Close  

Masters of puppets: Indonesia’s ‘Ondel-Ondel’ kids

/ 06:31 PM May 19, 2019
Ondel-Ondel

Ondel-Ondel have long been a part of the Jakarta native group Betawi culture and the massive dolls used to be utlilized for traditional ceremonies and weddings. Image: AFP/Goh Chai Hin

Peeking through a slit in her giant puppet costume, Indonesian teen Juniarti is drenched in sweat as she moves stiffly under the blistering sun.

The 15-year-old and a motley crew of other children, some as young as nine, make a living by strapping on two-meter (6.5 foot) brightly colored folk effigies known as Ondel-Ondel.

ADVERTISEMENT

The giant-headed puppets are a staple on the streets of Indonesia’s bustling capital and often appear in celebrations to help ward off evil spirits.

Wobbling from side to side as they move, the puppets’ face used to be made from papier mache although fiberglass or plastic resin mold is more common these days.

FEATURED STORIES

Usually, Ondel-Ondel comes in a male version with a thick mustache and red face, while the female’s white face is punctuated by bright red lipstick with coconut leaves for hair.

Juniarti and her puppet-wearing friends collect change from passersby with some jerky dance steps and selfie poses for entertainment.

Nearby, the teen girl’s four-year-old cousin Hassan wiggles and bops to mobile phone music while holding a bucket for change.

With the fasting month of Ramadan underway in Muslim-majority Indonesia, the kids are hoping that calls to give to the less fortunate will put more rupiah in their pockets.

But while they can pocket as much as $20 (around P1,000) a day, it is not easy money.

Ondel-Ondel wearers balance a bamboo frame on their shoulders to carry the oversized costume, which weighs up to 30 kilograms (66 pounds).

“Of course it’s tiring,” Juniarti shared during a break behind a luxury shopping mall.

ADVERTISEMENT

“It is so hot inside that my clothes are all drenched.”

Bastian, who has been busking for three years, has permanent reminders of his difficult work.

“The Ondel is really heavy, look at my scar,” said the 11-year-old as he pulled his t-shirt to reveal red marks and scratches on his shoulder.

Many adults don the costumes too, but children are increasingly picking up the practice.

That has alarmed youth protection advocates who fear that they are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

But Juniarti and Bastian insist they’ve suffered little harassment, apart from being shooed away by security guards.

Their path to this job tugs at the heart, however.

Juniarti dropped out of school in the third grade and went to work to help her family after their father passed away.

Residents in her Jakarta neighborhood, where the hand-painted dolls are traditionally made from scratch, asked if she wanted to join the Ondel-Ondel ranks.

It is a common way for people in the poor district to earn money.

And having the chance to blend work with play means some of the puppet kids think they’ve got a pretty good deal.

“I can have fun with my friends and work at the same time,” 13-year-old Yogi Susanto said. HM/JB

RELATED STORIES: 

Indonesia makes 2032 Olympics bid official

Indonesia’s Widodo declares victory in presidential election

Read Next
LATEST STORIES
MOST READ
Don't miss out on the latest news and information.
View comments

Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.

TAGS: Culture, Evil spirits, Indonesia, Ondel-Ondel, Puppets
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.
sports

Coming of age

June 18, 2019 05:12 AM

business

Tan daughter takes charge at PAL

June 18, 2019 05:11 AM

sports

Tough grind for Ceres against Hanoi

June 18, 2019 05:10 AM



© Copyright 1997-2019 INQUIRER.net | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.