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Wayang puppet playsBookmark

Learning area: The Arts
Year level: Year 3, Year 4
Country: Indonesia

In this learning sequence, students will learn about Javanese wayang shadow puppet theatre, its cultural importance, production and performance elements, as well as how the puppets are made and operated. Students will gain knowledge, understanding and skills about the different types of Indonesian puppets such as wayang kulit, wayang golek and wayang klitik.

Key inquiry questions

  • What are the origins of wayang and how culturally important is the theatre form in Indonesia?
  • What are the performance elements of wayang theatre?
  • How are the puppets constructed and operated?

Puppet master manipulating wayang kulit puppets during a shadow-play performance in JakartaWayang kulit puppets being manipulated in a shadow-play in Jakarta



Image: Wayang kulit puppets by flydime (CC BY 2.0)

Related resources

Activity 1: Wayang puppets and performance

In this activity, students will:

  • view images of wayang puppets
  • investigate the performance and design of the puppet theatre
  • create a physical or digital poster of wayang puppets.

Key inquiry question: What are the various elements of wayang puppet theatre?

About wayang shadow puppet theatre

  1. Read the notes to the class about the wayang shadow puppet theatre (below).
  2. Ask students make notes about what they already knew and what information was new and interesting. Ask students share their notes with another student.
  3. Ask students to examine the images of different wayang puppets.
  4. Ask students develop a physical or digital journal or poster with the names of the puppets.
  5. Show the video, The Wayang Puppet Theatre:

  6. Ask students to describe what they found out about the puppet theatre.
  7. Have the whole class design 12 questions that explore aspects of wayang puppet theatre, including puppets, performance and design.
  8. Divide students into groups of four and find the answers to three of the questions.
  9. Students share their group's answers with the rest of the class and discuss what they liked best about the puppet theatre.
About wayang puppetry
Wayang kulit

Kulit means skin or leather. A wayang kulit puppet made of skin or leather is the most popular form for wayang puppet theatre. The performance combines music and drama and is a celebratory ritual involving complex elements of Hindu, Islamic and Indigenous Javanese religions.

Puppet design

Wayang kulit puppets are made from finely carved and decorated wooden rods and buffalo hide. The face and the feet of the puppet provide a side-on view while the body is viewed front-on. The puppets are posed with the bodies held rigidly upright. The only moving parts are the arms, shoulders and elbows.

Puppet features

The features of the puppets display good traits that are valued by the Indonesian people such as loyalty, courage, purity, wisdom, compassion and emotional control. The characters face certain trials in which these traits are tested. The colours of the puppets have symbolic meanings. The colours indicate an emotion or attitude: gold for dignity and calmness, red for tempestuousness, black for anger and white for innocence.

Varieties of wayang

Each region of Indonesia represents their puppet forms quite differently. These include:

  • wayang klitik – flat, wooden, carved and painted puppets that perform on a stage
  • wayang golek – three-dimensional, costumed, wooden rod puppets that perform on an open stage
  • wayang beber – illustrations on long scrolls that are unrolled by the puppet master, dalang, as he recites the story and chants
  • wayang wong/orang – dance and drama performances that involve live actors who dance and sing, and talk
  • wayang topeng – dance and drama performances that involve live actors who wear masks.
Wayang stories

Wayang originated as a way of telling religious stories using elongated and stylised figures that did not represent human form. These stories originate from the Ramayana, an ancient epic Hindu poem dating back 2,000 to 3,500 years ago in India. The main character is Rama, who is an ideal reincarnation of the God Vishnu. The stories of the Ramayana celebrate the triumph of good over evil and each character is tested to make moral choices.

Favourite stories include:

  • Rama's marriage to Sinta
  • their banishment to the forest together with Rama's brother, Laksmana
  • Sinta's abduction by the monster king Rahwana and her rescue, with the help of the monkey king, Hanuman
  • escaping from the kingdom of Sri Lanka.

Wayang stories have a strong influence on people and are said to protect them from evil power and offer moral and spiritual strength.

Music played during wayang performances

The gamelan is the traditional music of Indonesia and is used for traditional dances, shadow plays and sacred temple ceremonies.

The gamelan orchestra accompanies dalang, who manipulates the puppets from behind the screen. The orchestra is on the same side of the screen providing continuous music appropriate to each scene.

Gamelan means 'to hammer'. It is a form of percussive music. The musicians use wooden and padded mallets to hit bronze key instruments to make different levels of sound for two different tunings, quite different in character, named slendro and pelog.

The instruments also include double-headed drums and bamboo flutes. The drummer and the 'gender' player have unspoken communication with the dalang to coordinate the visual and musical elements of the performance. Gender refers to an instrument that accompanies wayang performances.

