Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is a geographic region south of China, east of India, west of New Guinea, and north of Australia. This includes countries like Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and others.

Southeast Asia is a tropical region with a monsoon climate. It has dense jungles and has many islands and coasts. The area is home to many fascinating animals, including the mouse deer, a small deer about the size of a cat and three different subspecies of tiger. Southeast Asian coral reefs have the highest marine biodiversity in the world.

The people of Southeast Asia are similarly diverse. Around 635 million people live in the region. The largest ethnic group in the area are the Java people of Indonesia, numbering about 145 million. There is a significant number of overseas Chinese immigrants, as well as Malaysians, Thai people and Vietnamese, as well as many other peoples.

The Museum of International Cultures has an exhibit on Southeast Asia. Our informational displays present information on each country within the region, but we also have displays of different aspects of the cultures, including:

Java Puppet (Wayang)

Wayang is the Javanese term for any type of theatre, including shadow puppetry, human theatre, and puppetry with wooden dolls. Occasionally wayang is used to describe the puppets themselves. It is frequently a type of shadow puppetry, where the puppets were moved behind a screen.

Wayang golek is the type of Indonesian puppetry involving wooden dolls. These wooden dolls are exquisitely crafted and, although they employ simple mechanics with rods to move their hands and a central control rod for the body, they are capable of closely imitating human movements, including dance.

Puppetry is a common art form throughout Asia. The puppets are used to tell local legends, epic myths and plays entirely invented by playwrights. In Indonesia, wayang characters are derived from the Hindu Mahabharata and Ramayana, or from the Panji cycles, stories native to Java. Although the characters are derived from this pool, the stories can vary widely.

At the Museum of International Cultures, we have an example of a wayang golek doll.

Cambodian Masks

Cambodian maskmaking is a traditional art closely associated with Cambodian theatre. The masks represented characters from the Ream Ke, the Cambodian version of the Indian epics and, by wearing the masks, the actors were said to become the characters. The two arts, theatre and maskmaking, were so closely linked that It was not uncommon for actors to both make and wear the masks.

At the Museum of International Cultures, we have examples of several different Cambodian masks, highlighting the creativity and diversity of the art.


The Museum of International Cultures also has examples of traditional Southeast Asian dress from several different cultures, demonstrating the differences between them—although they are geographically similar regions, their cultures are varied and distinct.