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Marionette theatre or Yokthe Pwe was founded in the 18th century by U Thaw the newly appointed Minister of Fine Arts.  This was his solution to the problem of having live performers portray explicitly romantic scenes on stage.  Modesty prevented this, and religious sensibilities prevented the portrayal of Buddha.  The use of little wooden people, allowed performances of religious and moral tales to continue in an entertaining medium.


The Burmese compare their music to "the rustling of the wind through the leaves of the rose apple tree".  Excerpts from the original Yokthe Pwe followed the opening musical interlude.  There was an introduction and commentary in English and we were to hear the same recording wherever we went.  You will probably come across several puppet shows during your trip.  One of the most charming was at the Nanda restaurant in Bagan where the puppeteers brought some of their characters to our table for a visit after the performance.  

In accordance with Buddhist doctrine U Thaw directed that there be 28 different characters, including animals and supernatural beings.  They are recognized by their headdress, costume and signature tunes.  Each handmade puppet is 2.5 to 3 feet tall and beautifully carved.  The costumes are those specified by U Thaw. 

On some puppets strings can even manipulate the chin, knuckles, eyelids and brows not to mention the moustache.  The figures are extremely lifelike, sixty strings control the priestess.

Traditionally the puppeteer was a man with the skill and versatility to manipulate the puppet, sing and narrate, often at the same time. 

 These days when the curtain rises as it does periodically to allow us to see the performers, there are men and women on stage.

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