In the Play of Life

Raharjo Suwandi
Patsy Asch
25 minutes


Throughout Java "wayang" is a popular entertainment that takes many forms, from shadow plays to human performances. A group of villagers in East Java perform their own way of "wayang".

The group regards the wayang as a model for living. Religious practices involve the performance of a unique form of wayang with local villagers as actors. The film features a wayang performance, and the participants explain its significance.

The villagers are followers of the holy man and prophet, Embah Wali. Embah draws on the traditions of Java. He sees life as like "wayang". Human beings are puppets in this play of life. Whether rich or poor, nobleman or servant, god or demon, everybody has a role to perform in the play in life. All actions have meaning and all rules have their purpose. According to Embah harmony in life leads to the attainment of "jowo". "Jowo" (=to be Javanese) refers to ideal conduct that is open to everyone. It's exemplified in the "wayang" and in the past traditions of Java. The performances in the village follow the classical dramas of Java but are seen as allegories of contemporary life. They foreshadow the coming of a new age, and in this sense "wayang" is regarded as a model for living.

Embah's followers come to dance in the pavilion they have built in Embah's courtyard. The year is 1985, and it's the 25th of August, the last month of the Javanese year. It is time to cast out sources of grief, corruption and disorder. The play tells about King Dasamukah, a man of incomparable selfishness, who caused bloody conflict among his own kin.

James Fox
Producer / Production company: 
Australian National University
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