Passing down Thai culture with puppets from sticky rice bamboo baskets and crafts

An impressive opening of “Kanahun Nawattasilp Mordindang” – student group performing groundbreaking puppet show created from Isan cultural root for people at all ages

On November 28, 2019 at 7 p.m. at Khun Sithan, KKU Culture Center, Khon Kaen University, “Kanahun Nawattasilp Mordindang,” or a group of students performing new style of puppet show, perform its puppet art for the first time in the project of ISAN Arts and Crafts Innovation, and in the theme of Maintaining Isan Art with Contemporary Puppet Show by KKU Culture Center, Khon Kaen University. The show was attended by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Niyom Wongpongkham, Vice President for Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy; Assoc. Prof. Maitree Inprasitha, Vice President for Education; assistants to the President, Director of KKU Culture Center, KKU staff and the great number of people. 

Maintaining Isan Art with Contemporary Puppet Show activity was proceeded under the project of  Isan Culture Innovation by KKU Culture Center from September 16 – November 23, 2019 at Chaisri temple, Sawatee Sub-district, Muang District in Khon Kaen and at Khum Sithan, KKU Culture Center. The objectives of this activity were 1) to create an area allowing students of KKU Culture Center network to understand Isan root as well as wisdom through the creation of contemporary puppet show collaborated with local artists and philosophers, and 2) to encourage students to use their creativity and skills for creating contemporary Isan puppet including Isan cultural materials in the new form that can represent identity of young generation in Isan. This activity will lead to awareness of Isan culatural preservation, revival, and passing down; and mutual learning between KKU and localartists who are Isan culture experts. This project started from inviting 30 students to join intensive workshop by local philosophers and culture scholars. They also presented Hup Taem – ancient Isan painting – to students to help them learn about roots of their local wisdom, performing art, local music, and the creation of puppet including shadow puppet by material in Isan. Learning about the creation would lead to new style of puppet made uniquely and skillfully with great imagination. Mainly, the puppets were made from crafts and sticky rice bamboo basket. With interesting contemporary movement pattern mixed with humor and moral, these puppet could attract so much attention from the audience that they came up with the first puppet performing group called “Kanahun Nawattasilp Mordindang” – a group of KKU’s innovated puppet show – by KKU Culture Center. The puppets and the show are from the creation of students participating in the workshop.

Mr. Pachaya Akkapram, a lecturer of Music and Performing Arts Program, Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts, and the trainer of “Kanahun Nawattasilp Mordindang,” said, “This  activity started from the idea of Assoc. Prof. Dr. Niyom Wongpongkham, Vice President for Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy. He thought of the groundbreaking style of art in the university. Moreover, I’m interested in contemporary puppet. From 2016-2019, I have also done the research on the creation of contemporary puppet show entitled Sin Chai to find the new style of puppet show. This idea can greatly inspire the new generation and widely promote Isan art including culture to people in general. When our students involved with this new idea, a new benchmark where our students can learn Isan art and culture in more various dimensions has begun. It’s also like opening our house to welcome experts and artists to share their knowledge to our students, such as making puppets from crafts and sticky rice bamboo baskets, presenting Hup Taem of Chaisri Temple, and teaching Isan literature. This knowledge will make students see the value and beauty of Isan art. Additionally, we invited expert lecturers from other institutes like Silpakorn University and Chulalongkorn University to sharpen students’ music and performing skills. We can say that Khon Kaen University has opened an area where the work of contemporary art rooted from Isan culture connects to people from other places. Then the dimension that people share knowledge would be interesting.”

“The group of “Kanahun Nawattasilp Mordindang” performs to the public for the first time, and it is the first KKU performing group that brings one of Sin Chai’s chapters entitled War of Underwater World to show in the form of puppets and shadow puppets to tell the story along with narration mixed with local Isan music perfectly matching with the story. Humor is also inserted in the narration to attract the audience and make them enjoy the show. The performers can control the puppets as if they were alive, and an impressive performance switching between puppets and shadow puppets can gain applause from the audience all through the show. Moreover, the performers give the audience an opportunity to see the puppet closely, try to play them, and take a photo with them so that the audience will feel that they were part of the show.”

“We can see contemporary puppet show in 2 perspectives. First, the story can relate to people in current situations, for example, good governance or other ideas that we want to convey can be added in the story. Second, design and performing techniques can attract the audience. I really hope that this puppet show can be a cultural ambassador telling other people that we are preserving our culture to pass down to young generation in the future,” said Mr. Pachaya Akkapram.

Puppet performance which is a kind of cultural entertainment can attract people at all ages because it has a long history with people. It was developed from beliefs as well as rites, and later became entertainment that appears in different regions of Thailand. It is an enjoyable performance and filled with aesthetics. Furthermore, it was used to teach moral and knowledge to people. It has been reckoned that shadow puppet in Isan occurred after Isan people had moved to work in the south of Thailand or people from the south had come to work in Isan and brought shadow puppets or Nang Talung with them. Then the art of shadow puppet was adapted to Isan culture and became another form of show – Nang Pramotai or Nang Baktue in local dialect. Later, it became Isan puppet because of the influence from central region. The last type of puppet is creative puppets developed by artists and developers using creative ideas to make puppet show for improving young people and communities in Isan. We can see that puppet show in Isan is valuable, important, and beneficial to culture and art work. It is a kind of art filled with creativity, beauty, and Isan identity.  


News/ photos:    Udomchai Supanavong

Thank you Facebook Page of Creative Activities Promotion Department, KKU Culture Center, Khon Kaen University 

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