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Servants, dwarfs and ordinary folk, the diseased and crippled
their role in puppetry

The written sources of the remote past – 9th – 16th century on servants, dwarfs and people with diseases is very scarce. There are, however, a number of reliefs on the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan in which a dwarf or a small creature with curly hair is depicted. Do we have to do with outcasts of society because of their abnormal appearances, or with slaves? More information on diseases is available from the 18th century onwards. In particular in the early 20th century articles by medical doctors on diseases and the disabled in Java and Bali and their depictions as characters in wayang and masked performances appeared in journals like Djawa and communications of companies producing medicine, like Ciba. An important contribution to our knowledge of type of disease and the role of the disabled in the past is the work by Ivan Bonta. The focus of his research was on statues of dwarfs and the diseased in South America: Diseased ancestors, Essays and stories around medical archaeology, Erasmus Publishing, Rotterdam 2003.

The present article is a result of research in the field in Java and Bali and of the photo surveys and documentation of more than twenty thousand wayang figures in private and museum collections. An overview of the types of diseases of particular figures in wayang and masked performances in Java and Bali will be given. It appears that the Balinese wayang figures show a lesser variety of deformations and diseases than the Javanese. In theater with actors wearing masks (topeng) or make-up (lawak), however, there is much more variety.

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