Traditional Indonesian Children’s Games

In this age of electronic games and hi tech toys, we often forget that it is often the simplest of inventions that can entertain a child for a long period of time. Although state-of-the-art, high tech computer games are available in Indonesia, such as the ever-popular game cubes, smart phone and iPad game apps, these modern inventions are not affordable for the majority of the population. These games would only be found in the homes of middle to upper class families.

Amongst the economically disadvantaged in society, it is often hard for parents to make enough money to feed their family, so toys are often quite simple or something that has been made by the parent. Fortunately, traditional toys are not expensive … and are fun! The toys and the games that are described below are commonly seen and played by Indonesian children today.

Kelereng or Gundu

Kelereng, or marbles to the western world, is a favorite with boys. There are many variations of games played with marbles.

One of the more popular versions is that a small circle is drawn on the ground. All the players put one of theirmarblesmarbles within the circle. Then each of the players drops another marble to a point outside of the drawn circle. The player that owns the marble furthest away from the circle is entitled to play first.

He must attempt to use the marble that is outside of the circle (striker) to hit the marbles within the circle and knock them outside of the ring. If he is successful in doing, this he is entitled to keep the marbles that he has knocked out of the circle. The striker marble, however, must also come to rest outside of the drawn circle. If it does not, this marble must remain within the circle and the owner then forfeits this marble.

If the player is successful in knocking one of his opponents’ marbles out of the ring, he can continue his turn and try to strike any other opponents. striker marbles. If he is successful in hitting his opponents. striker marble, he is entitled to take that marble and his opponent can no longer play the current round. If however he misses his opponents. striker marble, he looses his turn and the next player can then start to play.

Gangsing or Gasing

This game is normally played by boys. The gangsing is a top made from bamboo with a small opening on the side. This small hole makes the top whistle very distinctively as it Gangsingspins. The size of the hole determines the pitch of the whistle. String is wound around the dowel that goes through the center of the gangsing . The child then holds onto the flat bamboo handle that is tied to the end of the string and pulls this handle to set the gangsing spinning. Normally a circle is drawn on the ground about 50 cm. in diameter. Two children play against each other. The object of the game is to try and knock your opponents gangsing out of the designated circle. Gangsing are commonly sold outside the temples and tourist attractions in Yogyakarta, Central Java.

Lompat Tali

This is a very popular game which elementary school girls play at recess time. It is much like skipping rope however the rope that the girls use is made from hundreds of elastic bands that are looped together to form a large ring. The girls take turns trying to jump over the elastic rope which is held by two girls at each end.

The height of the rope normally starts low, such as at ankle height, and gradually moves higher up the bodies of the children after the jumpers have successfully jumped over the lower height. Experienced jumpers can often jump over ropes that are neck high! A good thing that comes from using a rope that is made from rubber bands, is that if a jumper is not successful in jumping over the rope, the rope will give and the jumper will not be hurt in her unsuccessful attempt. Thus, a lot of skinned knees are avoided.


This is the equivalent of western jacks, and is commonly played by Indonesian girls. The shape of the bekel differs from the western jacks in that they are flat with a small bridge holding the two sides together. On the upper side of the biji bekel there is a small red dot that is called the pit. The under side of the bekel is called a roh. On one of the flat sides of the biji bekel there are small indentations or dots and the other side is smooth.

bola bekelThe game is played is a similar method to jacks, but with a few differences. When the game is started, the biji bekel are all held in the hand of the player and are dropped as the ball is allowed to bounce one time. The player then starts to play by attempting to pick up the biji bekel one at a time without disturbing any of the other biji bekel within the time that it takes the ball to bounce once.

If the player successfully has picked up all of the bekel, he then drops them again and starts the second set of the game. In this set he must attempt to position the biji bekel with the pit facing up again one at a time. This action must be completed while the player throws the ball in the air and allows it to bounce one time. The player must attempt to turn over the bekel without moving any of the other bekel.

If the player completes this successfully, he then picks up the biji bekel one at a time while throwing the ball in the air until he has all of the biji bekel in his hand. He then drops them all again and now picks the biji bekel up two at a time and then three at a time, etc. until he picks up all the biji bekel with one sweep of the hand.

He drops them again and now starts the roh set. The player must attempt to turn over all the biji bekel so the roh side is now facing up. It is permitted to pick up more than one group of the set number while the ball is being thrown in the air. For example if the player is picking up groups of two while the ball is being thrown in the air, he may grab three groups of two bekel. The action of grabbing a set number of bekel is called cek.

If the player moves any of the biji bekel that he is not attempting to pick up, or if he drops any of the biji bekel in his hand, he loses his turn and it goes to the next player. A skilled player can go through many sets of the game before he makes a mistake and has to turn the bekel over to the next player. The player that completes the most sets without making a mistake is considered the winner of the game.

The name is derived from the Dutch game”bikkelen” using the same copper “bikkels”.


Layang-layang or kite flying is a very popular pastime for Indonesian children. Provinces throughout the country have their own designs. There are two distinct types of kites: the first is those that are just to be used for flying which have a tailed attached to them to balance the kite; and those that will be used for one-on-one dogfights, a favorite pastime amongst kite flyers.

