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Shadow Puppetry and Puppetry in General

There is no exact and accurate historical record of where puppetry first began. Most scholars tend to give varied estimates. Many of them, however, agree that the oldest expression of this art form will have to be shadow puppetry which has started in China. Other accounts gave the period of the caveman as a probable time of the early beginnings of puppetry, more specifically, of shadow puppetry when people living in that era made use of their hands and their shadows as reflected in caves in order to express their primitive ideas. Whatever version one decides to believe in, there can be no argument that puppetry has been with us since the ancient times, and as early as over 2,000 years ago.

As mentioned above, shadow puppets was first recorded in ancient China.

Back then, the puppets were made from a variety of animal skins, namely stretched donkey skin, dried sheep skin, water buffaloes, pigs, or fish.

They were of translucent type and often colored with paint. The puppets were placed in front of the screen, with light passing through it. The audience usually have a clear view of the puppet's shadow on the other side.

Other countries, notably Turkey, made innovative changes in their puppets. Specifically, it decided to add waist movement to its shadow puppets. Arm movements were shifted to the side from its original location at the bottom, as initiated by the Chinese.

Many other countries soon made their own changes with regards to puppetry. Controls in the area of puppet operation were introduced. Also, the concept of developing different types of puppets began to take solid shape. The idea of coming up with a full-length story through a puppet theater also came into being.

In Rome, when barbarians invaded the nation, puppet theater quickly disappeared. However, traveling entertainers, which included jugglers, jesters, and puppeteers, tried to keep the puppetry industry alive as they travelled to different places. Eventually, puppetry got integrated in folk art.

When Christianity began to take root, puppetry also made a contribution. Missionaries, monks and other religious people made use of puppets to spread the word. A particularly well-loved scenario where puppets, and its succeeding version, the marionettes, were extensively used, is the Nativity, the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.

The humorous side of puppetry was started in the 14th century. Then, people involved in the puppetry business began to explore other themes, as puppet theater has resurrected and has sprouted quickly in Europe. By this time, shadow puppetry has been replaced by marionettes and other like forms.

Today, puppets are still being used in basically the same way as during the ancient times, which is, to tell a story and to entertain.

In the United States, puppets are quite popular, especially to children.

The shadow puppet is almost extinct, but there are still several countries, particularly those in Asia, Indonesia is a fine example, where shadow puppets are still being patronized, because more than entertainment, they help preserve a country's culture.


Please enjoy these free hand shadow puppets and learn interesting facts on shadow puppets. Learn to make hand shadow puppets and the history of making shadow puppets and hand puppets.Shadow puppets have a long history and lots of interesting shadow puppet and hand puppet facts exist. These free hand puppet examples are for you to try your hand at creating shadow puppets and hand puppets, and hopefully put on your very own shadow puppet show!

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Images and portions of the text by Henry Bursill and were originally published by Griffith and Farran in 1859.