How Much Does The Average 9 Year Old Weigh Boy Yoke-Thay Pwe, Burmese Marionette Theatre

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Yoke-Thay Pwe, Burmese Marionette Theatre

The subject of Burmese ‘Pwe’ theater in general and Burmese puppet theater ‘Yoke-Thay Pwe’ in particular is certainly very interesting but also very complex. Therefore, it is difficult to cover it sufficiently in article form. After all, entire books with hundreds of pages have been written on this topic. Okay then; I try my best and please let me know if I succeeded.

In his ‘Brandon’s Guide to Theater in Asia’, first published in January 1967, James A. Brandon wrote: “The description of the Burmese as a happy, smiling person is born on the stage more than one would think possible ” and that is very true.

The theatre, ‘Pwe’ has a tradition in Burma that goes back many centuries. Although today, especially urban, but also rural audiences are increasingly turning their attention to more modern and easier-to-consume forms of entertainment, such as television, cinema, videos and video games , etc. pwe (theatre) is still very much alive, except, unfortunately, in a form of pwe. But that’s anticipating.

There are several types of theater here in Burma. The most popular perhaps is a mixture of dance, music and drama called ‘Zat Pwe’. Zat pwe is often preceded by a theatrical form of pwe, called ‘Pya Zat’; here a heroic prince must overcome the evils of demons and sorcerers.

Another form of pwe refers to episodes of everyday life and is called ‘Anyein Pwe’. A pure dance theater performed by both main dancers and groups is the ‘Yein Pwe’.

Rarely seen by foreign visitors/tourists as “Nat Pwe” is done publicly only as part of animist festivals (Mt. Popa, Taungbyon, Magwe, Bago) and otherwise only at private “Nat Parties”. This is an animist event in which a Nat Kadaw acts as a medium between nats (spirits) and people who believe in supernatural beings and their powers and communicate with the respective nat through the medium. This, by the way, is the reason for celebrating nat pwes. U Min Kyaw, who is also known as Ko Gyi Kyaw or Min Kyawzwa, is undoubtedly the most popular nat. U Min Kyaw is the guardian of drunkards and gamblers and being with him means a good time. But the most important reason people like him is that he is bestowing wealth on all who believe in him.

An exception to all the different types of pwe is a form of this art which is said to have its origins in India, but which over time has developed into a unique form of Burmese theatre: this is the ” Yoke-Thay Pwe” or “Marionette”. Theater’.

Historians are not of one opinion about the time when string marionettes/puppets made their first appearance in Burma. According to one view, they were first mentioned in a poem written by Rattasara, a novice Buddhist monk in the 15th century. Others say that the jou-thay pwe has its foundation in the time after the return of King Hsinbyushin to Ava after the conquest of the Thai capital Ayutthaya in 1767 AD.

Be that as it may, it is indisputable that the son of King Hsinbyushin, Singu Min (usurper to the throne), who succeeded him, gave life to his court a “Ministry of Fine Arts” in 1776. He appointed “Minister of Entertainment Royal”. U Thaw Win, who was now entrusted with the development of a new pwe art form.

It is important to know and bear in mind that in the history of Burma and even to no small extent today the standards of etiquette and moral behavior did not allow the public display of intimate romantic scenes and portraying the future Buddha in ‘Jataka. Tales were considered sacrilegious. For this reason the actors refused to play this role. These things posed real problems and the solutions to these were marionettes or puppets. What human beings were not allowed and/or unwilling to do in public, the wooden figures could do; the ‘Yoke-Thay Pwe’ was born.

It is not undisputed but widely accepted that by establishing strict guiding principles and rules, Minister Thaw Win regulated and standardized yoke-thay pwe more than any other type of pwe. From the stages to the marionettes and their clothing, everything was standardized.

A yoke-thay pwe stage called in Burmese “chauk khan sin” should be 9 meters wide and made of light teak and bamboo. The background scene against which the stories are played and told must always be the same: a primeval forest on the right, a throne on the left, and a sofa or couch in the center. According to the guidelines, marionettes are divided into ‘yoke-kyi-sin’, the large ones (2.5 to 3 feet/0.75 to 0.9 meters high) and ‘yoke-thay-sin’, the small marionettes, later, up to 2.5. feet/0.75 meters.

All pwe yoked troops were to be enrolled and the number of string puppets as well as their physical parts was determined to be 28. This number is derived from the traditional Buddhist belief that each and every organism comprises 28 physical parts

Not only does the art of puppeteering require many, many years of learning under the close supervision of a puppeteer, but it is also no small feat because a single puppeteer must manipulate 28 separate puppets/string puppets . Some of them have up to 60 strings tied in order to perform the different gestures and dances. However, most puppets require mastering an average of only (!) 20 strings. The puppeteer also presents the puppets’ dialogue simultaneously supported by only two stagehands.

