Yoke thé

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Yoke thé and puppet master

Yoke thé (Burmese: ရုပ်သေး; MLCTS: rupse:, IPA: [joʊʔ θé], literally "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 thé performances originated from royal patronage and were gradually adapted for the wider populace. Yoke thé are almost always performed in operas.

Burmese marionettes are very intricate and dexterous as they employ 18 or 19 wires for male and female characters respectively, and each puppet is controlled by only one puppeteer.


The probable date of the origin of Burmese marionettes is given as around 1780 during the reign of Singu Min, and their introduction is credited to the Minister of Royal Entertainment, U Thaw. From their inception, marionettes grew in popularity in the courts of the Konbaung dynasty. Little has changed since the creation of the art by U Thaw, and the set of characters developed by him is in use today. Until the conquest of Upper Burma by the British in late 1885 during the Third Anglo-Burmese War, yoke thé troupes thrived under royal patronage.

List of characters[edit]

Yoke thé troupe in Bagan, May 2010
Traditional Burmese Commandar-in-chief Marionette

A Burmese marionette troupe has 27 character figures.

  1. Nat votaress (နတ်ကတော်ရုပ်, Nat Kadaw) – two figures
  2. Horse (မြင်း,Myin) – one figure
  3. Elephant (ဆင်, Hsin) – two figures (one white, one black)
  4. Tiger (ကျား, Kyar) – one figure
  5. Monkey (Myauk) – one figure
  6. Parrot (Thalika) – two figures
  7. Alchemist (ဇော်ဂျီ, Zawgyi) – one figure
  8. Minister (Wungyi) – four figures
  9. King (Mintayar gyi) – one figure
  10. Prince (မင်းသား, Minthar) – one figure
  11. Princess (မင်းသမီး, Minthami) – one figure
  12. Prince Regent (Uparaja or Ain-shei-Minthar) – two figures (one white-faced, one red-faced)
  13. Brahmin (ပုဏ္ဏား, Ponenar) – one figure
  14. Hermit (Yathei) – one figure
  15. Nat (နတ်, 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 traditional Burmese orchestra known as a hsaing waing usually provides the music. The puppeteers themselves often provide the voices of the characters.

Political role[edit]

The Burmese court was concerned with preserving the dignity of its members, and marionettes were often used to preserve the esteem of persons who had erred. The king could reprimand his children or his wife in this way by asking the puppeteers to put on a parable warning errant children or careless wives about their reckless ways. While the reprimand would be obvious to anyone who was in the know, it would largely pass unheeded by the people looking on, something that had a great deal of value in a court that could, and did, contain hundreds of people.

Burmese marionettes also served as a conduit between the ruler and his subjects. Many times, people would ask the puppeteers to mention in a veiled fashion a current event or warning to the ruler. Thus, information or popular discontent could be transferred on without any disrespect, as marionettes could say things that a human could be punished for with death.[1]


Yoke thé troupes, like most artisans in pre-colonial Burma alongside the Sangha, enjoyed great royal patronage. However, like most forms of traditional artwork, the support dried up upon the colonisation of Upper Burma by the British in November 1885 following the Third Anglo-Burmese War.


In the late 1990s, General Khin Nyunt of the ruling junta lent official support to marionette actors and troupes,[2] reviving a rapidly dying tradition. Nowadays, marionettes are very common in tourist attractions and also amongst the populace, and they have resumed their role of relatively safe political satire reflecting popular discontent.

A new genre of yoke thé is emerging where a character and a real life actor perform the same feat, usually with the yoke thé puppets able to mimic and sometimes out-perform their human counterparts.


  1. ^ "History of Marionettes". Puppetsnow.com. Retrieved 22 December 2013.
  2. ^ Monique Skidmore (2005). Burma at the Turn of the 21st Century. Honolulu, Hi.: University of Hawaiʻi Press. p. 242. ISBN 978-0-8248-2857-8.