Thu, May 16, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Indonesia’s Ondel-Ondel kids are puppet masters


Children take a break from busking with Ondel-Ondel effigies on the streets of Jakarta on April 10.

Photo: AFP

Peeking through a slit in her giant puppet costume, Indonesian teen Juniarti is drenched in sweat as she moves stiffly under the blistering sun.

The 15-year-old and a motley crew of other children — some as young as nine — make a living by strapping on 2m brightly colored folk effigies known as Ondel-Ondel.

The giant-headed puppets are a staple on the streets of Indonesia’s bustling capital and often appear in celebrations to help ward off evil spirits.

Wobbling from side the side as they move, the puppets’ faces used to be made from papier-mache, although a fiberglass or plastic resin mold is more common these days.

Ondel-Ondel usually come in a male version with a thick mustache and red face, while the female’s white face is punctuated by bright red lipstick with coconut leaves for hair.

Juniarti and her puppet-wearing friends collect change from passersby with some jerky dance steps and selfie poses for entertainment.

Nearby, the teen’s four-year-old cousin Hassan wiggles and bops to mobile phone music while holding a bucket for change.

With the fasting month of Ramadan under way in Muslim-majority Indonesia, the kids are hoping that calls to give to the less fortunate would put more rupiah in their pockets.

While they can pocket as much as US$20 a day, it is not easy money.

Ondel-Ondel wearers balance a bamboo frame on their shoulders to carry the oversized costume, which weighs up to 30kg.

“Of course it’s tiring,” Juniarti said during a break. “It is so hot inside that my clothes are all drenched.”

Bastian, who has been busking for three years, has permanent reminders of his difficult work.

“The Ondel is really heavy — look at my scar,” the 11-year-old said as he pulled his T-shirt to reveal red marks and scratches on his shoulder.

Many adults also don the costumes, but children are increasingly picking up the practice, alarming youth protection advocates who fear that they are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

However, Juniarti and Bastian said they have suffered little harassment — apart from being shooed away by security guards.

Juniarti dropped out of school in the third grade and went to work to help her family after her father passed away.

Residents in her Jakarta neighborhood, where the hand-painted dolls are traditionally made from scratch, asked if she wanted to join the Ondel-Ondel ranks, as it is a common way for people in the poor district to earn money.

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