The Setia Darma Masks & Puppets House Located in Sukawati is a unique museum with a mission to preserve some of Indonesia’s most colourful heritage items. It serves as a great cultural and educational part of tours to central Bali, ideal for families and culture lovers, with its broad collection of items from around the world. The house currently houses over a 1,000 masks and over 4,000 puppets from all over the Indonesian archipelago, Africa, China, Latin America and Europe.
This unique ‘courtyard of houses’ to be precise, is located in the cool and quiet village of Tegal Bingin in Sukawati, 17km south from the main Ubud hub and roughly an hour’s drive from Denpasar. Artist-curator Agustinus Prayitno decided to establish the house in Sukawati, the district famous for its community of Balinese woodcarvers, mask makers and sculptors. The courtyard comprises five traditional wooden Balinese pavilions and Javanese ‘joglo’ and ‘limasan’ houses that each house vast collections in different categories. The houses are spread over 1.4 hectares of an undulating paddy landscape and surrounded by well-manicured tropical gardens.
Setia Darma’s first joglo features traditional shadow puppets, some quirky and contemporary such as Prayitno’s own ‘self portraiture’ and that of Barack Obama. The latter was crafted during the US presidential elections and will surely become an historical event. Other specimens line the walls based on origin, and after a while you’ll find that each bear unique characteristics, yet draw inspiration from similar sources, such as the Hindu epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana. Specimens from around the world include Sicilian stick puppets dating back to the 16th century and marionettes reminiscent of Pinocchio, together with highly detailed Bunraku idols from Japan from the 18th century.
The second house features Indonesia’s most iconic heritage in puppetry, the leather shadow puppets. Made from cured cowhide, these puppets, known as ‘wayang kulit’, are the ones you typically see at temple anniversaries or during ceremonies celebrating Balinese rites of passage, performed by a ‘dalang’ or puppet master at night behind a flickering oil lamp and screen. The characters similarly draw from great Hindu epics, and convey words of wisdom and lessons of good conduct to audiences. The collection in the third house comprises a rich variety of traditional and usually sacred masks, while the fourth has more contemporary specimens collected from local village craftsmen.
The fifth wooden house is all about Balinese puppets and masks, from ancient and sacred to the contemporary. The former includes the intricately carved masks and full-body costumes of the barong and rangda, two mythical characters from the Calonarang legend that depict the forces of good and evil respectively. As you go from house to house, you will be inspired by Bali and Indonesia’s rich culture and history of storytelling, alongside their parallels from different cultures from all over the globe. Each mask and puppet is accompanied by detailed descriptions.