Famous wayang kulit (leather shadow puppetry) master Ki Manteb Sudarsono died on Friday morning after a battle with COVID-19. He was 72.
The dalang (puppeteer) was buried under strict health protocols at a family cemetery in Doplang, Karanganyar, Central Java. He left six children and an adopted child, as well as some 60 young puppeteers-in-training under his supervision.
“The antigen swab test showed that he had contracted the coronavirus. The condition was exacerbated by the lung disease he had for a while,” Ade Irawan, Ki Manteb’s nephew, told The Jakarta Post.
According to Ade, the puppet master died in self-isolation at his house. The family could not find a hospital to admit him as all health facilities within reach were full.
Ki Manteb was born in Sukoharjo in 1948 into a family of dalang. He pursued the art of wayang kulit from childhood. His father, Ki Hardjo Brahim Hardjowijoyo, was a respected puppeteer. His mother, Nyi Darti, was an accomplished gamelan player. Surrounded by a family of performers, Ki Manteb had his debut as a dalang at the age of 12.
He rose to national fame while performing “Banjaran Bima” once a month for a year in Jakarta in 1987. He was especially celebrated for his sabetan puppetry technique, which employs agile hand movements to enliven the performance. Then-information minister Boediardjo dubbed Ki Manteb the “dalang setan” (satan puppeteer) for his quick and humorous sabetan.
In his 60-year career, Ki Manteb brought many classic wayang fragments, such as “Banjaran Bima”, “Ciptoning”, “Wiratha Parwa” and “Dewa Ruci” to modern audiences. He also created a special fragment, “Celeng Degleg”, in response to “Berburu Celeng” (“Boar Hunting”), a painting depicting the fall of Soeharto’s regime by legendary artist Djoko Pekik.
In 2004, Ki Manteb broke an Indonesian Museum of Records (MURI) record by performing for 24 hours and 28 minutes without a break.
Ki Manteb, who said he loved watching Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies for their quick kung fu moves, traveled around the world to perform wayang kulit. He performed in the United States, Japan, Suriname, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Hungary and Austria. When UNESCO named the art one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible of Heritage of Humanity, Ki Manteb accepted the honor on behalf of Indonesian puppet masters.
He also received several prestigious international awards, including the 2010 Nikkei Asia Prize Award in the cultural category. Ki Manteb was the fourth Indonesian to receive the award, after actress Christine Hakim, economist Wijoyo Nitisastro and architect Laretna T Adishakti.