Giant puppetry tradition takes on new life in Jakarta

Ondel-ondel were made to represent ancestors to ward off evil spirits, but have evolved as a valued entertainment icon.

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    Giant-sized puppets known as ondel-ondel are a centuries-old tradition belonging to Betawi people on the Java island of Indonesia.

    Ondel-ondel were originally made to represent ancestors who could ward off evil spirits, but the puppets have evolved to mere decorative roles in the Muslim-majority country.

    In the Indonesian capital Jakarta, Arif Gunawan spruces up his pair of giant puppets.

    The frame is made of bamboo and hollow, allowing the puppet master to crawl inside and bring his puppet to life.

    They are still extremely popular and sought after at weddings, circumcision ceremonies and even for the inauguration of buildings.

    Children get a kick out of seeing the puppets walk through the streets.

    "The best is going around the villages. It's more fun and there's a lot of laughter. It's entertaining," Gunawan told Al Jazeera.

    On weekends and public holidays, Arif and his ondel-ondel are usually at Fatahilah Square, in the heart of the old city, flanked by colonial buildings.

    It is where families come for a bit of street entertainment - a slice of colour and an alternative to a day out at a mall.

    There are at least five pairs of ondel-ondel in Fatahilah Square, but even with the competition, there is enough interest and curiosity in this old Jakarta tradition for the owners to make a living.

    People pay to pose for photos with the puppets, and Arif said he can earn up to $20 a day. His ambition is to one day make enough money to own at least 10 puppets.

    It is the pride people have for these icons of Jakarta that will ensure the ondel-ondel keep dancing, entertaining generations to come.

    Children get a kick out of seeing the puppets walk through the streets of the Indonesian capital Jakarta [Al Jazeera]

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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