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Traditional Games in Indonesia

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

Welcome to Indonesia, a nation made of the world's largest island chain. Despite the difference between the inhabitants of more than 1,000 islands, many play the same games. Let's look at a few of these games to better know the Indonesian people.

A Country of 1,000 Islands

Indonesia hosts the fourth largest population in the world, spread out across the largest archipelago, or chain of islands, in the world. From the most eastern to the most western island, the chain spans as much distance as the continental United States from the East Coast to the West Cost.

Flag of Indonesia
Flag of Indonesia

With over 1,000 islands, the different populations and ethnic groups inhabiting the islands come from many different cultures. In fact, the national motto of Indonesia is Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, which translates to 'Unity in Diversity', an apt saying for a nation of islands. While the various citizens may enjoy different languages, cultures, home lives, and beliefs, games seem to be a common factor across the islands. The thousands of years of international trade via the shipping routes through the islands helped spread fun games and toys from one island to the next and brought games from all over Southeast Asia. Let's take a look at some of the popular games played in Indonesia.

Map of Indonesia
Map of Indonesia

Gangsing

Also called Gasing in neighboring Southeast Asian countries, the game of Gangsing uses a wooden or bamboo top spun by a string wound around a spindle. Unlike the tops used in neighboring countries like Malaysia, Indonesian tops have a small hole causing it to whistle as it spins. A competitive game of Gangsing requires a 50-centimeter circle on the ground. Each child will take turns spinning their top, aiming it to try to knock the other's top out of the circle.

Gangsing Tops
Gangsing Tops

Layang-layang

You might remember flying a kite as a kid, a relaxing activity on a nice day. However, you probably never flew kites like they do in Indonesia. The exciting sport of Layang-layang can also go by the title 'battle kites.' Yes, kite enthusiasts in Indonesia use a tailless kite with a special string coated in crushed glass to attack other kites in the air.

Fighting Kites

The aim of the sport is to cut the opponent's string, causing their kite to fall from the sky. Size, shape, and placement of the kite string all play a part in how well a person can control the kite and the ferocity of the kite's attack. Competitors carefully control the kite's movement, defending with a tight string which is harder to cut, and striking the other kite with hard blows and sharp turns which run one string against the other like a knife. Once a kite falls, the one still airborne is the winner, while the first person to retrieve the defeated kite becomes its new owner.

Semut, Orang, Gajah

Indonesia has its own version of the game you may know as 'Rock, Paper, Scissors'. In Semut, Orang, Gajah, players make one of three hand signs while trying to guess what sign their opponent will make. Each sign will defeat one of the other signs but simultaneously can be defeated by the other sign. Often, this game helps determine the first player in a game or who gets the piece of candy.

Hand
Hand signs used in game

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