Meet Sesame Street’s Global Cast of Characters
Over the course of the more than 50 years that the program has been on the air, Sesame Street has spawned versions in countries around the world
Abelardo- Mexico Plaza Sésamo
The American version of Sesame Street turns 52 years old this year, but Sesame Workshop currently co-produces local shows in 18 countries, each with their own, unique and culturally specific characters. Mexico’s Plaza Sésamo, which currently airs in 34 countries, was one of the first co-productions the company undertook in 1972. Abelardo is a giant parrot and Big Bird’ cousin. Just like his American counterpart, Abelardo is a full-body puppet, which means a person operates his movements from inside the costume, unlike the puppet-style muppets. Abelardo is the developmental age of a preschooler, slightly younger than his American cousin.
Chamki- India Galli Galli Sim Sim
The international co-productions undertake issues specific to that country or region. India’s Galli Galli Sim Sim focuses on boosting the literacy rate of girls in the country, which lags behind the boys. (UNICEF estimated the male youth literacy rate at 87, and the female rate at 77 in 2006-2007.) To do so they created an adventurous female muppet, five-year-old Chamki, to serve as a role model. Chamki solves problems during a segment where she is known as “Detective Chamki” and wears a generic blue and white school uniform to avoid assigning her a specific cultural ethnicity. Because of India’s diverse ethnic groups, it’s important that girls can identify with her regardless of their personal background.
Kami- South Africa Takalani Sesame
Issues that aren’t as relevant to American audiences take center stage in some international versions. Kami, an asymptomatic, HIV-positive 5-year-old girl whose mother died of AIDS, made her debut on Takalani Sesame in September 2002. By creating her, Sesame Workshop hopes to encourage children to talk about HIV and AIDS and dispel misinformation such as the idea that using the same toilet as a person with HIV/AIDS is dangerous. On the show, Kami tells children to let someone know when they’re feeling sick and that people need to help each other cheer up. Her name stems from kamogelo, a Setswana word that means “acceptance.”
Hilda- Northern Ireland Sesame Tree
The American production's urban street is replaced with settings more familiar to local audiences. In Northern Ireland, folklore tells of a “fairy tree” inhabited by magical forces. Hilda, an adventurous Irish hare, lives in the tree with Potto and other characters on Sesame Tree, the co-production Sesame Workshop based off this legend. When children submit a question through the Big, Whizzing Machine, for the pair to investigate, Hilda jets off with her cell phone to find whomever might have the answer, such as a set of quintuplets who talk about the importance of sharing.
Griotte- France 5 Rue Sésame
One of the goals of the French co-production, Rue Sésame, is to integrate storylines that include children with disabilities. Griotte, a 7-year-old girl who uses a wheelchair, and sign language segments featuring hearing-impaired children teaching simple sign language phrases work toward this end. Griotte’s wheelchair is an actual racing-style chair designed for a small child. Griotte is popular with the other children on the show and often offers them rides in her chair.
Karim (left), and Haneen (right)- Palestinian territory Shara’a Simsim
The character of Karim, a 7-year-old rooster, actively works to counter the stereotype that Arabs are always late, says Sesame Workshop. Shara’a Simsim’s executive director notes that young boys in Palestine feel pressure to defend their families and can get upset when they can’t. Karim was designed to serve as a proud role model for these boys. Karim’s friend Haneen, an outgoing 5-year-old girl Muppet, helps empower young Palestinian girls. While the show does not make direct references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, messages are included that help children cope with the ideas of acceptance and tolerance.
Khokha- Egypt Alam Simsim
Khokha, whose name means “peach” in Arabic, is the star of Sesame Workshop’s Egyptian co-production, Alam Simsim. She began appearing on Egyptian television in 2000. Khokha serves as a role model for young girls who are just beginning school as she loves to explore future careers including writer, police officer and astronaut. The idea that little girls can grow up to be doctors and young boys can help their mothers around the house is relatively new to the country. In 2001, Khoka talked to Egyptian first lady Suzanne Mubarak about the importance of reading.
