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SFU Library Digital Collections

About this collection

The real beginnings of Indonesian immigration to Canada can be traced to the late 1960s and political unrest in Indonesia. Many Indonesians settled in the cities of Toronto and Vancouver. In 2006 the census recorded a total of 14,320 people of Indonesian origin living in Canada, with 6,325 living in Ontario and 4,640 living in British Columbia.

 

The wayang kulit shadow puppets of Indonesia are such an important cultural and artistic legacy that UNESCO designated the tradition as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Wayang performances date back to at least 930 A.D., and were probably part of active community life for many generations before that date. The most popular stories depicted are excerpts from the Mahabarata and the Ramayana, epic poems composed in India thousands of years ago.

 

Wayang kulit are made from stiff thick water buffalo leather.  Each puppet is hand made, with the delicate openwork punched though with sharp knives and chisels. The support rods are made from buffalo horn, beautifully shaped, heated and bent into sweeping arcs and tied to the puppet with soft cotton thread.

 

The wayang kulit collection at the Simon Fraser Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, featured here in the Multicultural Canada site, was commissioned and created between 1870 and 1920. The donor inherited the collection, and brought it to Canada in the early 1960s. He gave the collection to SFU in 1996, when it was featured in the university’s 40th anniversary celebrations.  A major exhibit, ‘Crossing Oceans, Crossing Cultures’ was mounted in the museum gallery in 2009. With the Multicultural Canada site, the wayang are now publicly and globally available. You are invited to marvel at their intricate beauty, to learn the teachings of the wayang about good and evil, respect, duty, friendship and loyalty by viewing the videos associated with the collection and working through the learning modules. In doing so, you will gain an appreciation for the powerful traditions and beautiful art styles brought to Canada by new Canadians from Indonesia.

 

Contributed by Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Simon Fraser University.

 
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