Child Tok Dalang Wayang Kulit – simply Magical!
Malaysia’s youngest tok dalang or master puppeteer of wayang kulit (shadow play) is a six year old boy called Aqfierudzar Rizq Mohd Sulhie (known by his nickname Pyu), youngest of three sons of Mohd Sulhie Yusuf, 42, the founder of Arjunasukma Academy in Klang, Selangor. Sulhie and his wife, Aniza Musa, 35, are wayang kulit enthusiasts and work together at Arjunasukma Academy to keep this ancient, creative and entertaining shadow theatre alive. Sulhie was with the Customs Department before he decided to go full time in 2008 with the teaching of this art. He subscribes to the wayang kulit Kelantan. Wayang kulit as a theatre form is still popular in Kelantan, Kedah, Johore and Terengganu. West coast urban kids and adults are less enthused by this form of entertainment preferring to spend time on social media platforms and other interests. People like Sulhie helps to keep this art form alive. Wayang kulit has been declared a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2003.
Pyu began to take a serious interest in wayang kulit from the age of 3. When Sulhie noticed his son’s passion for wayang kulit, he began personally coaching him. By age 5 Pyu’s artistry as a puppeteer and storyteller for wayang kulit had gone viral and he now performs regularly not only in Malaysia but also in Singapore and other places. It is quite an achievement for such a young person as he has to deftly handle sometimes up to 10 characters behind the screen using different tones of voice to represent each character as he manipulates the patung or puppets. His ability to make the puppets come alive with different ranges of emotions depending on whether it is a fighting scene, court intrigue scene or love scene is simply amazing for a child! On the set are skilled musicians, an important part of the ensemble, to assist the tok dalang to hold the attention of the audience.
The patung or puppets are traditionally made from dried buffalo skin or leather (hence kulit which means skin) but the artistically crafted three dimensional ones are made from wood. Such puppetry crafting skills will slowly die away if not preserved and with it the creative story telling of the ancient art of wayang kulit.
- New Straits Times. 3 December 2018. Hazira Ahmad Zaidi. Pyu’s ‘Tok Dalang’ video spins magic. https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2018/12/436706/pyus-tok-dalang-video-spins-magic
- The Star. 2 October 2019. Nation. A Master Puppeteer at age Five. Boy’s passion for performing wayang kulit takes him to the international stage.
- Asia Society. New York. Wayang Kulit : Indonesia’s extraordinary shadow puppetry tradition. https://asiasociety.org/new-york/wayang-kulit-indonesias-extraordinary-shadow-puppetry-tradition
- World Encyclopedia of Puppetry Arts. Malaysia. https://wepa.unima.org/en/malaysia/
- Jabatan Kebudayaan & Kesenian Negara. Shadow Puppets. Wayang Kulit. http://www.jkkn.gov.my/en/shadow-puppets-wayang-kulit-0
- Dahlan bin Abdul Ghani. Wayang Kulit Kelantan: The Challenges Between Traditional and Digital Media in Puppetry Theatre. Malaysian Institute Information Technology Creative Multimedia Section. University Kuala Lumpur.
- UNESCO. Wayang Puppet Theatre. Intangible Cultural Heritage. https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/wayang-puppet-theatre-00063