When I first came to Java in 1982 to begin my study of the shadow
theatre tradition, I always found out about the all-night perfor-
they had happened. Javanese friends and colleagues would
regale me with tales of the wonderful plays I had missed and would offer
vague promises to inform me of future celebrations. After a year or so in
Central Java, I came to know about performances weeks and months
before they happened; I began to attend so many performances that I
regularly went to bed after my eight-year-old daughter had left for school,
to awaken when she returned five hours later. In the summer of 1990,
during a month's stay in Solo (Surakarta) in the wedding season, pup-
peteers invited me to attend performances almost every night.
In fact, it has now become a status symbol among Javanese shadow
play puppeteers to have as many foreigners as possible at performances.
Some of these mostly American, Australian, Dutch, French, or Japanese
visitors to Java are studying Javanese performing arts, and their talents
may, on occasion, be blended into the performances of daring puppeteers.
Javanese shadow puppeteers are pleased that foreigners can play the
difficult instruments of the Javanese
ensemble and sing the intri-
cate Javanese poetry, and that the most skilled can perform as shadow
puppeteers. I see the incorporation of foreigners into Javanese perfor-
mance arts in historical terms; the Sultans and Sunans of the Central
Javanese courts used to keep albinos, dwarfs, Dutchmen, and other excep-
tional people around them in the old days, as these unusual beings were
considered to have special powers. Today, perhaps, strange-looking for-
eigners are still thought to have special powers, or at least disposable
Becoming aware of this
made me realize that I tend to see this complex
oral tradition through the eyes of the puppeteers. For the most part, I
traveled to performances with the puppeteers, partook of the preperfor-
mance and postperformance meals along with the musicians and singers,
and often witnessed the subtle struggle between patron and performer
over what story was to be chosen for a night's entertainment. Occasionally
I traveled to performances with a Javanese friend whose family was spon-
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