TRADITIONAL shadow theater was historically a staple of Damascus cafe life, as story tellers used  animal-skin puppets to entertain their audiences with tall tales, satire, songs and verse.

Last week, the U.N.'s cultural agency UNESCO added Syrian shadow puppetry to its list of intangible heritage in urgent need of saving, noting its long decline in the face of modern forms of  entertainment and the displacement caused by war.

''Until three or five days ago, it was an art that didn't provide bread. Now we are thinking of buying bread and eating bread...........I hope for the better,'' said Shadi al-Hallaq, the last puppeteer.

When he took it up in his late teens in 1993, traditional shadow puppetry was already all but forgotten and his family worried he could never make it his living.

He revived the art from old stories and  history books, and made the puppets himself. They are crafted from camel, cow or donkey hide and each character represents a particular social trait. [Agencies]


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