Borneo Rainforest Shadow Play

In my last post I spoke of the tales I have to tell. I want my kids to hear them, to live and breathe them. Because I love the mysterious Borneo rainforest and its quirky characters. Because my childhood legs ran on dirt tracks through jungle and plantation in Malaysia. Because the Borneo rainforest is disappearing.

Maybe if my kids and others know what I know, they would want to protect it too. So I started making shadow puppets and theatre screens. I tried to honour the story of the animals endangered due to deforestation by using ethical and sustainable materials that are biodegradable. You can get the details here.

Then we took the kids to the park one evening when the weather was fine and strung up a shadow puppet screen. As the sun set and cast its golden light onto the screen the kids played in their Borneo rainforest. Kids take an idea and make up their own plots. This is how they take ownership of the narrative. It’s how they learn to identify with the characters and problem solve. I let them run with that.

Sunset shadow play in the park
Sunset shadow play in the park

For the 2017 Coburg Night Market, I shared a stall with Vanessa Ellis from When The Cat’s Away Puppets. I set up a shadow play booth and hung batik screens that I painted to create a rainforest set under the marquee. The shadow play booth consisted of a light box made from a crate, unbleached muslin, yarn and upcycled fabric, and a fabric cubby house made with jute ribbon and upcycled fabric leaves.

Puppet theatre at the Coburg Night Market
Puppet theatre at the Coburg Night Market
Shadow play booth at the Coburg Night Market
Shadow play booth at the Coburg Night Market

Orangutan shadow play at the Coburg Night Market
Orangutan shadow play at the Coburg Night Market

For each rainforest character, I wrote a short narrative that I could tell the kids. Here they are.

Hornbill shadow puppet behind the screen
Hornbill shadow puppet behind the screen

Listen for Nutmeg. Crowned like a chief, wings so wide and tail so fancy. But this rhinoceros hornbill has more than just swagger. She picks berries and glides through the treetops with a magnificent swoosh, planting new trees along the way because she is the gardener of the Borneo rainforest.


Elephant shadow puppet behind the screen
Elephant shadow puppet behind the screen

Bump into Rambles, the pygmy elephant, as her wanderlust takes her as far as 48km across Borneo a day. Imagine the adventures she’s had! She loves durian so much she rolls the spiky fruit in mud and swallows it whole. Durian trees grow all over the rainforest thanks to her, the traveller that gives back.


Orangutan shadow puppet behind the screen
Orangutan shadow puppet behind the screen

Watch Borneo’s little acrobat, Napkin, eat fruit upside down and wipe juice off his chin with a handful of leaves. What style! He’s just casually hanging with his mad hair and fellow baby orangutans, sometimes sheltering under a really big leaf from the rain and sun. Tropical seedlings only sprout because he spreads digested seeds during his agile antics.


Fire shadow puppet behind the screen
Fire shadow puppet behind the screen

Lit by stealth, fire burns Borneo. A ravenous hunger sucking up fuel from drained peatland, sucking the life out of the trees and withering them, surrounding the animals, consuming everything and yet, still empty. As it sucks it belches a yellow haze, poisoning lungs, blotting out the sun as it fills the skies with as much carbon as the US would daily, warming the earth further.


Monsoon shadow puppet behind the screen
Monsoon shadow puppet behind the screen

At last, dark towers bubble on the horizon as the monsoon blows in. Then it is raining sideways. A torrent drilling into the baked earth, flushing away the violent fires, the brutal loss and the cruel worry. Thundering down, lakes swelling in the grasses, wind catching raindrops mid fall and making them dance in the air like schools of fish. The Borneo rainforest takes a deep breath and rises again.


The shadow puppets now hang from a tree branch that I turned into a mini rainforest as decorations beside their fabric puppet theatre until the kids are ready for another show.

Ronella from Telling Tales

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s