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Ardian Purwoseputro, Wayang Potehi of Java 布袋戏

Claudine Salmon
p. 230-231
Référence(s) :

Ardian Purwoseputro, Wayang Potehi of Java 布袋戏, Jakarta, Afterhours Books, 2014, 290 p., 2 maps, sumptuous illustrations. Foreword by Prof. Leo Suryadinata. ISBN : 978-602-97507-9-9

Texte intégral

1Wayang Potehi, is a popular form of puppet theatre which comes from Southern Fujian province. The term potehi (in Mandarin : budai xi) literally means “glove puppet theatre”. No information is available about its historical development in Fujian. Xie Zhaozhi 谢肇淛 (1567-1624) in his Wu zazu 五杂俎 (“Five assorted offerings”, first ed. 1616, ed. Minguo 24, I. p. 213) alludes to the taste of Southern Chinese for “puppetry” (here called kuilei 傀儡, presumably a loanword, which can be traced back at least to the Tang Dynasty), says that it is of foreign origin (huxi 胡戏). Unfortunately, he does not provide further comments on the various forms of puppet theatre then in vogue. As for Indonesia, the early European travellers who visited the island only recorded plays performed by human actors. So far, the oldest allusion to Potehi performances in Java seems to emanate from Chinese records dating back to the last decades of the 18th century.

2The book by Ardian Purwoseputro is aimed at providing an overview of the ups and downs of wayang Potehi in Java up to the present. After a brief introductory chapter on puppetry in Fujian, as perceived through various legends, the author focuses on its second home across the Southern Sea. The second chapter, in spite of the scarcity of data, tries to present the different phases of development in Indonesia, the section on the the early 20th century being rather well documented. After the official ban in 1967, a gloomy period came which lasted until 2000. However, the implementation of the law differed from place to place, and in East and Central Java three Potehi groups managed to survive, namely those of Surabaya, Tulungagung and Semarang. Worthy of note, it is during the 1980s-1990s, that Javanese puppeteers began to emerge on the scene, while their Peranakan counterparts saw their number decrease. After the end of the New Order Regime in 1998, the puppeteers enjoyed a new freedom. The peak was reached in 2000 when President Abdurrahman Wahid issued a Presidential Decree allowing the performances in temples and other public places. According to the author, by 2013 “there were around eleven puppeteers in Java” among whom several Javanese—we just read in the press that one of the two Peranakan maestros in Semarang, Thio Tiong Gie (also known as Teguh Chandra Irawan), just passed away on 20/8/2014 at the age of 81—. This chapter ends with twenty-seven photos of exquisite old puppets originating from Fujian.

3The third chapter is devoted to the present situation, in terms of performances, structure and flow of the show, languages used (presentation of the parts of the narrative which are still chanted in Hokkien, or suluk 四念白, and the syairan which are in Malay, with their respective notebooks), puppeteers, stories, and orchestra. A list of some nineteen stories is provided which gives the titles in Hokkien, Mandarin and an English translation. Apart from the “Story of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai” and the “Pilgrimage to the West”, they all belong to the category of historical novels.

4The fourth and last part is devoted to the Potehi puppets made in Indonesia. After 1967 several dolls makers appeared in Java, most of them being Peranakan. namely : Kok from Tulungagung, Liem Sing Tjwan from Gunawan in Blitar, San also known as Sang Sang from Surabaya, and Tan Soen Bing from Gudo-Jombang.

5In 2013 there were three doll makers (mainly Javanese who are also acting as performers) and two craftsmen having the expertise in doll painting, all of them concentrated in the areas of Gudo-Jombang and Tulungagung. The author has chosen to present the works of six of them, which attests to the talent of their makers.

6To conclude, this book shows that the Wayang Potehi of Java has become part of the national heritage. For the time being, Gudo is its main centre, and some of the performers of these puppet plays are Javanese. Their reputation is such that one may even see videos on-line. Moreover another book (which we have not yet seen) by Dwi Woro Retno Mastuti et al. has just come out, focusing on this cultural heritage (Wayang Potehi Gudo. Seni Pertunjukan Peranakan Tionghoa di Indonesia, Jakarta, PT Sinar Harapan Persada, 145 p.)

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Référence papier

Claudine Salmon, « Ardian Purwoseputro, Wayang Potehi of Java 布袋戏 », Archipel, 88 | 2014, 230-231.

Référence électronique

Claudine Salmon, « Ardian Purwoseputro, Wayang Potehi of Java 布袋戏 », Archipel [En ligne], 88 | 2014, mis en ligne le 10 septembre 2017, consulté le 17 novembre 2019. URL :

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