THE ONDEL-ONDEL PUPPETS

Image by Gunawan Kartapranata - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Ondel-Ondel is a pair of giant puppets. Formerly, these scary looking puppets were the symbol of kampong defense and people believed that they had the ward of evil power. The Ondel-Ondel kept kampongs away from diseases, dangers and bad luck. Ondel-Ondel dance is the Betawi folk performance and it could be seen entertaining guests at a wedding party in the old days.

Nowadays, such belief and practice have vanished and it is no more than a pair of large wooden puppets. Moreover, the giant sized puppets are often used by a group of buskers and we can usually see them dancing along the street. A little boy, a young man or a woman of the busker group takes a charity box and comes into a warung (food stall) or a grocery store asking for donation.

Ondel-Ondel is a unique tradition and it has an attractive long story. This puppetry has existed since the pre-Islamic days on Java Island.

The bodies of the giant puppets are constructed of wood and bamboo. The bodies are four meters tall and have a diameter of one and a half meters. The faces of the male and female puppets have different colors. The male has a red face and the female has a white one. There’s no exact record concerning the colors of the two puppets.

Many believe that the two colors represent the national flag of the Republic of Indonesia. The red color represents fighting spirit and courage, while the white represents purity. The big puppets wear a headdress that is made from dried coconut leaves. In order to look more attractive, some cheap trinkets are added.

In the past, red and white porridge, vegetables and fruit salad, seven types of flowers and incense should be provided while the workers were working to construct the giant Ondel-Ondel puppets. Even after they completed the work, they still needed to give the giant puppets the food offerings.

Each of the puppets is dressed in colorful Betawi traditional costume. The front side of the puppet’s body has little holes, so that the person hiding inside can peep out at the buildings or people. Therefore, the Ondel-Ondel puppets can dance freely without worrying that they will hit the walls or block other people’s ways.

The Ondel-Ondel puppets have the smart movements to turn their bodies quickly. Such kind of movements is called ngibling.

These days, the Ondel-Ondel dance is usually accompanied by a village orchestra. Not only do they play traditional folk music, but they also play modern pop music.

Due to modernization and digital entertainment, people are less interested in Ondel-Ondel. That’s why this giant puppet show is hard to be found in Jakarta. However, this Betawi folk performance can still be seen on Indonesian Independent Day or Jakarta’s birthday.

In former times, Ondel-Ondel performers should have a ritual before they started this folk performance. They would have incredible strength throughout the day. They wouldn’t feel tired, though they should carry the giant puppets and dance all the day long.

The ritual before the Ondel-Ondel performance has been abandoned since 2000, because it is considered animism and isn’t tolerated by religions. As there isn’t any ritual before the performance, the Ondel-Ondel performers of today aren’t strong enough to perform for hours. The hot temperature in the hollow body of the giant puppet can cause anybody feel suffocated in a hot day.

Cultural preservation is often overlooked in modern world, so that it is necessary to preserve and revitalize Ondel-Ondel folk performance. It is the valuable cultural symbols and shouldn’t be used for begging on the street.

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