Changes in tempo and volume accompany the events in the performances to build the drama of the story and hold the attention of the audience.

Activity 2: Performing and producing a wayang play

In this activity, students will:

  • learn how to develop characters
  • write and perform a play.

Key inquiry question: How do you create and perform a wayang play using the appropriate dramatic conventions and design elements?

Create and perform a play

  1. In groups, have students read the wayang play (below), Cicakand Kancil. Cicak is a lizard and Kancil is a smart, sly mouse deer.
  2. Follow this by having them explore the interactive digital object Indonesian Online: Wayang kulit. You need to login to Scootle to access this resource.
  3. A puppet master, dalang, is then nominated. The dalang will conduct the puppet show and designate other jobs to the group members. This could include characters, musicians, prop makers, a storywriter or light controller.
  4. In groups, students decide what their play is going to be about. This could be a story from the Ramayana. In this case students will have to write their own script. Or they could choose the traditional tale Cicak and Kancil. Each member of the group and their character should have a speaking part.
  5. Developing characters:
    • Guide students in developing an appropriate voice for their character that is recognisable by the audience.
    • 'Bad' characters should speak slowly in a deep voice and should be accompanied by deep, slow music whenever they appear in the production.
    • 'Good' characters have a higher pitched voice and are accompanied by music that is faster and lighter.
    • Both characters are exaggerations or stereotypes of 'good' and 'bad'.
    • A single voice or a chorus of voices can be used to produce the accompanying music.
  6. Rehearse the production repeatedly so that the group can acquaint themselves with the script, timing of their entrances and exits, the interactions with other characters and their movements and gestures.
  7. Rehearse the music accompaniment and how it can make the story more impactful for the audience.
  8. As a group, students should share their ideas with the rest of the class and explain the decisions they made to create a dramatic puppet production. Have the class suggest ideas for improvement.
  9. Develop a design for the theatre stage, props and audience area. The most important area is the screen and the light that shines behind the screen. The size of the puppets is controlled by how close and far they are from the light. The further away they are, the less detail the audience will see.
  10. Construct the props, stage, lighting, audience areas and music.
Script for Cicak and Kancil

Below is a scripted version of the Indonesian folktale Cicak and Kancil.

Characters: Narrator, Kancil, Cicak, Cicak Number Two, Cicak Number Three

Props: percussion instruments, cut-out palm trees and houses, camera flash bulb

In the play three asterisks (***) indicate a good place for music or sound effects.

Note: A bemo is a three-wheeled vehicle used for transporting people.

Narrator: This is the story of Cicak and Kancil. Cicak is a gecko. A gecko is a type of lizard with sticky pads on its toes. *** Cicak can walk or hang upside down on ceilings and walls.

Kancil is a smart and sly mouse deer.

One day Kancil was resting in his house. He was fast asleep when Cicak, the gecko, tried to catch a spider on the wall. Cicak jumped. *** Cicak missed the spider *** and knocked a picture down. The picture hit Kancil on the head. ***

Kancil: Ow! You stupid Cicak! Look what you have done!

Cicak: Oh, Kancil, I'm sorry to disturb you. If you hadn't been so big and slow you could have moved out of the way in time.

Kancil: Slow! Me! I'll have you know I'm much faster than you Cicak. Your silly legs couldn't run fast at all.

Cicak: I'm not slow! I'm sure I'm much faster than you could ever be.

Kancil: All right then. I challenge you to a race to prove who is the fastest. We will race to the big mango tree and back here at sunrise tomorrow. The winner will have the right to do anything he likes to the loser, even kill him!

*** (drumroll)

Kancil: Do you agree?

Cicak: Oh, Oh, Um. Yes, yes I do.

Narrator: Kancil went off to rub coconut oil into his legs and to rest for the night. But Cicak was in a state of panic. ***

Cicak: Oh dear. What have I done? Kancil is much faster than me. If he wins he will probably kill me. *** I must think.

(He walks up and down.)

Cicak: I've an idea! *** I'll get my friends to help me.

Narrator: First Cicak called one friend, *** then another. *** They decided to trick Kancil by hiding along the track of the race so that instead of one Cicak, three Cicaks would run parts of the race like a relay. But Kancil would think it was one gecko. ***

(Geckos leave.)

Narrator: The following morning when the sun rose, *** Kancil and Cicak lined up next to Kancil's house.

Kancil: Are you ready? Are you steady? Go.

Narrator: The both started running and Kancil sped off ahead. *** (Cicak and the house drop back.)

