Traditional Games in Singapore

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

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

Let's journey to Singapore, a Southeast Asian country that celebrates its diversity. In this lesson, we'll look at three traditional games of Singaporean children, two brought from different backgrounds and one invented in Singapore.

Singapore

Singapore, a Southeast Asian country neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia, hosts citizens of diverse ethnic backgrounds. While most people are descended from Malaysian, Chinese, and Sri Lankan immigrants, they base their national identity on being a country of unified diversity and celebrate their many heritages and religious practices.

Map of Singapore
Map of Singapore

In this way, Singapore is similar to the United States as a melting pot of all different backgrounds. This diversity also means their ancestors brought a number of different games with them, games which are now played by children throughout Singapore regardless of their heritage.

Kuti Kuti

Kuti Kuti began in the 1940s in Singapore as a game using small, plastic tokens that players flipped, trying to land their own pieces on top of their opponent's pieces. In the 1980s, the game gained wild popularity when the round token took on the shape of animals and vehicles in bright colors of translucent plastic.

Children would buy token packets at corner stores or find special pieces as prizes in boxes of snack food. Children who could not afford the snacks or packets of specialty tokens still played a version of the game using bottle caps.

Kuti Kuti pieces resembled these plastic animals, but were usually a translucent colored plastic.
Small plastic animals

To play, two opponents would sit on either side of a table or bench, sometimes using the ground if no other surface was available. They would begin flipping their pieces along the surface, taking turns. These flips would bring the pieces closer together on the surface until one token was close enough to other tokens to flip and land on an opponent's piece.

If the flip successfully landed, the player could take their opponent's token to add to their own collection. The game continued until one player lost all their tokens. Some games set a standard number of tokens to play, other games used as many pieces as each player brought to the table.

Chapteh

Chapteh is a fun game played throughout Southeast Asia in which players use any part of their body besides their hands to keep a shuttlecock in the air. A shuttlecock is a small, weighted toy with a rubber or plastic sole on the bottom and several feathers, usually brightly colored, on top. It's similar to the shuttlecock used in badminton.

Shuttlecock used in Chapteh
Shuttlecock used in Chapteh

The weight helps keep the bottom end of the shuttlecock pointed downward while the feathers provide an obstacle to avoid yet also offers wind resistance against tipping. Each player competes to see how long they can keep the shuttlecock in their air by counting the number of hits, kicks, or bumps. The highest number wins.

Batu Seremban

Young girls usually play Batu Seremban using small game pieces, stones, seeds, or fruit, usually five at a time, but some versions require seven or nine pieces. To play, the children take turns tossing all five of their pieces into the air to see how many they can catch on the back of their hand. The child with the most caught will start the game at the first round.

Batu Seremban uses small stones, seeds, or marbles such as these.
Five Marbles

Rounds

1. In round one a player will put all their pieces on the table or floor, making sure no two pieces are touching. They will select one piece and toss it up, then attempt to grab one of the other pieces and catch the tossed piece as it comes down. This is very similar to the Western game of jacks.

This round continues until the player gathers all their pieces or fails, forfeiting their turn. If they fail, they must start at this round again on their next turn.

2. The second round is played the same as the first, except that the player must grab two pieces for each toss and catch the thrown piece.

3. The player grabs one piece on the first throw, then throws two pieces while collecting the remaining three.

4. The player tosses a single piece while gathering all four of the others before catching the thrown piece.

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