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Marionette Show

Written by U Than Pe ( Tour Guide )
Marionette Show

Myanmars are always happy . In fact they could be called happiest people ever trod on our mother earth . Our forefathers trained their young tots to enjoy life . Tiny toddlers were offered puppet show . It introduced them to the early life of carefree enjoyment . In those happy old days drudgery of formal schooling never started before the age of 7.

According to Daw Saw Mya Aye Kyi , an acclaimed authority on Myanmar traditional music and visual art , puppet shows originated during Singoomin's reign . It is believed to be the brainchild of U Thaw Ka , an officer in the ministry of culture . Just like all other creations of olden times marionette show was created for royal offspring . It trickled down to urban and rural commoners as a welcome spinoff.

Marionette show usually starts about an hour after sunset . It is a hillarious presentation of puppets . It never failed to amuse the younger audience . The first to appear on the marionette stage is a lady inaugural dancer . After her dance local young men bring in their handmade puppets of owls , parrots , birds , ducks etc., to the stage with request and get permission to be on the stage as amateur puppeteers . Local youth are usually given free hand on the stage . Professionals also teach them a trick or two . After the amateurs a short scene is presented as a trailer of a later program to come which is usually a story taken from Lord Buddha's lives.

Number of puppets vary from troupe to troupe . The last one I enjoyed before my mother's death was in 1952 . It was doing quite well . Its lead artiste was none other than Shwebo Tin Pe . The first one ? I do not remember the name but it was way back before the second World War . My late mother Daw Pu affectionately known as Ywatha Ga Ma Ma Gyi . She was great fan of marionette shows . We drove miles and miles in our bullock cart to watch the shows.

Basically all the troupe have puppets of King , Crown prince or lead artiste . Both are same size . Dress can change them into King , Crown Prince of lead dancer puppet . The lead dancer or queen can be created from the puppet through costume change . There are puppets and dresses for presenting clowns or jesters , generals , ministers , royal page , ogres , hunch back, super-human alchemist with a red coat and a magic wand . In addition to human figures there are animal figures representing tigers , elephants , horses , garudas , dragons, parrots, messenger pigions .

Such a simple ensemble ruled our Myanmar hearts and minds for over two centries . It was pushed off the centre stage by later inventions of cinema . First, silent films could do nothing to dent marionette show's popularity . Talkies hurt a little . Post war wide screen and technicolor and cinemascope movies drove a final nail into puppetry's coffin.

Now the authorities are trying to revive with nation wide competitions held every year . It may not regain its former status but it will never disappear . Some entrepreneurs are revival of interest in lost art Myanmar Marionette shows will last as long as Myanmar tread on Earth.