• April 22, 2021, 1:05 a.m.
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  • Public

I returned home one weekend to celebrate my niece Gira’s birthday. It was fun, with lots of good food and cakes. I’d played with her and her brothers too. Because of my teaching schedules on Saturday, I went home right after the birthday party was over. It was okay because I’d stayed over the rest of the weekend too.

That late afternoon, the kids were playing. Ganesh-ku, the eldest (pre-teen) was busy playing an online game indoor. His younger siblings were outside, splashing and spraying water at each other. I could hear them giggling and squealing at the driveway.

Then suddenly, an *ondel-ondel passed in front of our family home. As predicted, my second nephew Gyan-ku turned his back on it. He also looked a little bit tensed. His younger siblings, Gira the birthday girl, and Gama, noticed that and started to giggle. It is no longer a secret in our family.

“Gyan’s afraid of ondel-ondel.”

“Oh.” I thought that nine-year-old boy had already moved past that phase. Curious, I asked him: “Why? You know there’s only a person inside it. It’s just a costume.”

He cringed. “But that looks creepy!”

“Hmm, maybe only creepy at night.” I sort of agreed with Gyan-ku. “But how about during the day?”

“I don’t like people who hide their identities.”

Now, that’s a smart answer coming from a boy. I don’t know if that also includes superheroes in costumes or clowns at birthday parties. I understand how he must feel every time he sees them, though:


Masks, Makeups, and Costumes: The Hidden Identities and The Reasons

When he was much younger, Gyan-ku was afraid of ondel-ondel as bad as some people may fear clowns. He probably wouldn’t feel bad if he learned that yes, some adults still have that phobia. Besides, if they feel the need to, there are therapists to help them.

Of course, not all people who cover their faces have ill intentions. For starters, we wear masks today because we have to. Although you can now access the vaccination, there’s still no guarantee that you can get away from Covid-19.

We hide half of our faces to protect ourselves from the possibility of getting infected by that virus. At least, our eyes are still very much visible. (Well, unless you like wearing sunglasses as I do too sometimes when I go out.)

Then, there are those wearing masks, makeups, and/or costumes for fun. Clowns at birthday parties and carnivals. Cosplayers during Halloween and Comic-cons. If there are kids or people afraid of looking at them, then that’s another story.

After that, there are people who hide their faces for their own self-protection. It’s not always criminal. Perhaps it’s just their custom.

Maybe they have sensitive skin. Maybe they’re insecure about their looks or the scars on their faces. Maybe they’re sort of like Erik from “The Phantom of The Opera”. I mean, who knows?

Imagine that – once you remove your mask, all hells break loose. Children will start crying, people will start screaming and running away. Plenty of them might end up having nightmares…

I know, I know. That may sound too much for you, but you know what I mean.

Some people are just plain insecure with their outer looks. Especially those who have experienced bullying for years. They begin to feel ugly and don’t feel like having people look at them.

Of course, I’m afraid that any child, not even a smart boy like Gyan-ku, will ever be ready for this:

Sometimes some people don’t bother trying to hide their true evil side behind their masks. They’re not always physically ugly or hideous-looking. In fact, most of them may look averagely human. So normal that they appear almost harmless at first.

Honestly, I don’t know how ready Gyan-ku might be for any of that. I hope he and all the children in the world will never ever have to deal with such monsters. I myself have seen plenty – and even come face to face with one of them – and still haven’t fully recovered from such experiences…


*Ondel-ondel is a form of folk performance using large puppets. It originated from Betawi, Indonesia, and is often performed in festivals. The word ondel-ondel refers to both the performance and the puppet.

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