Javanese shadow puppetry is a sophisticated dramatic form, often felt to be at the heart of Javanese culture, drawing on classic texts but with important contemporary resonance in fields like religion and politics. How to make sense of the shadow-play as a form of world-making? In Tall Tree, Nest of the Wind, Bernard Arps explores this question by considering an all-night performance of Dewa Ruci, a key play in the repertoire. Thrilling and profound, Dewa Ruci describes the mighty Bratasena’s quest for the ultimate mystical insight.
The book presents Dewa Ruci as rendered by the distinguished master puppeteer Ki Anom Soeroto in Amsterdam in 1987. The book’s unusual design presents the performance texts together with descriptions of the sounds and images that would remain obscure in conventional formats of presentation. Copious annotations probe beneath the surface and provide an understanding of the performance's cultural complexity. These annotations explain the meanings of puppet action, music, and shifts in language; how the puppeteer wove together into the drama the circumstances of the performance in Amsterdam, Islamic and other religious ideas, and references to contemporary Indonesian political ideology. Also revealed is the performance’s historical multilayering and the picture it paints of the Javanese past.
Tall Tree, Nest of the Wind not only presents an unrivalled insight into the artistic depth of wayang kulit, it exemplifies a new field of study, the philology of performance.
Bernard Arps is professor of Indonesian and Javanese Language and Culture at Leiden University.