Tag Archives: rod puppet

Puppetry in Thailand

Puppetry has been part of Thailand’s art practices since the 15th century. The earliest writing about Thai puppetry was written by an envoy of Louis XIV of France named Bishop Tachard who visited Ayutthaya in 1685 and it is probable that the art form has existed even 300 years before the arrival of foreign ships. 

There are four major categories when it comes to exploring Thailand’s puppet theatre — Central Thai’s court and popular performances, regional genres influenced by Malaysia (South) and Laos (Northeast), and contemporary puppet theatre.

Types of Thai Puppets

Hun Lakorn Lek

One of the most popular types of puppetry, hun lakorn lek, is a form created by Master Krae Sapthavanich and later revived by Master Sakorn Youngkhiewsod, or better known as Joe Louis. His puppet troupe, the Joe Louis Thai Puppet Theatre is greatly associated with this type of puppet and still performs up to this day.

Hun lakorn lek puppets are manipulated by three people, similar to the Japanese bunraku puppets. One puppeteer holds the head and right hand, another holds the left hand, and the third one holds the feet. Rods are connected to the hands that also contain a mechanism in order to make the fingers move. In this practice, the puppeteers hold the puppet higher than their heads when performing as a sign of respect, since most of the characters they portray are gods and goddesses. When watching their performances, another noticeable aspect is how the puppeteers synchronize their movements to the puppets, making dance a second skill to their puppetry.

Hanuman and Nang Sida are characters in the Thai Ramakien which is derived from the Hindu epic Ramayana. (Photo from Teatrong Mulat collection)

  Hun Luang and Hun Yai

Hun Luang (royal puppets) and Hun Yai (big puppets) are types of puppets that are most often seen in court performances. The last time these puppets were performed was during the royal cremation of King Rama IX last October 26, 2017. Before that, it was not seen for 150 years, the last time being King Rama IV’s funeral in 1868. 

These royal puppets (hun luang) are intricately made of wood, and are placed on top of wooden poles which are connected to the waist of the puppeteers. Twenty (20) pieces of strings are attached to the limbs and are manipulated from below the puppets. Each puppet stands for about 1 meter and weighs around 3-5 kilograms varying on their costumes.

Hun Krabok

Hun krabok developed as part of the popular performance genre of puppetry. The puppets are made from either wood or papier mache and are attached to a bamboo pole that will serve as its spine. Large pieces of cloth serve as costumes and the actual body of the puppet, and attached at their hands are rods for manipulation.

Hun krabok performance (Photo from Teatrong Mulat collection)

Nang yai

Nang means ‘leather’. Nang yai is a large shadow puppet made of cow or buffalo skin. Similar to Cambodia’s sbek thom, two poles are found at both ends of the puppet and are held above the head by the puppeteer. Each character is made into one shadow piece. 

This type of puppet is usually performed in large open spaces where a large light source or bonfire is present, and the shadows are projected upon big screens or walls. The puppeteers also express the characters’ actions or emotions through dance. 

Nang yai is a large shadow puppet depicting a character or a scene from the story.

Nang talung

Deriving its name from Pattalung, a city in southern Thailand, nang talung is a smaller puppet with movable parts. This is shadow puppet is similar to the Indonesian wayang kulit.




Puppetry in the Philippines

The Philippines has little local puppet tradition to draw on. During the late 19th century, there were shadow play performances called carrillo which means “small cart.”  Carrillo is also known as potei, kikimut and titire in Pampanga (a province in Central Luzon). 

The higante (giant), which is similar to the mascots or big puppets, lead the procession during the Higantes Festival, also known as the Feast of San Clemente, celebrated every November 23 in Angono, Rizal. San Clemente is the patron saint of fishermen. Leading the procession are three higantes—father, mother and child—with the body made from bamboo, the head from papier mache.  The costumes are bright and colourful, and the hands are always on the waist. Each higante is controlled by one person who is inside the body of the higante.

Photo from WikiPilipinas [1]

In the late 1930s, film actor-director Manuel Conde introduced ventriloquism through his puppet Kiko. At present, Kiko is owned by Jun Urbano, also a ventriloquist, an actor and a film director.

