Many Museums

Our weekend has been nice. Yesterday we went to two museums: the National Museum and the Wayang Museum. The national museum is pretty neat. They have tons of artifacts, examples of material culture like clothes and tools, and ancient pottery from all over Asia. The single greatest part, though, is that they have the actual femur and skullcap that Eugene Dubois discovered in 1889-90 in Central Java: this is the famous “Java Man.” It’s crazy…the actual thing is just sitting there in a regular old glass case; it’s not a cast or anything. The entire museum is not airconditioned, so everything is exposed to heat and humidity and air pollution, which is probably the worst part. The courtyard is full of stone tablets, sculptures, and relics engraved in Sanskrit (or maybe Pali), Old Chinese, Javanese, and Arabic, with fun sculptures of the Garuda, Ganesha, hippos, and lots of bulls.

The Wayang Museum was a cab-ride away in the old city, Kota (a.k.a. Old Batavia). Here’s a brief introduction to what a wayang is. Wayang means “shadow” in Indonesian, and traditional Javanese and Balinese cultural practices feature many kinds of shadow-puppetry. There are three kinds of wayang: wayang kulit, wayang kolek, and wayang wong. (There are probably a bunch more, but these are the big ones.) Wayang kulit are flat, intricately patterned figures made from the dried hide of water buffalo. When held up behind a screen and backlit, they produce amazing shadows for viewers on the other side of the screen. Wayang kolek are made from wood, and hence are 3D and don’t require a screen, we think. We’re going to have to read more about them. Wayang wong are people in costumes.

All three kinds of puppetry relate stories from Javanese and Balinese mythology, including things like the Maharabhata and the Ramayana. The puppeteer can add topical commentary throughout the performance. Performances also present a means to express social and political commentary, and puppeteers often created (and still create) new puppets and stories to relate current events, from the arrival of the Dutch to Suharto’s greed. Famous works from Indonesianists like Clifford Geertz and Benedict Anderson interpret these as metaphors for understanding Javanese and Balinese conceptions of power and politics.

In between our two museums, we stopped for a coffee and tea at the Cafe Batavia, near the Wayang Museum in old Batavia. Books like Lonely Planet always say that you have to see it to believe it, and this is quite true. It’s a true slice of colonial life, with dark teak furnishings, lazy fans, a view of palm trees and pure white buildings, embarrassingly deferential waiters, traditional musicians, pictures of 1930s movie stars everywhere, and a drink list approximately ten miles long. It is extremely expensive, meaning that it’s about equal to American prices. We had two cups of coffee and one iced tea, and the bill came to $6. For comparison, we got into both museums, paid a hefty camera fee, and ate lunch for less than a dollar.

We have some pictures to post from both of these outings tomorrow.