Puppets roam Jakarta's streets to save dying culture

Mon Apr 27, 2009 3:24am EDT
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By Heru Asprihanto

JAKARTA (Reuters Life!) - Giant puppets are roaming Jakarta's streets, dancing, singing and acting in a traditional performance aimed at preserving the rapidly diminishing culture of the bustling capital's original settlers.

The puppets are the protagonists of Ondel-Ondel, a street theater unique to the Betawi people who hail from the city of 10 million people, which is a melting pot of several Indonesian ethnicities.

The shows comprise a pair of male and female puppets, which the performers wear, who dance to traditional music. A troupe usually has up to 20 actors and musicians, all of them male.

"As an ethnic Betawi, I believe we must conserve our culture and prevent it from going extinct," said 18-year-old performer Kemal, who like most Indonesians has only one name.

"If the weather is good, we can earn between 180,000 to 200,000 rupiah ($16-$18) for a performance which is about three hours long," he added.

Kemal's troupe goes out three times a week, putting on shows in the city's suburbs to people who are largely poor and with little money to spend on entertainment.

It costs 1,000 rupiah (9 U.S. cents) to watch the show, and the troupe is usually booked for special occasions such as birthdays and Betawi weddings.

The musicians use a car battery to power their amplifiers while the puppets dance and twirl, delighting the neighborhood.   Continued...