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Updated: June 02, 1996 05:00 PM GMT
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A Catholic parish in Jakarta is promoting a Christian version of Javanese "wayang" (puppet show) as a means of spiritual reflection and evangelization, though critics give it mixed reviews.

St. Ignatius Church in Central Jakarta sponsored two shows of a Christian wayang during Holy Week. The first show was held on Good Friday to reflect Jesus´ suffering, and the second on Easter Sunday for Catholic wayang critics.

Johanes Suhartoyo, inventor and "dalang" (master) of the Christian wayang, told UCA News that its characters are the same as in the original.

"We just change their names," he said, noting that he chose the figure of Arjuna, who leads the forces of good against those of evil in the Indian epic "Mahabharata" to portray Jesus Christ.

Wayang stories taken from the Indian epics "Mahabharata" and "Ramayana" are popular among Javanese and Sundanese Indonesians despite the fact that most of them are Muslims.

Though Catholic dalangs in Central Java have developed "wayang wahyu" (revelation wayang) based on biblical stories, according to Suhartoyo, many Javanese Catholics do not like it, because it abandons the "special characters of Javanese wayang."

"Wayang wahyu uses biblical stories and pictures of Jesus and other figures with Jewish and Roman features, making it look strange even for Javanese Catholics," the Jakarta-based dalang observed.

Though his Christian wayang uses the Indonesian language rather than Javanese, Suhartoyo argued this allows non-Javanese Christians to enjoy it.

However, Johan Suban Tukan, a Florinese Catholic who was one of the few non-Javanese in the Holy Week audience, said he did not see any integration between Suhartoyo´s wayang stories and the original biblical stories.

"As a lover of music, I just enjoy the ´gamelan´ (Javanese music) played during wayang shows. I think the Christian wayang needs improvement," he said.

On the other hand, Anton Mashur, a Florinese Chinese Catholic, said he understood the stories performed and saw their relation with biblical stories.

"I really enjoy it. I think this kind of wayang could be performed for society at large as a means of evangelization and as entertainment," he said.

Suban Tukan, a staffer for the Jakarta archdiocese family affairs commission, also saw a need for improvement, remarking that "it is just an adaptation. He (Suhartoyo) should do more toward inculturation of wayang."

For Paulus Krissantono, though, a Javanese, inculturation of Javanese wayang has found its concrete form in the Christian wayang. He warned, though, that the element of entertainment should not dominate the Gospel message.

Jesuit Father Franz Magnis Suseno, a philosopher and wayang critic, said that Javanese wayang is flexible in that a dalang can change wayang figures for certain effects.

The German-born naturalized Indonesian priest said he was impressed with Suhartoyo´s effort and that "efforts to spread good news of salvation through transfiguration of Javanese wayang need further development and support."


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