Kancil: Ha, ha. I'm going to beat Cicak easily. Then I might not kill him, but I'll make him my slave forever. ***

(During this time several coconut palms go past.)

Narrator: Kancil ran along and passed a tourist who wanted to take his picture. ***

(Kancil skids to a halt and there is the flash of a camera.)

Narrator: Then he saw Cicak run around a corner ahead of him. It was really Cicak Number Two.

Cicak Number Two: You'd better hurry if you want to beat me, Kancil. ***

Kancil: I'd better run faster. *** There goes Cicak.

(He runs faster – more coconut palms go past.)

Narrator: Kancil runs faster. *** He passed a bemo full of people going to the market. ***

Kancil: I'm going to beat Cicak now.

Narrator: But as Kancil sped onto the mango tree at the halfway point in the race he saw Cicak – Cicak Number Three – running back from the tree. ***

Cicak Number Three: You're pretty slow today, Kancil. *** (He runs off.)

Kancil: Cicak is really fast! I'd better speed up. ***

Narrator: So Kancil raced as fast as he could.

*** (Trees and buildings go past.)

Narrator: His little house was in sight!

Kancil: I will win now for sure! Puff! Puff!
Oh no! There is Cicak just running to my house. ***
Oh no! He has won.

Narrator: Cicak had decided not to be nasty to Kancil, because if anyone found out how the cicaks had tricked Kancil they would be in big trouble. So he said …

Cicak: Kancil, I don't want anybody to know that we cicaks can run so fast or all the animals would be challenging us to races all the time. So my reward for winning will be that you let us cicaks live inside your house to catch insects there, and you mustn't tell anyone about the race.

Narrator: So from that day to this, cicaks live inside the houses in Bali and catch insects, while kancils are very shy and don't like to talk to the animals. 

Activity 3: Designing a wayang puppet

In this activity, students will:

  • learn about the design and decoration of wayang puppets
  • make their own puppets
  • perform a play. 

Key inquiry question: How are wayang kulit and wayang golek puppets made and used in a performance?

Make a puppet

Students make wayang puppets according to the instructions below. Ask them to decide whether they will make a wayang kulit or wayang golek puppet and choose the appropriate instructions.

Wayang kulit puppets
  • heavy duty cardboard
  • gold, black, white, red paint
  • scissors and/or paper knives
  • textas for outlining
  • something to punch holes through the card, for example, hammer and nail on a block of wood if supervised, or a large eye blunted needle, or a sewing machine with a large needle
  • wayang kulit templates.
  1. Trace puppet outline using the template.
  2. Use it as a stencil on a piece of cardboard to cut out a sturdy version.
  3. Mark in major lines using a felt pen.
  4. Punch holes along all lines to create dimension within the shadow.
  5. Colour both sides of the puppet. Pay attention to the face colour.
  6. Make arm segments and join using wing clips.
  7. Attach arm segments to the body using wing clips.
  8. Attach pieces of dowling rod or other stick-like objects to the hands to manipulate the arms.
  9. Attach a thicker piece of dowling rod or long ruler to the length of the puppet body with sufficient length at the bottom to hold the puppet comfortably so the hand is out of sight during the performance.
Wayang golek puppet
  • 1 litre milk cartoons
  • good paint
  • black felt
  • sequins, braid
  • fringing, string
  • A4 paper
  • two pencils
  • string, cardboard
  • white cotton cloth
  • edicol dye
  • foam blocks for printing patterns
  • foam ball
  • papier mâché materials and glue
  • white and black paint
  • black felt-tip pens
  • foam ball
  • sticky tape and elastic bands
  • sticks
  • strips of cardboard as a crown to fit around foam ball head
  • coloured paper

Body: Paint the milk cartons gold, ensuring complete coverage.


  1. Paint sheet of A4 paper gold, ensuring complete coverage.
  2. When the sheet is dry, cut it in half and roll diagonally round each pencil. Glue the paper and remove the pencil.
  3. Cut hand shapes out of cardboard.
  4. Attach string to hand, thread the string through the two arm rolls and attach the string near the top of the milk carton.
  5. Repeat with the other arm.


  1. Make papier mâché nose and glue to the foam ball.
  2. Paint the head, using white paint for the face and black paint for the hair.
  3. Use fine black felt-tip pens to draw on the eyes, nose, eyebrows, mouth and ears.
  4. Other decorations may be added such as a moustache or curls.


  1. Paint strips of cardboard and leave to dry.
  2. Cut out triangle shapes from coloured paper: two small and one large.
  3. Measure the head of the puppet and glue the strip of cardboard to make a crown.
  4. Glue the triangles onto the crown.
  5. Glue headpiece to head.