Fighting kites do not have tails attached to them. They are made from light bamboo and waxed paper. Often the string that is attached to these kites is coated with crushed glass. The string is dipped in a solution of crushed glass, which has been boiled with ka, chemicals and dye. The mixture acts as an adherent so the tiny particles of glass will cling to the string. The string is strung out on a small rack to let it dry. This process makes the string very sharp and capable of cutting the opponents string.

Ready-made glass coated string can also be bought in various thickness. . Most kite flyers opt to buy ready-made string as it is a long and messy process to prepare their own. The choice of the thickness of the string would depend the on the size of the kite, and a greater consideration, the budget of the buyer. If the owner is not careful this string can also cut his fingers as well!

The object of the game is to try and cut the opponents’ kite loose. The way that the string is attached to the kite determines the control that the flyer has over his kite. If the two holding strings are attached far apart to the frame of the kite, this will make it heavier to hold on to when it is flying. However, this gives the kite flyer greater control over the movements of the kite.

If the two holding strings are attached closer together onto the frame of the kite, this makes the kite much lighter to hold on to but sacrifices control. These kites tend to be wilder in flight.

Experienced kite flyers know that a taunt string is not as easy to cut as a slack string, so it is up to the skill of the kite flyer to use techniques of pulling and releasing the string to try and avoid having his kite cut free. If a kite is cut free by an opponent, the victor is the one that is still holding a kite. The loose kites are often the culprits of reckless chases. The child that gets to the loose kite first is considered the new owner of the kite.

Kuda Lumping

These small replicas of the larger kuda lumping that are used in a trance dance on Java are cut out from woven Kuda Lumpingbamboo mats and painted with striking colored patterns. Sequins, beads and other materials can also be added to give the kuda lumping its colorful appearance.

When given to a child, their imaginative minds are the only limit as to what dramas these kuda lumping are the center of! Although intended as a toy, many of these delightful horses end up in suitcases to be given as souvenirs of an expat’s trip to Indonesia or smaller more colorful versions can be used as eye-catching decorations on Christmas trees.

Mobil-mobilan Kulit Jeruk

Although today’s children may think that cars made from Jeruk Bali skins are no match for contemporary toy cars,Mobil Jeruk - cars made from pomelo skinmany Indonesian men have fond memories of these home-made cars. Jeruk Bali is a large pomelo (grapefruit-like) that has a very thick skin. Once the fruit has been removed, the skin can then be then cut into pieces that will form the parts of the car.

Stiff coconut frond ribs are used to hold the pieces together. A long stick is attached to the back of the car and can be used to push the car along. Sometimes a string is tied to the front of the car so that it can be pulled behind the owner as well. This very simple toy has brought a smile to the faces of many Indonesian children.

Congklak or Dakon

One of the oldest known games in the world, Congklak can be traced as far back as ancient Egypt. Brought toCongklakIndonesia, probably centuries ago by Arab or Indian traders, it is just as popular in Indonesia today as it has been for through the ages. Congklak is played on a board with circular indentations along both sides and a home indentation on each end of the board.

The game is played with 98 small markers such as shells or beads, which are divided evenly between all the indentations. Although at first glance this many appear to be some type of calculator, it is quite a challenging strategic game and takes a lot of practice before a player becomes skilled.

Musical Instruments

A large majority of Indonesian traditional instruments tend to be made of bamboo, as it is readily availableAngklungthroughout Indonesia. School children are often taught basic music on instruments such as SulingGambangor Angklung. A suling is a small flute-like instrument, which resembles a recorder, however it is made of bamboo. It has holes down the length of the instrument that when covered or uncovered by the player’s fingers result in the various notes.

Angklung are another traditional Indonesian instrument that is made from bamboo, originating from West Java.Angklung are actually a group of various sized hand-held instruments made from bamboo. When the angklungis shaken is produces a chord of music. The size of the angklung determines the chord that it produces. Songs are played with one person standing up behind a group of hanging angklung or by a group of people holding one angklung and playing their chord at the appropriate time within the song – much like a group of people would play bells in the west.

gambang is a xylophone-type instrument with keys made from different lengths of bamboo. The different lengths of the bamboo result in different notes. The bamboo produces a very pleasant soft sound when struck with the mallets.

A very different type of instrument is the gamelan orchestra. Gamelan is actually a group of percussion and accompanying instruments which are housed on short legs which allow the musician to play the instrument sitting down on the floor cross-legged. Gamelan are used in traditional music, primarily in Java and Bali.

Semut, Orang, Gajah

This game is popular throughout Asia, just as it is throughout the world in all its variations. I remember playing a paper, scissors, stone game of similar design. In Indonesia the game is also known as suwitan or pingsut and is played by young children to see who goes first in play, or just for fun to see who wins.

Hand signs:

semut – antLittle finger points towards partner Semut
orang – personPointer finger points towards partner Orang
gajah – elephantThumb points towards partner Gajah

How to Play:

Face your partner with your hand in front of you in a fist. Then, count to three together, open you hand and make one of the three hand signs. If both of you make the same sign, start again.

The Winner:

The semut wins over the gajah because the semut can crawl in the gajah’s ear and tickle him to drive him crazy.

The orang wins over the semut because the orang can stomp on the semut and squash it.

The gajah wins over the orang because the orang can get trampled by the gajah.

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