Becoming Puppeteer: Reflections on Language and Culture in the Global Context by Puppetry Students in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Author: Susana Ayala (Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Sciences and Humanities of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico)
Speaker: Susana Ayala
Topic: Language, Community, Ethnicity

The GLOCAL CALA 2022 General Session


In this paper, I show results of interviews with some students and puppet art teachers in Java, Indonesia. They reflect on the Javanese language shift and the uses of languages used in a puppet play, also they consider the reception by the new generations of young Javanese. To analyze these interviews, I use the theoretical concepts of discursive genres and dialogism proposed by M.M. Bakhtin, (2009; 2014) and I propose that the art of puppets in any of its expressions is a social field that encourage vitality and linguistic diversity on the island of Java.

The puppet theater on the island of Java is an ancient art which has maintained some of its characteristics considered more traditional, but it has also been transforming innovations such as the wayang with hip-hop music among other popular expressions. The art of puppets has also been institutionalized and is itself a degree program of the National Institute of Arts of Indonesia. Since 2003 UNESCO stated the art of puppets in Indonesia as an Oral and Intangible Heritage of the Humanity and in 2008 as Intangible Cultural Heritage. This institutionalization has resulted in the puppeteers trained in the Institute being considered academic puppeteers differentiating themselves from the puppeteers who are empirically trained. The students think about empirical puppeteers as endowed with a very special gift, due to being a puppeteer requires a lot of knowledge and skills. Therefore, puppet theater students at the Yogyakarta Institute of Arts go through intense training to learn dance, voice modulation techniques, they learn to play gamelan music and to manufacture, handle and represent the puppets on stage. Furthermore, they take anthropology, semiotics and symbolism in the art of puppets courses, techniques for elaboration of the characters and stories, among many artistic issues. There are two special characteristics in the training puppeteers: the main use of Jawa language and the development of communities of practice (Lave & Wegner, 1991) as way of working in the teaching and learning process. So, these context causes students to be constantly reflecting on the Javanese language and culture.

Keywords: Dialogism, Community of Practice, Discursive Genres, Language Ideologies, Puppetry