Manuel Conde, National Artist for Film [2]

Kiko (left) was Manuel Conde’s puppet.  In this photo, he is manipulated by Mr. Shooli, one of Mr. Jun Urbano’s characters. Mr. Urbano is the son of Mr. Conde. [3]

Puppetry became popular with the introduction of Jim Henson’s “Sesame Street” in the 1970s. 

Groups inspired by the muppets were the Alsa Balutan Puppet Group Inc. (founded by Tessie Ordoña, 1976), National Media Production Center (headed by Lolit Aquino, 1978) which later became the Black Theater of Manila and now known as the PIA (Philippine Information Agency) Puppet Theater, Roppets Edutainment Production Inc. (founded by Danny Liwanag, 1987) and the Quezon City Public Library Puppeteers.  

Puppet Enggoy is the PIA Puppet Theater’s host of the segment “Alam Mo Ba?” shown on the Facebook page of the Philippine Information Agency and PIA Puppet Theater and in their Youtube channels. [4]

The Anino Shadowplay Collective (founded in 1992 by students of the Philippine High School for the Arts) specializes in shadow puppetry while Teatrong Mulat ng Pilipinas (founded by Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio, 1977) ventures into rod and shadow puppetry and the bunraku technique. 

Anino Shadowplay Collective’s Manong Pawikan (Older Sea turtle) (Photo from Anino Shadowplay Collective)

Puppets from Teatrong Mulat show Ang Paghuhukom (The Trial). (Photo from Teatrong Mulat collection)

Another group that practices the art of bunraku is the University of the Philippines Center for International Studies (UPCIS) Bunraku Ensemble led by Dr. Jina Umali. Members of the ensemble are given the opportunity to undergo intensive training with the women puppeteers of the Naoshima Onna Bunraku in Naoshima, Japan.

UPCIS Bunraku Ensemble members perform Ebisu Mai, UP Diliman, 2014

 Ventriloquism, or the art of ‘throwing one’s voice’ was made popular by ventriloquists  Ony Carcamo and Wanlu. They perform with their puppet or known as a ‘dummy’.  Ony and Wanlu are founding members of the International Ventriloquist Society IVS Philippines, an association which aims to professionalize the art of ventriloquism in the country. 


[1] https://365greatpinoystuff.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/higantes_festival.jpg

[2] http://viewsfromthepampang.blogspot.com/2009/12/177-manuel-conde-kapampangan-khan-of.html

[3] https://www.facebook.com/1736706413013289/photos/eto-po-kiko-pangalan-siya-dati-manyika-sa-national-artist-manuel-conde-si-kiko-i/1742180792465851/

[4] https://www.facebook.com/PIAPuppetTheater/photos/a.719104941470105/3568538203193417

Puppetry in Indonesia

Indonesia is one of the countries in Asia with a rich culture when it comes to puppetry. Java is considered the center of the Indonesian struggle for independence during the 1930s and 1940s. It is also considered one of the most cultural heritage sites that have been rebuilt.  It became an edge for Java to acknowledge their island and put it on the map. 

Wayang (meaning shadow) is the most known and old puppetry art form in Indonesia. The Dalang, or the puppet master, manipulates the Wayang, serves as the storyteller, gives voice to all the puppets, and also leads the Gamelan, the traditional musical ensemble. 

There are different types of Wayang

  1. Wayang Kulit – flat, leather shadow puppet
Wayang Kulit performance of Ramayana

  1. Wayang Golek – three-dimensional, wooden rod puppet  
Milz, Wayang Golek

  1. Wayang Klitik – flat wooden puppet 
Angkat Buto, Wayang Klitik

  1. Wayang Beber – long, painted paper scroll
Bahasa Indonesia, Wayang Beber

Stories portrayed in Wayang are from the Hindu epics Ramayana, Mahabharata and cultural legends of Indonesia. Aside from being a source for entertainment, Wayang tradition paves its way as another form of passing information, used for teaching, and philosophical understanding. 

Today, puppetry in Indonesia is made more creative by meeting contemporary Indonesia’s traditional characters and adding humor to the lines to make the stories more entertaining and educational for the kids.