Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

The Wayang Puppet Theatre was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008. ©Sumari

Wayang Klithik, Reluctant to Live, but Not Willing to Die

Klithik form wayang puppetry gets its name from the sound the puppets make—klithikklithik—when the puppeteer (dalang) performs. The puppet bodies are carved from thin wood while their arms are made from leather. Wayang klithik performances do not use a screen, and the audience directly faces the puppeteer. Performances are accompanied by a small ensemble of gamelan orchestra instruments—namely, kendang (drums), saron, ketuk, kenong, kecer, rebab, and kempul.

According to history, Pangeran Pekik, a prince in Surabaya in 1648, during the reign of Amangkurat I of the Mataram Kingdom created wayang klithik. In 1734, during the reign of Paku Buana II in Kartasura, wayang klithik was recreated imitating Pangeran Pekik’s original ideas and concepts.

Differing from wayang purwa, which takes its stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata, wayang klithik takes its stories from Damarwulan or Damar Sasangka. In Indonesian history, Damarwulan was called Kartha Wardhana, who was the son of an official of the Majapahit Kingdom known as Patih Udara. Because he succeeded in killing Prabu Menakjingga, the king of Blambangan, Damarwulan was crowned king of Majapahit, with the title Prabu Brawijaya. At that time, he married Queen Kencana Wungu. The story symbolizes a struggle between the moon (Damarwulan) and the sun (Minakjingga), which is an everlasting symbol of the conflict between darkness and light, evil and truth, and illustrates how goodness is always triumphant.

The stories performed can be further developed to include not just Damarwulan, but also Panji and Menak stories, depending on the request of the performance organizer.

In the past, wayang klithik was frequently performed as part of ritual events or on specific annual occasions, for example, at purifying ceremonies for villages. Nowadays, wayang klithik is rarely performed and wayang klithik puppeteers are becoming rarer and rarer.

According to reports, there remain only seven dalangs who can perform wayang klithik. Harjito is the only remaining wayang klithik dalang in the Kediri District of East Java Province. Yet in the Nganjuk District of East Java Province, the people still periodically stage wayang klithik, especially for ritual performances for purifying villages. However, their profession as a wayang klithik dalang cannot sufficiently fulfil their economic needs, and as time goes by many of them may change their profession to become wayang purwa dalangs, which is more able to guarantee their livelihood.

Support is therefore needed from all stakeholders including communities, the government as well as the artists themselves to revive wayang klithik.