Each of the 28 marionettes derives from and represents a mythical being or historical figure. These are usually:

a) a king (Bayin), b) a prince (Mintha), c) a princess (Minthamee), d) four ministers. Two with red faces, two with white faces (Wun-Gyi-Lay-Pa), e) a Brahmin (Ponna), f) a hermit (Yat-Hay), g) an old woman (Ah-May-Oh), h ) a clown assistant (Daw Mo), I) a clown assistant (U Shway Yoe), j) an alchemist (Zar Gyi), k) two demons/ogres. One with a green face, another with a red face (Balu), l) a spirit (Nat), m) a snake (Naga), n) a horse (Myin), o) a white elephant (Sin-Phyu), p ) a black elephant (Sin-Net), q) a tiger (Kyar), r) a parrot (Kyet-To-Wyay), s) a monkey (Myuak), t) a spirit medium (Nat Kadaw), u ) a “Maid of Honor” (Ah-Pyo-Daw), v) two elder princes. One with a white face, another with a red face (Min-Tha-Gyis), w) a Brahman (Byanmar).

An additional and very important figure not so much for the play as for the puppeteer is the spirit x) guardian of the puppeteers (Lamaing-Shin-Ma).

There are also other figures such as the guardian spirit of the trees (Nyaung-gyin) also known as the “Old Man of the Banyan Tree” and the pageboy y (Thu-Nge-Daw).

The costumes of all these figures are also clearly specified and must be identical to the original.

The main characters are always Minthamee and Mintha around whom the romantic plot always revolves.

In yoke-thay-pwe, maximum attention is paid to the orchestra and the vocalist, as they are of vital importance to it.

a) the two-headed drums (Pat-Waing), which are played by the leader, b) a variety of brass gongs (kyi-waing), c) a triangular gong (kyi-se), d) a large circular gong ( moung), e) six different double-headed drums (hauk-lon-pat), f) one large double-headed drum (pat-ma-gyi).

Also part of the orchestra g) a flute or kind of oboe (hne).

The order of the various scenes is also predetermined and the stories performed, especially the ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Jataka’ tales, are usually the same and generally known. The Ramayana tells the thrilling story of the capture of the beautiful princess ‘Sita’ by the demon king ‘Dasagiri’ and her rescue by her heroic husband, the prince ‘Rama’. The Jataka is related in a quasi-historical moral way to Gautama Buddha’s overcoming of various sins to earn his ultimate rebirth and Enlightenment.

The song that opens most yoke-thay-pwe performances has been very popular in Burma for generations and always preludes the appearance of the beloved “Maid of Honor”, “Ma Shat Tay” . It goes like this:

“Ahpya daw Ma shat tay hwet khat bar daw lay, Saing saya Ma Aye pay tee lite for daw lay.”

“Maid of Honor, Ma Shat Tay (Clumsy Maid), please come out to dance. Master of the Orchestra (Master Ruffin), please play the music.”

Unfortunately, yoke-thay pwe which once accorded itself a higher status than any other form of pwe and which undisputedly ruled the world of Burmese theatre, is slowly but surely disappearing. This is partly due to the death of the old generation of puppet masters, a loss which, unfortunately, is not compensated by the emergence of a sufficient number of new masters and partly because the traditional representations of yoke-thay pwe last almost a whole night. therefore, they are very demanding for both the puppeteers and the audience. But there is no substitute for this wonderful and highly entertaining theater art, so something must be done to prevent its extinction.

Two of the few people in Burma (Myanmar) who are doing their best to keep the art of yok-thay pwe alive – both nationally and internationally in cooperation with UNESCO – are puppeteers Ma Ma Naing and her husband of the ‘Mandalay Puppet Theater’ in Mandalay, located on 66th Street, between 26th and 27th Streets (around the corner from the Mandalay Swan Hotel and the Sedona Hotel), where every evening the performances of yoke-thay pwe at its best.

The theater was founded by two women in 1986 and the company began its career performing for tourists visiting Burma.

The two founders were Ma Ma Naing, daughter of U Thein Naing, the writer of Burmese Puppet Theater (1966), and Naing Ye Mar. The company is supervised by Dr. Tin Maung Kyi, Burmese puppet researcher, U Pan Aye and U. Shwe Nan Tin, highly respected and highly skilled puppet masters. The company has won several national awards and performed in several foreign countries.

Anyone who has the opportunity to visit the theater should take the time for the melon; do so and immerse yourself in the enchanting world of Burmese puppet theatre. A highly entertaining evening and an unforgettable experience nowhere outside Burma is guaranteed.

All those who have dedicated their lives to perpetuate the art of puppetry and all who love to enjoy the thrilling and highly emotional performances of yoke-thay pwe should, in united and tireless efforts, call upon ‘La-Maing-Shin -Ma’ do not allow that this wonderful old form of entertainment will forever remain in the past and disappear. Maybe he has something wonderful in store. Remember that the ways of the heavenly are mysterious. After all, his right to exist as the guardian spirit of the puppeteers is as much at stake as the existence of those he is supposed to protect.

So, dear La Maing Shin Ma, I suggest you roll up your sleeves and get to work.

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