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.
Congklak or Dakon
One of the oldest known games in the world, congklak can be traced as far back as ancient Egypt. Brought to Indonesia, 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.
A large majority of Indonesian traditional instruments tend to be made of bamboo, as it is readily available throughout Indonesia. School children are often taught basic music on instruments such as Suling, Gambang or 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 angklung is 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.
A 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.