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Malay Culture

Gasing: Traditional Game in East Kalimantan

Picture of gasing

Gasing or top spinning is a traditional toy made of wood and the like, played by spinning it with a string. In East Kalimantan the game is called begasing. Begasing contains many life lessons. Begasing is played only by men, either children, teenager or adult.

1. Origin

According to Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia by Balai Pustaka 2005 on page 339, “gasing” means a toy made of wood and the like, which comes with a (nail or wooden) bolt and is spinned with a string. In Bahasa Indonesia, gasing generally means “spinning very fast”. It can be seen from such common expression as “The football player spins like a gasing after striking his opponent.”

Gasing game is popular almost in all provinces in Indonesia and they have the same term: gasing. In East Kalimantan, the game is called begasing (Karim et al., 1993). The origin of begasing in East Kalimantan is unknown, yet, according to the stories by the local people, the game is considered to be derived from Sumatra and Java. This is due to the fact that a certain culture is strongly attached to its supporters, and is always carried along when they move to a new area. That culture is then socialized and develop in accordance with the new setting. From here then emerged several versions of that culture, gasing is an example.

Begasing, back then, was usually played by men, either children, teenager or adult. It is a pity that nowadays not many people, either in towns or villages in East Kalimantan, play begasing. In fact, this game contains life values positive for social education. Currently, gasing artisans are also rare. In this modern era, children, teenager and adult prefer playing play station or computer, internet and cell phone games.

In practice, begasing can be played individually or in a team (usually of three people). When played individually, there is no fixed rule, instead, it aims as an entertainment. If played by three people, it becomes not only an entertainment but also a competition. Thus, it has some strict rules in determining the winner.

For beginners, begasing is easy to learn. The equipment is simple, practical and portable.

2. Materials and Technique for Making Gasing

In East Kalimantan, it is easy to get the materials for making gasing. They are abundant in the village neighborhood of East Kalimantan, especially in the wood. One example of these materials is the ironwood which grow and are planted in the woods of East Kalimantan. The materials for making and playing gasing are:

  • ironwoon (to make)
  • a strong string (to play)
  • a nail to be attached to the pointed part of gasing body (on the players’ preference)

People in East Kalimantan recognize ironwood as a hard wood, thus appropriate to make gasing. Gasing made of ironwood is infrangible and durable. It is due to its hardness that people call it ironwood.

Generally, gasing is made 15 cm of height. However, gasing can be made in various size, from the small to the big one. Gasing has two important parts:

  • the head, the upper part of gasing, shaped like a tea cosy and its neck
  • the body, the lower part of gasing which resembles teapot body with a pointed base.

The process of making gasing is pretty simple. First of all, choose a hard ironwood, then cut it as wide as 15 - 20 cm. Smooth the upper part using a special knife to shape gasing head. The head is 1,5 to 5 cm in diameter and 2 to 6 cm of height.

Next, smooth the lower part of the wood to shape gasing body. The body should be larger than the head so that it spins in balance. The base of the body is shaped pointed. It aims as the axis when gasing spins. The more pointed the base, the longer it spins.

3. Method and Rule

In East Kalimantan, as an entertainment, gasing can be played at anytime. However, as a competition (gasing has become a sport field), it is played in certain occasions, such as in the celebration of Indonesian Independence or East Kalimantan Anniversary.

The method of playing gasing is quite easy and almost resembles the method of playing yoyo (a round tire-like traditional toy). Beginners can learn it by doing. The first thing to do before playing gasing is choosing a firm ground as a space or arena to throw gasing. Loose soil causes gasing to sink in and not spinning. The length of the string is also fundamental. The longer the string the farer a player must sway the gasing, thus, gasing will spin longer.

To start playing gasing, coil the string on the gasing neck strongly. Then, insert your middle finger into the grip hole on the string. Raise or pull your hand backwards, throw gasing to the ground as powerful as possible. Gasing will spins fast immediately as its pointed base touches the firm gorund.

In East Kalimantan, there is no fixed rule for individual gasing game. However, as a competition (played in teams), there are two simple types and rules: selecting gasing with the longest spin and selecting gasing that does not stop spinning when hit by the other.

