“Hun Lakorn Lek” Thai traditional puppetry performance
  • Manage No, Sortation, Country, Writer ,Date, Copyright
    Manage No EE00001973
    Country Thailand
    ICH Domain Performing Arts
    The origin of this particular form of puppetry performance art can be dated back around 120 years ago. It was first established under King Rama IV’s rule during the Rattanakosin period. Hun Lakorn Lek never spread very widely around the country since the knowledge and instruction around it were limited by the families of the masters who initiated the performance. Later on, this form of puppetry performance was passed on to Sakorn Young Khiao Sod who was a student of its originator. In 1985 it was re-performed for the first time in more than 50 years as wars, political issues and a lack of transmission almost brought the practice to extinction. Since its revival performances have been based mostly in Bangkok, with some of the troupes who have received instruction in the techniques involved in this performance offer shows for events or private occasions.
Description Among the various types of Thai traditional puppet performances, “Hun Lakorn Lek” is one that stands out. This type of puppet is distinct from other typical Thai forms 0f puppetry, as normally the marionettes will only have moving heads and hands on an otherwise static body. In contrast, Hun Lakorn Lek is performed with figures that are completely moveable, allowing head, body, arms and legs to act independently. This results in a puppet that, if operated with masterly skill, can move like a real human. This impression is further strengthened by the well-measured proportions of the puppet, which also match those of real humans, albeit at a smaller scale. The puppets are used to perform a wide repertoire of stories that mostly draw on traditional Thai literature with some exceptions that instead depict contemporary tales. Since the ancient civilizations of Southeast Asia have long been influenced by Indian cultures there is a clear impact of Indic mythology in traditional Thai art and literature, which is also evident in the traditional puppet shows. One of the most well-known myths with Indian origins in Thai culture is the Ramayana. This epic follows the life of Rama, from the time when he was a prince of Ayodhya city in the kingdom of Kosala and got exiled in the forest for fourteen years by his father. The tale picks up in intensity when Rama’s wife Sita got kidnapped by Ravana, king of Lanka, one of Rama’s enemies over whom he manages to triumph in the end. After returning back to Ayodhya with his wife, the successful Rama is crowned as king. However, when Thai poets learned about this story they also adapted and rewrote it into a new version known in Thai as “Ramakien" in order to make the story fit better with the local background.
Social and cultural significance What is crucial about this performing art is not only the theatrical dance itself but also the many further elements that it combines into its shows. For one, all the attire of the puppets is made of real fabric with the design mostly inspired by the dresses of the Thai traditional masked dance known as “Khon”. The puppets are also not limited only to human figures but can include a vast cast, such as Chinese junks, mysterious creatures and some sea animals that feature in the detailed storylines. While manipulating their puppets and all their props, Hun Lakorn Lek puppeteers are often dressed all in black, with some even wearing black masks. The motivation behind this choice is to allow the audience to fully focus on the puppets, which they move in unison with their bodies in order to bring them to life with fluid and realistic movements. Thus, “Hun Lakorn Lek” is an art form that combines many art fields, such as dance, craftsmanship, fine arts, music, decorative arts and literature. This artform expresses like now other the unique identity, culture, beliefs and wisdom of Thai society. To give but one example of the holistic character of these performances, consider the rich exposition of Thai social sensibilities that are expressed in Hun Lakorn Lek performances of the Ramayana, with their portrayal of good deeds, ideas of respect and a deeply rooted sense of grace.
Transmission method The performance has been passed on from the past to present within initiated theater troupes, especially through the “Joe Louis Puppet Theater”, which brought this art form to public attention again. Since then, only a few groups still perform this form of theater because it requires considerable expertise and time to keep this practice alive. Aspiring puppet performers must first acquire the basics of Khon Drama for at least 6 years and then spend another 2 years learning about the puppets’ mechanisms. In spite of facing many challenges, such as financial problems, political instability and, most recently, the ongoing pandemic, there are practitioners who have attempted to keep the practice going. The most renowned one in recent years has been the puppet show at “The Artist House” in the Klong Bang Luang historic community. The old house in the community was renovated and transformed into an open space for artists and their exhibitions as well as for art lovers. They offer shows for visitors which apply a modern art style and storylines, but still retain the uniquely beautiful Thai identity. It is their own answer to the challenge of attracting younger generations while transmitting and keeping intact this type of artistic performance. Importantly, the puppeteers engaged in the shows are youths who live in the community and mostly study Khon with affection and a strong passion for their heritage.
Community The Thai traditional puppetry troupe that reintroduced the practice of Hun Lakorn Lek under the master “Sakorn Young Khiao Sod” is called “Joe Louis Puppet Theater”, named after the master’s stage name. Joe Louis Puppet Theater has been performing different forms of traditional Thai theater and been home to many practitioners, some of which went on to found their own theater troupes for conserving these practices. One of these is the Kamnai group, highly skilled puppeteers who dress in all black with black masks during their displays of “Hun Lakorn Lek” in order not to let their bodies’ movements disturb the focus on the puppets. Another example of a troupe dedicated to this form of theater is the Wayu Buth group, made up of skillful youths who admire this Thai performance art and are eager to preserve this heritage for the next generation.

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