Sun, 07 Mar 1999

Museum makes brave attempt to revive traditional games

By Rita A. Widiadana

JAKARTA (JP): It's Ani's turn to be a "blind man". Her eyes are blindfolded with a big, yellow handkerchief, while another 10 children stand around her.

Ani's friends stand around her in a circle and tease her. "Blind man... blind man, what are you looking for?" shout the children. "I am looking for my lost stick," answers "blind" Ani.

Then one child steps into the circle, he turns Ani around four times and then he steps back. The children scream and run away when Ani reaches out to catch them, but it is very dark behind the blindfold.

Tono is clumsy, making him an easy target. He is caught and it is now his turn to be the "blind man".

Ani and her friends are playing hai buta, blind man. This "find me, catch me" game was once performed by millions of children around the globe. Roman children played this game 2,000 years ago and called it murinda. Chinese kids called it tsoo, tsoo. In England, children called it blindman's bluff.

However, the game is no longer popular among today's children. It was only performed by these Jakarta school students during a traditional game competition at the National Museum last Sunday.

The game is part of a one-month exhibition and competition of Indonesian traditional games to run from Feb. 25 through March 25 in an attempt to introduce Jakarta's youth to the country's rich indigenous toys and games.

The event is jointly organized by the directorate general for culture of the Ministry of Education, the National Museums and the museums from Indonesia' 27 provinces.

Director General for Culture Edy Sedyawati said at the opening ceremony last week that Indonesia's valuable cultural heritage includes diverse traditional games.

"Traditional games embody high moral values. They also served as a way to hone children's emotional and intellectual competence as well as to enhance their social skills," said Edy.

According to James Dananjaya, professor of anthropology and specialist in folklore at the University of Indonesia, most traditional games are rapidly disappearing under the heavy pressure of industrialization and fast technological progress.

"Times are changing. People keep adjusting to current conditions. Even in villages, it is hard to find children playing traditional games. They prefer to watch television programs," he added.

Historically, traditional games reflected social and cultural lessons in certain communities. "Each game portrayed a close relationship between a community with its surroundings," Dananjaya explained.

People might find marble games, kites, and many other games in almost every country in the world, explained Dananjaya.

Anthropologists believe that the basic function of games is to intensify human experience in ways that are relatively safe while providing entertainment and excitement.

Dananjaya explained that, originally, games were divided into three categories: games of physical skill, games of chance and games of strategy.

Games which require vigorous physical activity, such as tugs- of-war, marathons, wrestling and ball games were closely related to communities that lived in tough environments.

Games of strategy, such as card games and chess, were usually practiced by communities that had developed complex social structures.

Games of chance, such as dominoes monopoly and other games like Nini Thowok and Jaelangkung are usually found in societies that strongly embraced mystical beliefs.

They equipment employed in these folk games was usually made of natural materials like wood, bamboo, stones, fruit, animal bones.

"Don't expect urban kids to make a toy cart from orange peel. Such materials can hardly be found in big cities, " he said.

Adults must realize, he said, that children live in their own period of history. "Don't blame them if they don't like and don't understand how to play those centuries-old games because they are not part of the past," Dananjaya said.

The ongoing exhibition on traditional games serves more to remind adults of their childhood experiences.

Gunarni, 65, seemed quite eager to show her granddaughter how to play congklak, an ancient game originating from the African continent displayed at the exhibition.

Congklak, also called mancala in Egypt, is played by two people. The materials needed are a one-meter board with 12 holes in two rows and two larger holes used as barns. Each player has a number of stones or seeds that are distributed about the playing board. On each move, each player must make estimates involving numerical skills and good judgment in order to capture the opponent's pieces.

In Indonesia, this game varies in every province. In Central Java, people called it dakon, menciwa in West Nusa Tenggara, nograta in Central Sulawesi and makaotan in North Sulawesi. In Central Sulawesi and South Sulawesi, the game is performed in funeral ceremonies.

"By playing this game, children were naturally trained in maths and various strategic moves in. It is the first time for my granddaughter play congklak," Gunarni said.

Robby, an employee in a computer company, regretted that he never taught his son how to play marbles, gasing (tops) and other traditional games.

"We felt that we had already given them a lot of toys, video games and electronic things. I thought they were happy. Now, I know it is not enough," Robby said.

The exhibition, held in the left wing of the National Museum, displays hundreds of items used in traditional games from Indonesia's 27 provinces.

Among toys on display are anjing-anjingan (puppets shaped like dog) from West Java, which is popular among Sundanese children, Kakebau (puppets shaped like buffalo) from Lampung.

A wide variety of kites, such as Layang Kuway and Sri Bulan, kites made by people from Riau and West Sumatra are also on display.

Decorative congklak boards from Central Java along with similar instruments from Jambi (Permainan Gunung), makaotan from North Sulawesi.

Hamzuri, a member of the exhibition committee, said that during the one-month period, the National Museum will also hold competitions of traditional games, including galah asin (guard games), egrang (stilt walking), gasing and congklak.

"The games, held every Sunday morning, are intended for school students from around Jakarta," he said.

One of the main goals of the exhibition is to introduce traditional games to school students around the country.

"It is expected that the traditional games could be included in school curricula as local content," he explained.

To achieve the goal, the organizing committee also held a number of workshops and training sessions for local elementary and junior high school teachers.

In cooperation with a private radio station, the committee also plans to carry out a game competition for the public -- young executives in particular.

"We are trying to persuade yuppy groups to come and to appreciate the museum. Besides, they are mostly young parents who will bring their kids along to the museum," Hamzuri said.

Dananjaya, however, said the organizing committee should immediately take action to ensure the work of this valuable exhibition is not wasted.

"Many times, valuable exhibitions were just finished without any continuing efforts to take the results to the public. It is such a waste of energy," Dananjaya said.

But this begs the question: Can today's world of short attention spans and throwaway consumerism accept these pro-active diversions of the past, or will the traditional games and toys be forgotten as soon as the one-month exhibition is over?