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Unique Traditional Sports in Indonesia

Unique Traditional Sports in Indonesia
Unique Traditional Sports in Indonesia

Getting bored of the same old sports and feeling like stretching your muscles in a different kind of exercise? Well, this country has plenty of interesting alternatives.

Anyone can learn how to play football or tennis. But how many of you out there, especially the ones with unique taste, can raise your hand and say you are a champion of geudeu-geudeu? Or that you are a record-holder of zawo-zawo? Or that you have tasted the adrenaline rush of karapan sapi? The fact remains that Indonesia is adorned by some of the most unique traditional sports that could pique the curiosity of any expat or foreigner visiting or staying in Indonesia. As different as they are from each other, all of these traditional Indonesian sports have one thing in common: They are all steeped in rich history, underlie potent moral values that have resonated from ancient times to this day, and cannot be found (let alone mastered) anywhere but Indonesia. 

These sports are listed in alphabetical order.

Traditional sports in indonesia - Geudeu-geudeu
Geudeu-geudeu
Geudeu-geudeu

Often considered a more extreme and physical variation of pencak silat, geudeu-geudeu finds its origin in Pidie Jaya, Aceh, and mixes the individual format and team format in one thrilling, hand-to-hand combat match. Commonly played by men only due to this sport’s demanding physical requirements, the players (or, to be more precise, the fighters) are split into two teams; each of the teams consists of three fighters. Each round of the match can be considered unusual, in a way that a single fighter, on behalf of his team, engages in combat with two fighters from the opposing team simultaneously. The second round will be conducted in reverse; the opposing team is represented by a single fighter only, also engaging in combat with two fighters from the other team. During these matches, the spectators would also heckle the fighters to test their emotional and mental strength. The Pidie Jaya natives believe that geudeu-geudeu teaches the fighters and the spectators the importance of grit, fortitude, patience, and resilience.

Traditional Sports in Indonesia - Gobak Sodor
Gobak Sodor
Gobak sodor

A team-oriented sport that first emerged in Ungaran, Semarang, Central Java, gobak sodor was once played as a means of training for the Javanese combatants and soldiers. In gobak sodor, the players are split into two teams: the ones protecting the ‘fortress’ (referred to as the ‘guardians’) and the ones attempting to penetrate and take over the ‘fortress’ (referred to as the ‘invaders’). The ‘guardians’ will be declared the winner if they manage to at least tap, using their hand, one of the ‘invaders’. Meanwhile, the ‘invaders’ will be declared the winner if one of them manages to enter the ‘fortress’ without being tapped by one of the ‘guardians’. In the present era, gobak sodor is often taught to children in kindergartens and preschools in Java to teach the former about how to communicate, how to become a team player, and how to develop strategic thinking skills from an early age.

Traditional Sports in Indonesia - Jemparingan
Jemparingan
Jemparingan

Originating from the ancient court of the Yogyakarta Palace, jemparingan is a traditional sport that has been known since the 17th century — to be precise, during the reign of Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono I. As centuries passed by, this sport continued to be preserved by people in the court as a compulsory skill that they must master. To explain it in simpler terms, jemparingan is an archery sport focused on a predetermined target from a certain distance. What separates jemparingan from archery, however, is how the former is not done while standing, but in a sitting, cross-legged position instead. Furthermore, the position of the bow will be on the side, positioning the body at a 90-degree angle. There are noble values ​​stored behind this traditional sport, though. These values ​​include sawiji which means concentration, greget which means enthusiasm, sengguh which means self-confidence, and ora mingkuh which means possessing a high sense of responsibility.

Traditional Sports in Indonesia
Karapan Sapi
Karapan sapi

Hailing from Madura Island, East Java, karapan sapi is arguably considered more extreme than typical horse racing due to the fact that cows are more unpredictable and hence, more difficult to train compared to horses. Traditionally, karapan sapi is held every year in Madura in the month of August or September. Afterwards, the final race of karapan sapi will be at the end of September or October. In a karapan sapi race, a pair of cows pull a sort of wooden cart where the jockey stands and controls the former. The race track is usually around 100 metres and the race lasts around ten seconds to a minute. The Madura natives believe that karapan sapi teaches the necessary moral values such as hard work, cooperation, sportiveness, healthy rivalry, and self-control. In addition, karapan sapi is regarded by the Madura natives as a prestigious event; the social status of the owner of the racing cow enjoys a rapid rise if their cow becomes a champion.

Traditional Sports in Indonesia - Pathol
Pathol
Pathol

A type of traditional sport similar to wrestling, pathol first emerged and developed in Sarang, Rembang, Central Java. The rule is pretty similar to wrestling: the two fighters must possess a type of physicality that is balanced and proportional with each other, and then both parties try to lock each other up. Whoever can provide the longest lock is declared the winner of pathol. During the reign of the Majapahit Kingdom back in the 14th and 15th centuries, pathol was one of the tests being given to prospective soldiers and knights. In the present era, a pathol match is often held as an accompaniment to various religious rituals, such as before the full moon or before the sea alms ceremony.

Peresean
Peresean
Peresean

Another traditional sport in Indonesia that is arguably considered more extreme than the rest is peresean. Hailing from Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, peresean is, essentially, a combat sport. In a peresean match, two people will be given a braid and a shield made of buffalo skin and has a hard texture. As the two fighters duke it out, a referee (here it is called pakembar) oversees the match and later, declares the winner. From the 8th century until the 11th century, a peresean match was held as a requirement for local people to become part of the Mataram Kingdom army. Music from gongs, drums, cymbals, and other traditional Mataram instruments would usually be performed to accompany every peresean match.

Sipak Rago
Sipak Rago
Sipak rago

Often described as a blend of football and volleyball, sipak rago finds its origin in West Sumatra and, in ancient times, was played by the village children as merely a means of entertainment. This game is played by five to ten people in a circle in an open field, where the ball is played with certain feet and techniques so that the ball moves from one player to another without falling to the ground. The ball itself is usually made from young coconut leaves or rattan skin woven by hand. Sipak rago requires speed, agility, and ball control. A similar form of sipak rago can also be found in Makassar, South Sulawesi, called paraga. Another variation of sipak rago, called rago tinggi, can also be found in North Sumatra and Riau.

Zawo-zawo
Zawo-zawo
Zawo-zawo

Also known by the general Indonesian public as stone jumping, zawo-zawo is a traditional sport hailing from Nias, North Sumatra. Initially, zawo-zawo was not considered a sport, but rather a way for the Nias people to attack their opponents’ villages at a time during which wars between villages often took place. In the present era, Nias men play zawo-zawo as proof that they are adults and physically mature. If they succeed in getting over the high rock, Nias men will be considered ready to marry and become adults. The stones that must be jumped over are shaped like a pyramid monument with a flat top surface. The height is not less than 2 metres, with a width of about 1 metre and a length of 60 centimetres.

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