  • Selecting gasing with the longest spin

This kind of competition is usually performed by three people. The game begins with spinning gasing all at once. Later, gasing with the longest spin is selected. The first gasing to stop is called hulu (it plays as the folk). The second gasing to stop spinning is called menteri (it plays as the minister), and gasing that spins the longest is called raja (it plays as the master).

In certain occasions, if players are all competent, all gasing stop simultaneously. Kutai people call such situastion as baturai or even. Therefore, the game must be repeated by spinning gasing all at once. In other occasion, one gasing stops first, and the other two stop simultaneously. Hence, the first gasing to stop is called hulu and the other two must repeat the game by spinning at once. The point is that there must be a hulu, a menteri and a raja. The sequence aims to determine the rule for the second type.

  • Selecting gasing that does not stop spinning when hit with the other

If hulu, menteri and raja have been determined, then in the second type, the first to throw gasing is the hulu, the second is menteri. Gasing is played by hitting hulu. If hulu is hit and stops, menteri’s occupation remains. If hulu keeps spinning and menteri stops, then menteri loses. But, if hulu stops and menteri spins, the game continues by throwing raja to hit menteri. That is the way the game runs until the end. It is important to note that the sequence of hulu, menteri and raja must not be exchanged.

The game will continue until there is a winner. Winning and losing are determined by the number of hulu. A player who plays as hulu the most, loses. Thus, the winner is the player who plays as menteri and raja the most.

4. Values

Gasing comes with several values useful for the identity and culture of East Kalimantan people. Considering these values, it is ironic that gasing is becoming extinct in East Kalimantan. Some values in gasing are:

  • The value of preserving culture. Begasing is a traditional game. Playing it or making it a competition means preserving traditional culture. Moreover, gasing has been set as a traditional sport which is competed in sports events in East Kalimantan. In gasing game, the cultural preservation can be seen not only from the game convening but also from the traditional costume. In every gasing competition, players must put on traditional costume. The organizer sets this rule in purpose, to preserve both the traditional game and the traditional costume.
  • The value of art. This value is reflected from the making process of gasing which requires professional skill in wood carving. By some artisans, gasing is made with such an extremely smooth shaving that it becomes a collectible art object. Gasing with a small upper part and large base which resembles a teapot reminds us to the god of luck in Chinese belief.
  • The value of tourism. This value is obvious in gasing competition, in which many people, local or foreigners, come to see. It increases the regional revenue as well as making East Kalimantan more popular as a tourist destination.
  • The value of sportivity. Gasing competition surely teaches the value of honesty to the payers in particular and the people in general. A player may cheat in the competition, for instance by hitting the opponent’s gasing from too close or allying with the juries to win him.
  • The value of maintaining team solidarity. In certain occasions, a gasing competition is arranged to be a team competition. Hence, a team must maintain a good solidarity and cooperation. The coach and the players must make a careful strategy, especially in selecting the opponent. Mistakes in selecting an opponent results in failure.

5. Epilogue

Gasing, as a traditional game with meaningful values for the culture and the people of East Kalimantan, needs to be encouraged. Moreover, the game is becoming extinct. Cultural activists of East Kalimantan can utilize gasing as a media of resistance to modern games which give less positive impacts for children development. It takes sincere will, great and endless effort from many parties to make it true, either the government, artists or the local people themselves.

Yusuf Efendi (bdy/16/02-10)
Translation by Apri Widiastuti (trns/19/02-10)


  • Karim, M. Saidi. Peralatan Hiburan dan Kesenian Tradisional Daerah Kalimantan Timur. Samarinda: Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan Direktorat Jenderal Kebudayaan Kalimantan Timur, 1993.
  • Tim Redaksi Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia cetakan ketiga, 2005. Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia. Jakarta: Balai Pustaka.
  • Tim Proyek Inventarisasi dan Dokumentasi Kebudayaan Daerah, 1983. Permainan anak-anak daerah Kalimantan Timur. Jakarta: Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan Proyek Inventarisasi dan Dokumentasi Kebudayaan Daerah.
  • Tim Proyek Inventarisasi dan Dokumentasi Kebudayaan Daerah, 1981. Permainan rakyat daerah Kalimantan Timur. Samarinda: Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan
  • Tim Proyek Inventarisasi dan Dokumentasi Kebudayaan Daerah, 1982. Naskah sejarah seni budaya Kalimantan Timur. Samarinda: Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan
  • Picture: M. Saidi Karim et al., 1993
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