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Thu: 1 PM–8 PM
Fri–Mon: 10 AM–5 PM
Tue–Wed: Closed
200 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Making Indonesian Rod Puppets (lesson)


Students will:1.) analyze the role of the puppet master (dalang) in Indonesian rod puppet theater (wayang golek).2.) Read a summary of the Ramayana or a scene from this Hindu epic. 3.) Identify the different puppet character types. 4.) construct a rod puppet of a character from the Ramayana or the Mahabharata.

Duration: 60 minutes

Materials: Synopsis and performance outlines of the Ramayana and Mahabharata (see “Downloads” above); Wayang Golek Slide Descriptions (see “Downloads” above); pencils, one empty fluted plastic spring water bottle, black masking tape, cardboard, tag board, one dowel, large beads, one 18″ flower wire, two 1′ stiff wires, one dry cleaning hanger with cardboard tubing, one Styrofoam egg, newspaper, tempura paints, square batik fabric and sequins and ribbons (optional). Scissors, knife, pencil, and wire cutters.


  • View the Wayang Golek Slide Descriptions and the accompanying background information (see “Related Resources” below) and discuss with students:
    • Who is the dalang and what is his role in wayang golek?
    • What type of iconography is used to distinguish the different character types—that is, refined, semirefined, strong, uncontrolled, and special?
    • How does this art form reflect the religious, cultural, and oral traditions of Indonesia?
    • How is the puppet constructed? How does the puppet master manipulate a puppet’s movement?
    • What other elements, in addition to puppet manipulation, are important components of a wayang golek performance?
    • Read a synopsis of the Ramayana or the Mahabharata, or focus on a scene from one of these Hindu epics. Identify the main characters of the Ramayana or the Mahabharata and discuss how their character types are portrayed in wayang golek. If possible, have students watch a video (see the video: Indonesian Rod Puppets below) to give students a sense of how music, voice, and puppet manipulation come together during a performance.

 Construct puppets (see visual instructions above):

  1. The Body
    • Using a knife, slice the bottom off an empty fluted plastic spring water bottle.
    • Using the end of the bottle as a stencil, draw and cut out a circle from cardboard. Poke a large hole in the middle of the cardboard circle.
    • Tape the cardboard circle onto the end of the bottle that has been cut off. Cover the entire bottle and cardboard (except for the hole) with vertical strips of black masking tape.
    • Place the bottle so the end with the cardboard is facing up and the mouth of the bottle is pointed down. It should look like a narrow V. Poke two holes on opposite sides of the bottle 1″ from the top.
  2. The Arms
    • Remove the cardboard tubing from a dry cleaning hanger. Cut it into four 2 1/2″ sections. Cover each section, including the ends, with black masking tape. Next, poke holes through the tape on either end of each tube section.
    • To make an armature for the arms, thread a flower wire through the holes on the sides of the bottle.
    • On either side of the bottle, thread onto the wire: a large bead (the shoulder), a tube section, another large bead (the elbow), another tube section, and five large beads (the hand). Bend and wrap the hand section into a tight circle.
    • Cut a stiff wire about 1′ in length. To make a handle, bend and attach one end of the wire to the puppet’s hand. Cut another wire and do the same for the other hand.
  3. The Head
    • Using the end of the dowel, poke a hole about 1″ deep in a large Styrofoam egg. You may need to use a sharp tool to carve out the extra Styrofoam.
    • To make the neck, cut a strip of tag board about 2″ in width. Roll and tape it into a cylinder that will fit into the hole carved in the Styrofoam egg.
    • Crumple newspaper into the shape of a headdress. Refined characters have shrimp-tailed headdresses.
    • Sculpt and tape the headdress together with black masking tape, and tape it onto the Styrofoam egg.
    • Cover the entire Styrofoam egg and the outside of the tag board neck with black masking tape.
    • Run a dowel from the mouth of the bottle up through the cardboard hole at the top of the bottle. Place the head and neck on top of the dowel.
    • To create a stopper on the dowel, use a pencil to mark the dowel where the mouth of the bottle rests.
    • Then take the dowel out of the bottle. Cut a circle with a 2″ diameter from cardboard, and poke a hole in the middle of the circle. Place the dowel through the hole. Tape the cardboard onto the dowel where it is marked in pencil.
    • Again, run the dowel up from the mouth of the bottle through the cardboard hole at the top of the bottle. Place the head and neck on top of the dowel. The stopper will prevent the bottle from sliding down the dowel.
    • Now, try manipulating your puppet!
    • Lastly, use tempura to paint in the facial features and headdress. A square piece of fabric with batik design may be wrapped and taped around the bottle to form the sarong. The torso and sarong may be decorated with sequins and ribbons.

Reenact a scene from the Ramayana or the Mahabharata using the puppets that the students created. Refined characters types may be used interchangeably; for example, a puppet used for the character of Rama from the Ramayana may be used to play the refined character of Arjuna from the Mahabharata. Jester characters are of Indonesian origin and may be found in the Indonesian versions of stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.