HUN KRABORK - THAI PUPPET
The origins of Hun Krabok, a type of puppetry, can be traced back to A.D. 1892. According to the book "San Somdet" (The Prince's Message) written by Prince Dumrong, Hun kabok first appeared in A.D. 1892 in Sukhothai Province in lower northern Thailand and the person who first created the puppet is Mr. Neng.
About a year later, Hun Krabok made its first appearance in Bangkok in A.D. 1893 when M.R. Toh Payakasena formed a troupe to perform Hun Krabok. This led to the golden age of Hun Krabok performing troupes and the performance of this kind of puppetry reached its height in popularity among lay people.
Hun Krabok figures are made of lightly wood of some kinds (e.g.,cotton wood). The puppet's head, which requires much work and attention during the production of a puppet, measures about 10-15 cm in diameter. At first glance, a puppet looks very much like human being. But at a close look, we can see its structure as being consisted of a bamboo core with a diameter of 3-5 cm and about 50 cm long. This bamboo core is attached to the puppet's head, and the puppet is then covered by the delicately decorated costume. The costume represents an elaborate work of art and needs to be used with much care.
Performing the puppet is not an easy task. The pupeteer moves his body as if he is dancing while holding the puppet and dubbing for each figure. During the show, only the puppet's upper half is seen by audience, while the lower part which is attached to the bamboo core is hidden.
In overall manner, it seems that all performing troupes have similar ways of performing, but whin closely observed we can notice that each troupe has unique performing style. Following are examples of how different troupes employ their idiosymcratic ways of performance.
For the Nai Wing troupe, it is noted that each of puppeteers holds the puppet with his right hand and the stick with the left hand while other troupes do the reverse.
In the troupe led by Master Chuen Sakulkaew, all beginning puppeteers are demanded at the early stage of training to hold the puppet by centering the bamboo core (as a handle) in a bowl. In this way, puppeteers would be able to control the movement of puppet in the way they want.
For national artist Chakkrabhand Posayakrit, he incorporates different posture or movements from various masters (e.g., Master Chuen Sakulkaew and Master Wong Ruamsuk) into his own ways of puppet playing. As a puppeteer, Chakkrabhand is famous for performing key characters in Ramakien, including Phra Ram, Sida, and Benchakuy.
In sum, Hun Krabok performance is not paralleled to mask dance and theater in the sense that it is only a puppet show, not a show performed by real human beings. However, Hun Krabok is regarded as a high art form for it emphasizes the expression of moods, actions, and dance styles.