Puppets to entertain the Gods

Sayuti Zainudin
The Teochew puppet show performance at Lebuh Tye Sin in George Town, August 21, 2018. — Pix by Sayuti Zainudin

GEORGE TOWN, Aug 25 — During the Hungry Ghost festival, many shows and prayers are performed by devotees to appease the gods.

One such performance is the Teochew puppet opera show.

The puppet show originated from the central plains of China where it used to be a shadow puppet play with two-dimensional figurines made from dried leather strips and controlled by three iron rods connected at the hands and torso of the puppet.

A man offers prayers to the giant paper-made deity called ‘Tai Su Yah’, the God of Hell before the start of the Teochew puppet show at Lebuh Tye Sin in George Town, August 21, 2018.

From there, the show evolved in terms of the stage itself where it went from a plain white sheet to a full stage with a colourful backdrop to give audience a sense of place, usually inside a palace.

The puppet designs became more elaborate — three-dimensional with free-form arms, colourful and replaceable costumes and moveable heads.

The show usually has between four and 12 characters. Story-wise, it leans towards folklore that has elements of good deeds in the land of the living.

Initially, the puppet show was to appease the dead and performers were only men as women would anger the gods.

A member of the crew playing the drum and cymbal in the background during the Teochew puppet show at Lebuh Tye Sin in George Town, August 21, 2018.

This has changed, however, and now women participate either in the show itself or play the instruments.

The show runs for two to three hours every night for a month until the “doors” of Hell closes once again.

The puppets need to be prepared before the start of the Teochew puppet show.