by Astrid Reza
Watching puppets re-enact a violent past in the hands of their masters, the horror that suddenly stirred inside me was how real it could all feel. With a Neverland-esque setting and an Orwellian tone that awaken the monsters of our nightmares in the opening scenes, MWATHIRIKA recounts the darkest episode in Indonesia’s contemporary history. It tells of Indonesia’s ghost of the past, present and future.
Using the Japanese style bunraku and kuruma ningyo puppets specifically designed for the play, this performance by Papermoon Puppet Theatre from Yogyakarta is meant for teen and adult audiences. MWATHIRIKA means “victim” in Swahili. The 1965 purge of every communist-related person by the Indonesian army had claimed millions, traumatizing the nation until today. The play reflects the younger generation’s different spirit in reinterpreting the nation’s history.
The storyline created by a daughter of former Lieutenant Colonel of Indonesian Air Force, Maria Tri Sulistyani, and a grandson of a dalang (wayang puppet-master) who was a political prisoner for 13 years, Iwan Effendi. This collaborative work is part of their personal memory, dedicated to all the victims of “The Tragedy of 1965.”
It began with Moyo and his little brother Tupu, raised by their father, Baba, a hard workingman with only one hand. They are a happy family. Their neighbours are Haki and his daughter Lacuna, who is on a wheelchair. They live peacefully side-by-side until a situation larger than themselves made things go horribly wrong. A mark of a red triangle at Baba’s house and a small red whistle changes everything.
The performance sent chills down my spine over and over. The whistle shrills out Tupu’s unspeakable ache. He has now lost both his father and brother, taken away forever by the MWATHIRIKA army. He keeps on blowing the whistle in the darkness, wanting to be heard.In one moment I felt suffocated and wanted to close my ears. The scene forced the audience to cry in silence.
There were barely any verbal exchanges in the performance, but the masks' expressions, the puppets' dynamic movements, the expressive music and the animated background said it all the way we have always understood it. Puppetry does speak the universal language of losing when our innocence, loved ones, humanity, words and history slipped away.
The performance borrows the perspective of a child experiencing one of the country's greatest tragedies, and that scared me. A child's simple honesty can easily touch our hearts. When they get hurt or violated, we can find ourselves there: our small and vulnerable beings. Every time violence knocks on the door of a childhood, the wound stays, often ruining everything that grows.I realized something grave after watching MWATHIRIKA. We, the violated, have the potential to turn into the source of violence and destruction. The cycle of human ruthlessness is terrifying.This story represents every human tragedy of our civilization.
The Papermoon Puppet Theatre delivered all these horrifying memories with originality. Every piece was done with remarkable attention to details, metaphors, and symbols, creating a nearly perfect composition. It’s one of the best shows I have seen in my eight years living in Yogyakarta. One obvious fact at the end of the play makes it felt very humane. It shows the flaw of our lives as a part of history – a nation’s history – creating a better understanding in what makes us human.
MWATHIRIKA is a puppet theatre performance by Papermoon Puppet Theatre, which ran their play on 1st – 3rd December at LIP (Lembaga Indonesia Perancis), Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
Papermoon Puppet Theatre founded in 2006, based in Yogyakarta, they could be contacted via email: email@example.com and their blog: http://www.papermoon-puppet.blogspot.com