Today is Children’s Day in Indonesia, which falls on July 23rd. How was your own childhood? Ours was filled with joy and excitement as we indulged in a plethora of traditional games unique to Indonesia.
However, it’s disheartening to observe that children in modern-day Indonesia no longer hold an interest in these timeless pastimes. Instead, they gravitate towards electronic games available on consoles, PCs, gadgets, and websites. These technologically advanced games have overshadowed the captivating toys and entertainment we once cherished.
In the past, our society fostered a sense of camaraderie and an active lifestyle. The toys we enjoyed were simple, affordable, yet incredibly entertaining. I vividly recall the thrill of receiving a handmade wooden AK-47 and sword from my father. With these weapons in hand, a group of four or five friends would embark on epic battles.
Additionally, there were numerous non-military games that defined our childhood, but sadly, they have fallen into obscurity in this current generation. Let’s take a moment to remember and appreciate some of these forgotten traditional games…
Balap Karung (Gunnysack Race) Traditional Game
One of the simplest yet exhilarating traditional games is “Balap Karung,” which involves placing your feet inside a gunnysack and jumping or walking quickly towards the finish line. Typically, Balap Karung is organized as part of the celebrations for Indonesian Independence Day.
This game is incredibly enjoyable, especially when each player has enthusiastic supporters cheering them on.
If played as a team game, once a player reaches the finish line, their teammate takes over and continues the race. As with any race, the winner is determined by the fastest time. To enhance the entertainment value, the competition seeks to identify the most skilled participants, who then face off in the grand final.
Victory in Balap Karung hinges on a combination of speed and balance. It’s important to maintain control and avoid stumbling over the sack. However, even if you do stumble occasionally, it adds an element of amusement for the spectators.
Bekel Traditional Game
The game begins with all the jacks, known as “biji bekel” (jacks), held in the player’s hand. The player drops them while the ball bounces once. Then, the player starts picking up the jacks one by one without disturbing any of the others.
Afterward, the player throws the ball again and picks up another jack. This process continues until all the jacks are collected. In the next step, the player repeats the game by picking up two jacks at a time. Once the second set is finished, the player moves on to the third set, where she must pick up three jacks at a time.
Finally, in one swift motion, the player must gather all the jacks with a single sweep of the hand.
However, the game isn’t over yet. The player drops all the jacks again and begins with the “roh,” which is the upper part of the jack. The player’s goal is to turn over all the jacks so that the “roh” side is facing up. Once this set is completed, the player proceeds to the next set, where she must turn the jacks so they are facing downward.
The winner of the bekel game is the player who completes all the sets flawlessly and in the shortest time possible.
Bentengan (Fortress) Traditional Game
Bentengan is an exhilarating game played between two teams, with each team consisting of 3-7 players. Each team has its own “fortress” (benteng), which can be a tree, pole, pillar, or wall. The primary objective is to attack and seize the opponent’s fortress by touching it and declaring, “Benteng!”
A team can also achieve victory by capturing all of the opposing team’s players through physical contact when they are outside their fortress. However, there’s a twist. If you and your opponent touch each other simultaneously, a hostage situation arises.
Here’s the key: your fortress serves as a source of power. Pay close attention to the timing of your last contact with your fortress. For example, if you touched your fortress 60 seconds ago, while your opponent touched theirs only 30 seconds ago, it indicates that they have more power.
In this case, if you touch each other, you would become the hostage according to the game’s rules. You will be required to stand near their fortress as a prisoner.
But fear not, your team can also set you free by touching you. However, since it’s enemy territory, this mission can be perilous for your teammates. Bentengan resembles a special forces game indeed, where your chances of winning depend on your opponents’ running skills, teamwork, strategy, tactics, and the ability to provoke your team to leave the safety of the fortress. That’s precisely why Bentengan was my favorite traditional game during my childhood.
