“Some say that the culture behind traditional Burmese puppets has been around for thousands of years, perhaps since the 11th century, but I’m not certain.” says Mr. Khin Maung Htwe, owner of the Htwe Oo Myanmar Puppetry Home. “Although I’m sure that it originated from over 600 years of ancient culture; we have discovered that wooden puppets were a major form of entertainment for Burmese royals ever since the 15th century. During the period of colonialism, this art migrated along the Irrawaddy River, before settling amongst the local community.”
“有人说缅甸木偶文化自11世纪起，已有上千年的历史。我不确定这个一千年的说法，但我肯定它是已超过六百年的古老文化，在15世纪，它是专门作为皇家贵族的娱乐。后来在殖民期间，木偶文化沿着伊洛瓦底江迁徙，最后在三角洲地区安顿下来…… ” Khin Maung Htwe先生娓娓道来，他是位于仰光Htwe Oo Myanmar Puppetry Home的木偶剧团负责人。
As with the rest of the world, cultures and old traditions are slowly fading into the background within contemporary Myanmar. However, Khin Maung Htwe remains adamant in upholding this piece of Burmese heritage, by performing alongside his family-run puppet troupe at Htwee Oo Myanmar Puppetry Home. Each puppeteer, which includes Khin Maung Htwe’s own wife and daughter, uses all ten fingers to intricately animate wooden marionettes with every pull, twist, swing, whirl and shake. There are 28 main characters in traditional Burmese puppet shows, ranging from gods, animals, monsters and royals. Traditional Burmese puppets are carved, polished, sanded and painted, before they are dressed in hand-stitched costumes; the entire process requires around twenty days of production from start to finish. Strings are also attached to every joint, including the puppet’s eyebrows in order to allow for more flexibility during each performance.
与世界各地一样，缅甸的传统文化也面临着改变和消失，但仍然有像Khin Maung Htwe先生这样热爱木偶文化的人坚持将其传承。Htwe Oo Myanmar Puppetry Home是半家族式的剧团，Khin Maung Htwe先生的女儿与太太也是木偶表演者。传统的木偶角色有神、动物、妖怪和帝王将相等28种。木偶戏剧表演艺人通过十个指头，让这些本来无魂的木偶，通过线牵艺人巧妙的运用提、拔、勾、挑、扭、抡、闪、摇等技巧，顿时有了生命一般。做到如此这般，也得益于缅甸木偶复杂精细的制作工艺。一个木偶的制作周期通常为20天，需要经过四、五道程序。从雕刻、加工、刨光，到贴金、上漆、打磨、上色、修整，从头部到身体各处13个关节，再逐一用线将上肢、下肢、腰部、颈部、手掌、甚至眉毛等串起来……此外，木偶身上的服装也都由手工艺人一针一线缝制。这样，一个木偶才拥有了神灵具备的可能性。
Unlike most performing arts, language barriers don’t exist and do not hinder the audience’s enjoyment and connection with the puppet show, and in turn, this has preserved the art form for centuries. Previously, it was even possible for a single puppeteer to control 60 strings at one time; however, this is a skill that has been lost over the years. Modern-day puppeteers usually learn to control at least 12 puppet strings.
Despite the increasing rarity of traditional Burmese puppetry, there are still some prominent figures within the community who are determined to keep the art form alive. We also encountered a puppet theatre group at Nanda Restaurant in Bagan, whose elderly leader was proudly passing down the art form to his grandchildren. He describes traditional Burmese puppetry as being like a performance from the soul, which is evident as he seamlessly guides and controls his puppets across the stage with both eyes completely transfixed. Building up to the climax, the veteran puppeteer twists the puppet in a 360 degree spin before catching the puppet on his shoulders, all in one continuous motion. Deeply focused on his craft, he has the expression of someone who is simply full of dedication and reverence for this ancient art form.
With every passing scene, the puppeteers bring each character’s personality to stage. Storylines are derived from a variety of plot lines that range from ancient myths and legends, infused with a great deal of humor, folklore and everyday life. Singing artists further bring these expressionless puppets to life; their vocals give personality to the characters and heighten the atmosphere, creating a more unified and enchanting performance.
While there are now no more than a dozen independent puppeteer groups left in Myanmar, it remains highly regarded as a unique art form that is heavily steeped in the country’s rich, traditional culture.
Contributor & Photographer: Chan Qu
Videographers: Chan Qu, Leon Yan