Given that he owes his life to a puppeteer, businessman Rohmad Hadiwijoyo felt it was all he could do to help support the survival of the traditional art of puppetry.The dalang, or puppeteer, in question is Ki Joko Edan, from whom Rohmad learned the art of puppetry. He followed the dalang wherever he went for six years from the time he finished elementary school until he finished high school. It was the dalang who gave him the last name Hadiwijoyo.
Only after he enrolled at a college in Jakarta in 1985 did Rohmad part from his mentor, but still he stayed in contact from time to time.
Thanks to the value of puppet stories, which Rohmad claim are the key to his success, he has been able to build a traditional Javanese house joglo on a block of land in the sleepy area of Cirendeu in South Jakarta dedicated to those who want to become masters in the art of puppetry.
The 3,400 square meters of land in the valley of the Pesangrahan river, which he bought from another puppetry-loving businessman, cost him Rp 2 billion; he spent another Rp 600 million building the 200-meter-square house and a two-story cottage used mainly as accommodation for people who perform at the joglo.
"When it's about my hobby, everything else comes second," says Rohmad, also a professional puppeteer. "Besides, I was raised by a dalang and I want to do something for all the dalang."
He opened the complex, named Paguyuban Putro Wijoyo Parwo, in March 2006. It is equipped with a modern sound system, two sets of puppetry gamelan worth Rp 400 million and two boxes of classical Javanese puppets. The parking lot and the front yard of the joglo can hold more than 50 cars.
Now, the complex is home to 30 traditional Javanese gamelan players (wiyogo), three Javanese singers (sinden) and two puppeteers (dalang). Most of these people are simple workers: builders, carpenters, small traders. One of the puppeteers is a handyman.
Every Thursday night the 30 members of the paguyuban - a term that loosely translates as "association" or "community" - hold a regular performance, with a rehearsal every Monday night led by senior members for its can-didate puppeteers and gamelan players.
Five young puppeteers and five gamelan players are currently taking lessons at the paguyuban. Some of these young puppeteers have taken part in broader events such as at the national festival of child puppeteers held at Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (TMII) in July last year.
The paguyuban also provides a rehearsal space for 15 puppetry groups of various sizes in South Jakarta, which take turns to perform at the center each month.
Among the 15 puppetry groups in South Jakarta are troupes such as Inarcahya in Ciledug, Nirmala Sari in Cinere and Sanggar Sidodadi in Sawangan.
The monthly performances are part of a puppeteer exchange among the members of the South Jakarta branch of the Indonesian Puppeteers Association (Pepadi).
"Perhaps the puppeteer communities in South Jakarta are the most active puppeteer communities," said Ki Gede Kwatno, a puppeteer at the paguyuban and secretary of the South Jakarta branch of Pepadi.
"We hold a regular exchange of puppeteers and gamelan players to give both small and big groups more opportunities to perform. We offer more options for some of the communities which have a limited gamelan set and even *a limited* stock of puppets."
Kwatno, a handyman, had been part of another group since 1998 but he joined Paguyuban Putro Wijoyo Parwo in 2007 because he feels comfortable with the center's distance from residential areas.
"I used to be part of a group that practiced near a mosque but people used to complain a lot," he said.
As well as providing rehearsal space for puppeteers, the paguyuban is also involved in an array of educational enterprises aimed at fostering and promoting the art of puppetry, such as training workshops for puppeteers, exhibitions of the various kinds of wayang found in Indonesia and wayang performances.
In the past two years, the paguyuban has held five exhibitions, with its most recent a workshop and exhibition of Betawi shadow puppets at TMII in April.
The community also takes part in an annual puppetry festival held in July by the Indonesia Puppeteers Association. Last year, it hosted the festival.
Although some of the young puppeteers who study at the pagu-yuban are students from schools in Jakarta, Reinel Litana, the Pepadi treasurer in Jakarta, said the pagu-yuban would approach international schools in Jakarta to introduce puppetry either as an extracurricular course or even part of the curriculum.
"Six months is all a student needs to be able to become a puppeteer," said Litana, who has been working with Rohmad for six years.
And with the center currently in use only a few days a week, Litana encourages other groups to use the place for rehearsals.
"They just need to tell us to put their name on the list and we will arrange the schedule," he said.