Dakon / Congklak Traditional Game
Dakon is a captivating game. It is played on a board with circular indentations along both sides. There is a home indentation on each end of the board. The game starts when the two players pick the biji bekel (jacks) from the right end hole. They fill other holes one by one until they reach each other’s “mother” (a big hole on the left side of the board).
Once they reach the “mother,” the player is free to pick a hole and fill other holes. However, there are a few rules to remember. The player’s hand must move to the left, and they must fill the “mother” every time they play. If a player runs out of biji bekel and the last one drops on the hole on the other player’s side, it means they lose.
To play again, the player must wait until the other player loses. The same case applies when the player drops the last biji bekel on their side. If there are no biji bekel in front of the hole where the last biji bekel was dropped, they have to wait. However, if the last biji bekel drops in the “mother,” they can continue the game.
What if the last biji bekel is dropped on our side and there are biji bekel in front of the hole? It means we have a “shot.” In this situation, we can pick up our last biji bekel and the one in the hole we “shot.” Then, we put them all in our “mother.”
The winner is determined by counting the number of biji bekel in their “mother.” There’s no need to count them one by one. Simply refill the holes and compare the number of biji bekel. The player with more biji bekel in their “mother” is the winner.
Egrang (Stilt) Traditional Game
The origin of Egrang remains uncertain, even though similar tools can be found in Europe serving other purposes. However, people in different regions of Indonesia recognize Egrang by various names.
In West Sumatra, it is known as “tengkak-tengkak” (cripple), while in Bengkulu, it is called “ingkau” (bamboo shoes). Central Java refers to it as “jangkungan” (a branch of wood for birds to lean on), and in South Borneo, it is known as “batungkau.” The term “egrang” itself originates from the Lampung language, where it describes a clog made from bamboo.
Egrang is crafted using approximately 2.5 meters of bamboo. A platform is placed around 50 cm from the bottom, providing a foothold for the user. In Indonesia, Egrang serves not only as a means to gain a higher vantage point but also as a tool for exhilarating racing competitions.
Participants engage in spirited back-and-forth races on stilts. To emerge victorious in this game, one must swiftly step forward while maintaining a steady balance.
Engkle / Damprak / Teklek Ciplak Gunung (Hopscotch)
Engkle is a simple game that can be found in various Indonesian regions, including Sumatra, Java, Bali, Borneo, and Sulawesi. The game involves jumping on one leg from one square to another, which are drawn on the ground. Each player is equipped with a kereweng or gaco, typically a broken tile, ceramic floor, or flat stone.
The gaco is initially thrown onto one square, and then the player proceeds to hop on one leg from square to square. If a square allows it, the player can briefly step with both legs while the other players are prohibited from stepping on that particular square during the game. The winner is determined by the participant who occupies the most squares, referred to as “fields.”
Gobak Sodor / Galah Asin / Galasin
In France, Gobak Sodor is similar to the game Passé Murail. It involves two teams, each consisting of 3-5 players. The objective is for one team to successfully pass the final “wall,” which is represented by a line. The opponent’s players guard each line, and the team aiming to pass the wall wins when all their members have crossed the last line.
The opposing team’s mission is to prevent the other team from penetrating their territory by either catching them or simply touching them, without stepping off the line themselves.
Gobak Sodor, possibly derived from the English phrase “go back to the door,” can be played within a 9 x 4 meters square. It is commonly played on a badminton or volleyball court, but lines can also be drawn on the ground.
Winning this game requires physical speed to penetrate the opponent’s defense. It also demands body flexibility and quick reflexes to avoid being touched. Additionally, effective teamwork is crucial in creating distractions that provide opportunities for teammates to pass the wall.
Gasing / Gangsing Traditional Game
Gasing is a fascinating toy consisting of a tube with a bottom stick and top stick made of bamboo. It features a small side hole that produces a resonant whistle when the Gasing spins, with the pitch determined by the size of the hole.
To play the game, begin by winding a length of thin rope around the top stick. Grasp the end of the rope and pull it, causing the Gasing to spin on its bottom stick while emitting a melodic “whirrrr….” sound.
