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Myanmar Puppetry                                                                     

By Kyaw Nanda

Myanmar puppet also known as Yoke The in Burmese name, is the traditional handicraft. Myanmar puppetry is an ancient performance, usually performs in puppet theatre. It is the kind of marionette puppetry. It shows the pride of Myanmar Traditional Dance and Culture and how much the standard of Art of Myanmar was high among neighbor countries.


Some scholars guess that Myanmar puppetry came from India and China geographically. However, Myanmar puppetry is different from them. It is a collaboration of Myanmar traditional dance with traditional orchestra while performing, traditional wood carving to make structures of puppets, traditional painting to draw facial expression and characters of puppets, and Myanmar’s famous gold embroidery to create their costumes and other Myanmar traditional cultures. Therefore, they are unique and these are proofs of own creation of Myanmar.

There is no valid evidence to show when puppetry first appeared in Myanmar although most of scholars traced, and observed in all relative fields – Archaeology, Anthropology, History, Literature, etc. Some people believe that Myanmar traditional puppetry first appeared in Bagan Dynasty according to U Won, who was the Minister of Culture during the reign of King Bagan (1846-1853) at the period of Kong Baung Dynasty. He wrote his memos including “The puppet show originated in Bagan with three kinds of moat (in Burmese language, ရုပ်သေးအစ ကျူံးသုံးတန်နှင့် ပုဂံက )” Some argued that Myawaddy Min Gyi U Sa who was the Minister of Parliament during the reign of King Bagyidaw (1819-1837) at the period of Kong Baung Dynasty and made a performance with the puppets when he was in jail. And also, some claim that U Thaw (Minister of Entertainment) and U Kyin Oo (Dramatist) created puppets first at the reign of King Bodawpaya (1782-1819) of Kong Bong Dynasty. However, the history of Myanmar Puppetry remains as a mystery story.



Amyint Thabin Vs Aneint Thabin

Myanmar traditional dramatic art is divided into two categories: Amyint Thabin and Aneint Thabin. Myanmar puppetry is called Amyint Thabin because it is performed on the high level. In the other hand, it is usually presented on the stage above the ground. Whereas, Aneint Thabin is performed on the ground. Amyint Thabin or Myanmar puppetry is subtle and complex in the various histrionical performance and it is full of interesting. To perform a puppet show, presenters or puppeteers will need the qualification of master of puppeteers and also obedience before, while and after performing.

Characters of Myanmar Puppets

There are 28 characters of Myanmar puppetry generally. In several years ago, there were 36 characters in a regular show and sometimes up to 40 characters. However, today’s Myanmar puppet shows are using 28 characters of puppets. There are – (1) Two spirit votaresses(Nat-Ka-Daw), (2) one horse, (3) two elephants (one is black and other white), (4) one tiger, (5) one monkey, (6) one parakeet or parrot, (7) two ogres, (8) one necromancer or alchemist(Zaw-Gyi), (9) one dragon, (10) one garud(Ga-lone), (11) one deva(Nat), (12) four ministers(two are red in color and others green in color), (13) one king, (14) one prince, (15) one princesses, (16) two prince regents, (17) one astrologer, (18) one hermit, (19) one old woman, (20) two jesters. These 28 characters are usually used in these days.

Characters of Myanmar Puppets

Creating puppets also have rules and regulations. The puppet sculptors need to choose the correct wood type before carving and puppets must have correct human organs and need to divide gender organs. While choosing wood types for figures of king, hermit and deva, Aye-Ka-Yit wood must be used. And figures of horse, elephant, human and spirits must be made of Ya-Ma-Nay wood. Other figures can be made of Let-Pan wood or Than-Thut wood. Then, these puppets are painted according to their characters correctly. Moreover, these are dressed with gold embroidery costumes and needle costumes with rings and other accessories.

Artistry of performing Myanmar puppet show

In all Myanmar puppet shows, strings are definitely important to be animated and alive puppets. Regularly, each puppet has 17 strings or more. At the time when Myanmar puppet show was most warmly received, the character of A-Pyo-Daw had at least 60strings. Each puppet is controlled by only one puppeteer. The puppeteers make puppets animated dramatically by using their hands and arms. Each puppeteer must be skillful and must combine their mind artistically with puppet that they controlled. Furthermore, they have to present rhythmically at a time with singers and orchestra from background. This collaboration is a puppet show in general. The more they perform harmoniously and rhythmically, the more puppet show will perfect.

Myanmar puppet shows usually present the 550 Jataka stories (The former lives of Buddha). Although there are no puppetry shows which held the whole night as previously, old puppeteers are trying to hand over our heritage to new generation. Myanmar puppetry shows can be watched in Karaweik Restaurant and Htwe Oo Myanmar Puppet House in Yangon generally. Moreover, some hotels and restaurants are trying to make puppet performances to show and attract Myanmar Dance and Culture to visitors. If you come to Myanmar, its puppet show is one of the things to do. Needless to say that it is well worth seeing and enjoying Myanmar traditional puppet shows and this show will have a chance to make good use of your holiday-evenings much better than ever.







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