Between Asia and Africa, the islands of the Indian Ocean are places of great cultural hybridity. However, we do not have evidence of a strong tradition of puppetry. Significant understanding of the development of Malagasy puppets (see Madagascar) has appeared only recently, though it is possible that new evidence will emerge to enrich our understanding. 

The Comoros Islands

In the Comoros Islands, the “wedding doll” is a kind of puppet. The figurine, which represents the bride-to-be, is not a toy in the ordinary sense but relates only adult concerns. It goes everywhere with the groom in place of his fiancée who, according to traditional bridal customs, is temporarily in seclusion. Thus, as tradition dictates in the Grand Comoros, the figurine acts as the wife in a fictitious first marriage. It is called mri (piece of wood), and it is a reminder that, in many Comorian tales, a tree magically becoming a woman is a repeated theme.

On the island of Anjou, this doll is very tall, well crafted and richly adorned by the mother and sisters of the bride. It is installed in a chair and paraded with great pomp throughout the city during the wedding festivities.

Réunion Island

The art of puppetry found in Réunion (technically part of France) can be traced back to the 19th century. It is said that a certain Pa Benjamin, a former slave, who arrived on the island with the first settlers from Madagascar, won great success by having a couple of garishly dressed puppets named “M’sié Bernard and M’amzelle Zabeth” dance to the sound of his bobre (musical bow of Malagasy origin). The puppets were operated by a taut wire looped between the legs of the showman and a stick planted in the ground. The type of manipulation was similar to the technique called “à la planchette”, or jigging puppet. In the Album de l’île de la Réunion (Album of the Réunion Island), the scenes assigned to this pair of figures sometimes included mimed sexual intercourse.

An old postcard entitled “Guignol indigène: Bernard et Zabeth” (Native Guignol: Bernard and Zabeth) documents the same show. It is assumed that there were several such itinerant puppeteer-musicians, but, while the origins of this show seem to be in Madagascar, we have no trace of the performance there.

On the island of Réunion, ethnic and cultural blending is an essential reality. A group founded in 1984 by Réunion’s Baguette (birth name Patrick Huguet who died in 2000), the Koméla company gears its aesthetic towards object theatre and material theatre. It uses different techniques: glove puppets, Muppet-like puppets, shadows, and street theatre. In its artistic expression, the company is uninhibited in incorporating whatever is needed and taking its performances to the audiences in outdoor street events. It uses salt, rice, plastic bags, a mill pounder, or so many everyday objects that are now given another life, a different role. The group does not hesitate to have the puppets perform in Creole and the company also offers popular versions of Creole theatre taking its performances to the streets. Some titles are: Koler i lé – Domounité (1994), Selavi ou Comment la mer devint salés (Selavi or How the Sea Became Salty, 1996), So Riz La (So the Rice, 1998).

Mention should also be made of Jean-Luc Vasina, an artist who arrived in La Réunion in 1983, because of a meeting with Baguette in Paris. Nicknamed the “Wizard of childhood”, Vasina builds, directs and teaches puppetry to schoolchildren.

Founded by French Pascale Chaffanel after her arrival in Réunion in 1991, the Dadzibao company integrates puppets, actors, songs, imaginary language, dance, and objects. Whether in her miniature or mask theatre, Pascale Chaffanel mixes African, Asian, Latin, and Malagasy cultures. Her work with masks and colours is predominant and gives the group an original visual and emotional richness. She develops installation events or “happenings”, as well as leads training courses offered by the company. Some titles of her shows are: Tristam (1994), Stratagème (1995), Ti-Bonheur (1996).

Theatre Alberts (Théâtre des Alberts, founded in 1994) is led by Vincent Legrand who trained in Komela before continuing his work with more traditional style puppets and Muppet-style puppets. The group’s eighteenth production was Théodore, le passager du rêve (Theodore, the Dream Passenger), based on the work of Joelle Ecormier, the Réunion author. The group, in 2010, with the help from the government was running a national festival TAM TAM for puppetry and visual theatre.


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  • Darkowska-Nidzgorski, Olenka, and Denis Nidzgorski. Marionnettes et masques au cœur du théâtre africain [Puppets and Masks at the Heart of African Theatre]. Saint-Maur: Sépia, Charleville-Mézières, Institut international de la marionnette, 1998.
  • La Selve, Jean-Pierre. Musiques traditionnelles de la Réunion [Traditional Music of La Réunion]. “Documents et recherches” [Document and Research] series. No. 12. Saint-Denis: Fondation pour la recherche et le développement dans l’océan Indien, 1984.
  • Roussin, Antoine. Album de l’île de la Réunion [Record of the Reunion Island]. 4 vols. Saint-André: Éditions Océan, 1991 (facsimile 2nd ed. 1879-1883).
  • “Theatre des Alberts, la compagnie” [Theatre of Alberts the Company]. Koler i lé Accessed 17 June 2013.