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April 23, 2014

Singapore: A myriad of puppet shows in different regional vernaculars

This shall be the 1st post in 2014, my apologies for the delay. Been travelling around the globe, watching puppet performances and interacting with puppeteers but it takes effort to sit in front of the computer and put up a proper post. I shall start off with Chinese puppet theatre in Singapore where this site is based.

Singapore can be considered one of the few places that you can find a myriad of puppet and opera performances sung in different regional vernaculars within a small geographical distance. As had been introduced in the earlier posts, the current puppet types that are still being performed are:

1. Hainanese rod puppet (海南杖头木偶)
2. Henghua string puppet (兴化提线木偶)
3. Hokkien glove puppet (sung in the Gezaixi/Gezai opera style 福建/闽南布袋戏)
4. Teochew/Chaozhou iron-stick puppet (潮州铁枝木偶)

Although you may not be able to see such performances everyday, they will perform on an important occasion such as the celebration of the birthday of Mazu, also known as the Goddess of the Sea. It was her birthday yesterday which is the 23rd day of the third lunar month.

Hainanese rod puppet performance which starts off with a prelude of sending blessings to Goddess of Sea (who is also popularly known as Heavenly Empress/Tian Hou 天后) by the Eight Immortals (八仙) represented by eight puppets. 

Close up of the rod puppets (some puppets have movable parts at the eyes and mouth)

Hokkien string puppet performance at Thian Hock Keng (天福宫)

Teochew rod puppet at Wak Hai Cheng Beo (粤海清庙)

In Chinese/Taoist religious belief, specific deities may sometimes be worshipped only by some dialect groups. However, Mazu, a native from Meizhou Island, Putian (where Henghua or Xinghua people come from) is popularly worshipped by sojourners coming from different regions in Southern China, hence bringing together the various types of performances, opera and puppet theatre on this occasion. They are performed at different locations but it will not be too difficult to spot if you notice close enough.

Lastly, not forgetting to thank Chinatownboy who also blogs here for the pictures and videos!

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