in run-up to Johor election

Once again, political performance groups have come to town to entertain and regale the people with tales of fantasy – of warriors, heroes and ogres, and the fight for the common good by selfless characters.

It resembles the traditional Wayang Jawa; the exploits of the Pandawa and Kaurava in the Mahabharata and the Bharatayudda war, in which good triumphs over evil.

The only similarity with the traditional performances, is the telling of the tales. But unlike the legendary tales of Wayang Jawa or the Ketoprak, the political tales are illusory.

While these traditional performances are aesthetic, imbued with histrionic seriousness and comic inflections, the political performances are crude, dubious, and lack sincerity.

While the tales of the Wayang Jawa and Ketoprak are crafted to entertain and impart moral and ethical values, the tales of the political performance groups are designed to confuse and mislead.

The characters of Wayang Jawa, Ketoprak, and Barongan are stereotypical. There is a clear demarcation between good and evil. They remain true to their character traits and the circumstances they are in.

For example, we know that the Pandawa are the protagonists, and the Kaurava, the antagonists. The Barongan, is a mythological figure. The good and evil in these characters represent the cosmic imbalance which regains both its symmetrical and asymmetrical calmness at the end of the performance. And the audience derives great joy and satisfaction by vicariously immersing themselves, and even empathising, in the action.

But the characteristics of the performing politicians exhibit good and evil characteristics depending on prevailing conditions, fluttering like a windsock.

During the election campaign they take on new roles of heroic proportions like Kresna in the Bharatayudda war of the Mahabharata, fighting injustice perpetrated by the ogres and evil demons and human characters.

The noble traits are only a pretense, and appear only when the politicians want to entice, and win support, from the public. The evil – the mainstay of these characters – is camouflaged by this pretense. After securing the support, their evil traits reappear.

The audience is enthralled by these traditional performances that combine heroic and comic elements, in which good always triumphs over evil.

But in the political performances, the audience is usually duped by the pretense and hypocrisy of the political performers who pull the wool over their gullible eyes by offering gifts and empty promises.

Unlike in the Wayang Jawa, or Ketoprak, in which the actions are based on a linear progression of incidents and easily understood through the dialogue and actions of the characters, the political performances are convoluted and confusing, as their words do not match their actions. The unsuspecting audience usually cannot see through the deception.

The traditional performances have more integrity and honesty than the ones staged by the political aspirants. Their characters are heroic, even the comic characters of the Panakawans of Wayang Jawa play an important role in providing a meaningful interaction, with comic sensibility.

On the other hand, the political performers are more clowns than comic characters, nowhere near to the Panakawans. Rather, they are more of farcical clowns with idiotic temperaments, trying to dupe and ingratiate the audience to serve their hidden agenda.

In the upcoming Johor state election, let the spirit of Wayang Jawa – in which good triumphs over evil – prevail.

Let the comic characters of Ketoprak resonate their laughter with hope and goodwill.

Let the mesmerising Kuda Kepang dancers lift the audience to a higher plane of awareness, enabling them to see what is gospel, and what is apocryphal.

Let the gamelan music resonate, in sync with the spirit and energy of a new beginning.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.

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