Next, engage in battles between Gasings. Typically, a circle with a diameter of 50 cm is drawn on the ground. The Gasings are set in motion to initiate the contest. The objective is to knock your opponent’s Gasing out of the circle. If the Gasings do not make contact, the winner is the player whose Gasing remains standing last.
Kelereng / Gundu (Marble) Traditional Game
There are many variations of the Kelereng game, and one of them is called Kalangan (The Circle). To begin, a small circle is drawn on the ground, and each player places one of their Kelereng (marbles) inside the circle. Then, each player throws another marble to a point outside the drawn circle.
The player whose kelereng is the furthest from the circle gets to play first. They use their marbel from its last position to strike the pooled marbles, aiming to make them spread outside the circle. The player’s marble must also end up outside of the circle. If they succeed, they can claim ownership of all those marbles.
The player can then continue to strike their opponents’ marble in an attempt to acquire those marbles as well. However, if the player fails to strike all of the marbles or if their own marble becomes trapped within the circle, it becomes the second furthest player’s turn. The strategy in this game is similar to billiards, involving good shooting skills and prioritizing targets.
Patil Lele / Gatrik / Tak Kadal Traditional Game
To play this game, prepare two wooden sticks, one approximately 30 cm long and the other around 15 cm long. The players are divided into two groups. The first player from the first team takes their turn.
Hold the longer stick like a sword, while placing the shorter stick between two stones. Use the longer stick to pry up the shorter stick. Once the shorter stick is floating in the air, hit it with the longer stick, aiming to fling it as far as possible.
Your opponent will measure the distance from the point where the stick falls to your hitting area, using the stick itself rather than a tape measure. This distance determines your score. Let’s say it is 100.
If after prying up the short stick, you manage to hit it twice (juggle) before the final strike, your score will be doubled (200). If you successfully juggle it three times before it goes away, you’ll earn 3 x 100, totaling 300 points.
However, if you fail to hit the short stick away, you get zero point. The same applies if your short stick is caught by an opponent player. Your turn ends, and it becomes your friend’s turn. After all the players in your team have taken a turn, it is the opponent team’s chance to play. The team with the higher score emerges as the winner.
Petak Umpet (Hide and Seek)
Petak Umpet is a popular game that might be unfamiliar to some. It is similar to the hide-and-seek games played in many countries. The game requires at least two players. A chosen player is must close his/her eyes while facing a wall or a tree, serving as the base. The other players use this opportunity to hide while s/he counts to 10 or 20.
After counting, the chosen one tries to find all the hidden players. The game concludes when s/he discovers all the players and exclaims, “Skit!”, “Inglo!”, “Bon!”, or “Hong!” However, if any player manages to touch the base without being noticed by the chosen, all the players who were discovered are freed, and s/he must start over again.
The player who is found last becomes the winner, and the first player (unless freed) becomes the next chosen one.
Lompat Tali (Jumping Rope) Traditional Game
This is an immensely popular game among elementary school pupils during recess. The girls use a rope made from hundreds of elastic bands that are looped together. Two girls hold the rope at each end while the others take turns jumping over it.
Initially, the rope is set at ankle level. As the jumpers successfully clear the rope, the height is gradually raised. Skilled players can even jump over ropes set at neck level!
However, if a player fails, there’s no need to worry. Rubber ropes provide an advantage as they won’t cause any harm. Nevertheless, becoming the best jumper requires both bravery and a substantial amount of practice.
Well, those are the traditional games in Indonesia that I can recall. They represent a glimpse into the diverse array of games that have been cherished by generations and continue to bring joy to communities across the country. From the exciting game of Gobak Sodor to the skillful art of spinning bamboo Gasing, these games showcase the cultural richness and spirit of play in Indonesia.
If my memory serves me with more unique games, I will be sure to share them. The world of traditional Indonesian games is vast and captivating, deserving of celebration and preservation for future generations to enjoy.