Mahboub- Israel Rechov Sumsum
Mahboub is an artistic Arab-Israeli Muppet who represents the ideals of the Israeli co-production, Rechov Sumsum. The show aims to help Israeli children learn to respect and appreciate other cultures in this turbulent region. Mahboub speaks both Hebrew and Arabic and interacts with the other diverse characters on the show, including native Israeli Muppets and a Russian-Israeli magic shop owner.
Momon- Indonesia Jalan Sesama
Momon is an extremely neat, 5-year-old monster who breaks with the perceived notion that Indonesian boys are rowdy and messy. A girl Muppet on the show challenges the idea that girls are quiet and humble. The Indonesian co-production strives to unite a country made up of 17,508 islands; the name Jalan Sesama translates to “Togetherness Street.”
Ollie- Australia Open Sesame
Ollie, the 4-year-old star of Open Sesame, defines what it means to be Australian without buying into cultural stereotypes of all Australians hunting crocodiles, playing with boomerangs or saying “‘G’day, mate.” Most Australians live within driving distance of the coast so creators made Ollie’s love of the beach, swimming and outdoor activities central to his character.
Purk- Netherlands Sesamstraat
Purk is the beloved piglet and newest addition to the 33-year-old Sesamstraat—she even has a type of tulip named after her. Baby Purk debuted during the 2003 Sinterklaas holiday special. Purk, who wears a diaper, was created to introduce the subject of bringing home a new addition to the family.
Samson- Germany Sesamstrasse
Samson, a 5-year-old bear, has been on the German co-production for more than 30 years. Like Big Bird, he is a full-body character, and most of his body language comes from the way he walks because his creators gave him giant shoes. Sesamstrasse is based on the idea, espoused by German educator Friedrich Froebel, that through their own discovery, children will develop. (Froebel created the concept of Kindergarten in the 19th century.) The show contains no segments on learning numbers or letters, but focuses instead social issues such as sharing.
Teena- Japan Sesame Street Japan
Teena is a young girl Muppet who represents kawaii or the ideal of cuteness in Japanese culture. Teena dresses in all pink, wears flowers in her pigtails and loves flowers. For Sesame Street Japan, Sesame Workshop also created other distinctly Japanese muppets, such as Arthur and Pierre, a comedic duo who employ manzai, a quick-talking Japanese stand-up style. These characters interact with their American counterparts Elmo, Bird Bird and Cookie Monster on the bilingual show —the introduction is in English, for example.
Jujul (left) and Tonton (right)- Jordan Hikayat Simsim
The production team for Hikayat Simsim created Tonton, a 4-year-old girl Muppet who loves soccer and wants to play professionally, to challenge the stereotype that the typical girl in Jordan doesn’t play sports. They also incorporated physical comedy as part of her character. Tonton and her best friend Juljul, a 6-year-old computer whiz, embody two of the goals of the show: computer literacy and girls’ empowerment. These two issues are central to a rapidly modernizing Jordan.
Tuktuki- Bangladesh Sisimpur
Tuktuki, a 5-year-old girl who loves to read, is the star of Sisimpur. She wears her hair in braids and bangles on her arms, both traditional in Bangladesh. The cosmic world fascinates her, and she loves to show off her singing skills when Halum, a Bengal tiger Muppet, sings poorly. Because much of the population doesn’t have a television or reliable access to electricity, rickshaws with TVs make weekly rounds in rural Bangladesh to screen the show for children.
Zeliboba- Russia Ulitsa Sezam
Zeliboba, Muppet designer Ed Christie’s favorite puppet (he also created Abby Cadabby for the American version), is a furry blue spirit, whose color and personality is derived from Russian folklore. Ulitsa Sezam has a strong arts and culture focus that manifests itself in Muppet Businka’s art segments, which feature viewers’ art and Zeliboba’s collection of colorful neckties, which hang in a tie museum.