Yoke: Cut yokes from black felt and decorate with sequins, fringing and braid. These should be decorated in symmetrical patterns rather than randomly placed.


  1. Dye cotton cloth earthy colours. Tea or edicol dye can be used.
  2. Cut rectangles of cloth large enough to dress the puppet.
  3. Cut foam blocks into a number of different shapes and, using gold and black paint, print patterns onto pieces of cloth.


  1. Assemble all parts of the puppet using sticky tape and glue.
  2. Push a stick through the milk carton and head.
  3. Wind an elastic band around the neck to prevent it from pushing though.
  4. Tape sticks to the hands.

Create a performance

  1. Prior to creating a performance, students design an aerial view of the performance space and include labels where the audience sits, props are stored, the orchestra performs, and the light is distanced from the screen.
  2. Students may wish to advertise their performance for others classes to come and see it.
  3. Students could design an advertisement, either for the internet or as a poster or handout.
  4. Students rehearse their play a number of times to perfect and refine the performance.
  5. Perform the play for an audience.
  6. Following the performance, students reflect on and evaluate their parts and how they played it.


Image and text: Illustrations by ‪Xiangyi Mo‬ from Access Asia Primary teaching and learning units – Wayang plays: Variation on a theme, pp. 53-55. © Commonwealth of Australia

Activity 4: Reflection

In this activity, the class develops a blog where all students can upload their designs for the performance and photographs or film of the production.

The blog provides an opportunity for other students to question the performers on the intended representation of their puppet character and how they interpreted voice, expression and other production elements.

The blog will reveal students' assumptions about the activity and how others agreed or disagreed with the way they addressed the task.

Students write their own reflection about the performance within the group and their success in designing an authentic puppet and other production elements.

This learning sequence examines the Javanese forms of wayang golek and wayang klitik, and the Balinese and Javanese forms of wayang kulit. Wayang is a Javanese shadow puppet theatre integrating elements of religion, social customs, visual and performing arts, and storytelling.

Students will write a wayang play, make a shadow puppet that reflects an understanding of wayang characterisation and perform the play. They will develop the skills to effectively search the internet, using appropriate phrases, for websites that provide information on the different types of Indonesian puppets.

As an arts learning sequence for Drama and Visual Arts, these integrated activities incorporate knowledge, understanding and skills integrated so that students can explore the subject matter through questioning and acquiring knowledge about the subject.

Students use this knowledge to develop designs and options for creating and constructing both the puppet and the theatre performance. Their designs and performance should be creative, either emulating traditional designs or developing their own. Teachers should explain to students about being respectful of the stories, symbols and traditions of other cultures.

Activity 1: Wayang puppets and performance

In this activity students should be introduced to the traditional forms of puppet theatre: wayang kulit and wayang golek. Refer to information contained within the resource. Through questioning, establish what the students already know and can do.

Activity 2: Performing and producing a wayang play

Introduce contextual information about wayang puppetry and have students use the activity resources. Refer to information about wayang plays to explore their options for designs of the puppets and the performance elements.

Activity 3: Designing a wayang puppet

Prepare students with information about drama and visual arts skills needed to complete the task. For example, the elements of drama to be considered for this task include story script, theatre construction, voice (or voices), role, movement and positioning of puppets, interactions between the characters and the audience, sound, lighting, props, timing.

In the design refer to the information contained within the resource about making puppets so that students can consider creative ideas, materials, techniques, technologies and visual elements. Have students work in small groups and assign particular tasks for the group to be responsible for the construction and performance of the play.

Activity 4: Reflection

It is important that students are provided the opportunity to reflect on what they have learned about wayang theatre through their participation and give evaluative feedback through a blog.

Useful websites

The three websites listed will assist teachers to explore the history, culture and arts forms of Indonesian wayang shadow puppets. These websites can be used for reference material, in accessing information about the performance and how to build a wayang puppet. The interactive games are great for students to sequence and storyboard their ideas.

  • Asian Art Museum: Making Indonesian Rod Puppets (lesson) – This site provides a summary of the Ramayana or a scene from this Hindu epic, identifies the different puppet character types, and shows how to analyse the role of the puppet master in Indonesian rod puppet theatre and how to construct a rod puppet of a character from the Ramayana or the Mahabharata.
  • Scootle: Indonesian Online – Wayang Kulit – This interactive learning object provides instructions about how to create a puppet performance. You need to login to Scootle to access this resource.


It is recommended that teachers preview websites to ensure they are suitable for their students prior to use in class. Content accessed via these links is not owned or controlled by Asia Education Foundation and is subject to the terms of use of the associated website.

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