Journal of Southeast Asian Studies


Presidents as Punakawan: Portrayal of National Leaders as Clown-Servants in Central Javanese Wayang 1

Helen Pausacker a1
a1 The Asian Law Centre at the University of Melbourne. e-mail:

Article author query
pausacker h   [Google Scholar] 


The trend to portray Indonesian presidents as punakawan (clown servants) in wayang (shadow puppetry) was started under the former President Soeharto. Whereas Soeharto chose to be conveyed as Semar, a clown but also a former god, greater artistic freedom post-Soeharto led to a more farcical depiction of Habibie and Gus Dur as Semar's sons, Gareng and Bagong.


1 An earlier version of this article was presented to the Asian Studies Association of Australia, Indonesia Council Open Conference held at University of Melbourne on 10–11 July 2001. My thanks to Tim Lindsey, Kate McGregor, Lauren Bain and the two anonymous reviewers from JSEAS for comments on earlier drafts of this article, and to Barbara Hatley, Marshall Clark, Simon Williams, Lauren Bain and Don Emmerson for providing me with additional information and references.