Myanmar puppetry is a historic entertainment which represents the culture and art of the country. In ancient times, it was performed not only as a form of entertainment but also as a medium to educate people about literature, religion and current events. The puppet shows illustrate Myanmar’s history, culture, lifestyles and beliefs.
The traditional Myanmar puppetry is unique from others in many ways including the ways to manipulate the puppets and the designs of puppets. It has the array of 28 main characters ranging from gods, humans, animals and monsters. The puppets are carved from wood, polished and painted beautifully. Most of the puppets are attached to 11 strings. Five of them are attached to the head and shoulder whereas the arms and legs are controlled by the remaining six strings. One unique thing about Myanmar puppetry is that all the marionettes have genitals though they will be covered by sophisticated costumes. It is believed that the puppets have the soul and liveliness which make the performance authentic.
The puppet show is performed on a raised platform where the puppeteers stand behind the handrail and their upper bodies are usually hidden by a curtain. The puppets are played in front of a backdrop and moved by strings attached to them. The group of performers consists of puppeteers, singers and musicians. The puppeteers manipulate the puppets in desired movements. The musicians play the background music and the singers sing pleasantly to describe the story.
The plots can range from tales, myths, social issues and dance. “U Shwe Yoe” dance, the popular national folk dance, can be seen in puppet shows frequently. U Shwe Yoe is the character of an old bachelor with thick eyebrows, long curved moustache, headwear, traditional jacket and longyi. He dances with a parasol and his role is to woo the beautiful spinster called Daw Moe. She tries to evade him artfully while he keeps on persisting. It is cheerful to watch the dance with the puppets as these characters. The lively music from folk instruments is played in rhythmic to the dance. Therefore, it is delightful and entertaining indeed!
In the past, the patrons of the puppet shows were the royal members and at present, tourists become the main patrons. In Yangon, Htwe Oo Myanmar performs puppet shows at his home theatre with his troupes. There are also other troupes performing puppet shows in Mandalay, Bagan and other cities.
Although there are not many puppeteers who performs the shows, puppetry is still the art which is the pride of Myanmar people.
By Hnin Thida Nwe, ASEAN Correspondent from Myanmar