Art & Culture

Yoke the (Miniatures)

Yoke the (miniatures) is the Burmese name for marionette puppetry. Although the term can be used for marionettery in general, its usage usually refers to the local form of string puppetry. Like most of Burmese refined art, Yoke the performances originated from Royal patronage and were gradually adapted for the wider populace. Yoke the are almost always performed in operas.
     Burmese marionettes are very intricate and dexterous as they employ 18 (for male characters) or 19 (for female) wires, each puppet controlled only by one puppeteer.

     The probable origin of Burmese marionettes is given as around 1780 during the reign of Singu Min and is credited to the Minister of Royal Entertainment, U Thaw. From its inception, marionettes grew in popularity in the courts of the Konbaung dynasty. Little has changed since its creation by U Thaw, and the same set of characters developed by him have been in use til today. Till the conquest of Upper Burma by the British in late 1885, Yoke the troupes enjoyed royal patronage and thrived due to the financial support.

     A Burmese marionette troupe must have 27 character figures.
  1. Nat votaress (Nat Kadaw) - two figures
  2. Horse (Myin) - one figure
  3. Elephant (Hsin) - two figures (one white, one black)
  4. Tiger (Kyar) - one figure
  5. Monkey (Myauk) - one figure
  6. Parrot (Thalika) - two figures
  7. Alchemist (Zawgyi) - one figure
  8. Minister (Wungyi) - four figures
  9. King (Mintayar gyi) - one figure
  10. Prince (Minthar) - one figure
  11. Princess (Minthami) - one figure
  12. Prince Regent (Uparaja or Ain-shei-Minthar) - two figures (one white-faced, one red-faced)
  13. Brahmin (Ponenar) - one figure
  14. Hermit (Yathei) - one figure
  15. Nat (Nat) - one figure
  16. Deva (Maha Deiwa) - one figure
  17. Old man (Apho-O) - one figure
  18. Old woman (Aphwa-O) - one figure
  19. Buffoon (Lu phyet) - two figures

     A hsaing waing, a traditional Burmese orchestra usually provides the music. The puppeteers themselves usually provide the voice of the characters.

     Puppetry is the most popular show in Myanmar arts and culture. The puppets are backed by expert manipulators who conversed, joked and relative humorous stories through their puppets to the delight of the audience. At least four manipulators took charge of a character using handling rods and strings at the back of the curtain and give voice to the puppets. Puppets are beautifully dressed in lavish embellishment with gilded materials and semi precious gems, depends on their characters.
     Puppet shows usually take place at pagoda festivals, which are like country fairs. Marionette theatre is now mostly confined to tourist venues in Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan.