The Jakarta Old City district has a puppet museum (terrifying) and the Jakarta History Museum, which was sadly under renovation when I went. It also has a semi-hidden puppet studio a short walk away from Cafe Batavia, where I had an excellent and moderately expensive ox tail soup. If you visit, the Grand Salon on the second floor is non-smoking. Batavia is the old word for Jakarta, given by the Dutch.
Indonesian shadow puppets (Wayang puppet theatre) is on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The puppet-maker and performer at the studio told us his full name, which I can’t even begin to pronounce. They add a name every generation, so we could tell his family of puppet masters went back a long way. His first puppet was more than 100 years old, and created by his grandfather. The gold puppets in the image below is also more than 100 years old.
To make these puppets, they use buffalo skin, boil it with spices to preserve it and keep insects away, then stretch it so it becomes paper thin. They use different sized tools to punch holes in it to create the design, then add colors one at a time. The puppet master has 600 different characters committed to memory.
I bought a few puppets because they’re cool, well-made, and they teach students for free to keep the art alive, so proceeds go toward education. Plus, this family deserves to get paid for their work, which is so delicate and meticulous. He also showed us a warped puppet that wasn’t made well–a stark contrast between the puppets hanging on his wall that have lasted for generations.
Here’s where to find him: