Wayang kulit goes where no puppet has gone before – on ‘Star Trek’


Unexpected cameo: A screengrab of Yeoh in ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ as Captain Georgiou with a ‘wayang kulit’ puppet in the background.

PETALING JAYA: The wayang kulit (puppet shadow play) has boldly gone where no one has gone before, having recently featured in the pilot episode of the new Star Trek: Discovery TV series which aired in the United States.

A wayang kulit puppet appeared as a prop in a scene featuring Malaysia’s very own Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh.

Malaysians who watched the episode online on Monday were very excited about the bit of Malaysian culture appearing in the science fiction show. But Malaysians may have been celebrating for the wrong reasons, if so.

Cultural organisation Pusaka founder and writer Eddin Khoo said the wayang kulit puppet that featured in the television series actually originated from Java.

“It is a Javanese puppet called Antareja,” Khoo told The Star.

He said Antareja is a character from the Javanese wayang kulit tradition and was the son of the great Bhima through his marriage to Naganini.

“He is a realisation of the Javanese imagination,” Khoo said, adding that the Javanese wayang kulit should not be described as Indonesian either since it was not performed outside of Java.

He said there are huge cultural differences between the Malaysian and Javanese wayang kulit traditions.

“There are differences in the stories, the repertoire that they perform and the whole style and sensibility are different – even the lineage and history is different,” he said.

Khoo said in terms of characteristics, the Malay­­­­­­sian wayang kulit design was more “raw” and had stronger Khmer-Thai influences.

“It is very much a Kelantan-Pattani imagination,” he said.

Khoo added that Javanese wayang kulit characters had sharper features, looked less fierce and were more elongated.

In the new Star Trek TV series which stars Sonequa Martin-Green as Commander Michael Burnham, Yeoh plays Captain Philippa Georgiou of the USS Shenzhou.

Yeoh was also commended for delivering her lines in her natural Malaysian accent.

In an interview with CBS News, she said the producers and director had embraced her accent from the minute they started shooting.

She pointed out her accent was neither American nor British and was sort of “in-between”.

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