Panjat Pinang, The Slippery Traditional Game Of Indonesia

From the moment I first saw this traditional game being played a few days before August 17th, Indonesian Independence Day, I knew I wanted to participate! It was so different from anything I’d ever seen before but the enjoyment and comradery amongst not just the participants but also the spectators was undeniable.

Luckily after being quite vocal on Twitter about my intentions of partaking in Panjat Pinang two of my local friends in Jogja contacted me and said they knew of a nearby village and would be willing to take me there for the holiday games. (Thanks again Nasti and Diita :))

Arriving in the traditional village of Minggir, Sleman Regency, I was happily greeted by the entire town and quickly handed a microphone by the announcer of the games. After saying hello and thanks for having me and allowing me to participate (in English and broken Bahasa Indonesia) I stripped down to my shorts, tied a cord around my waist to hold my pants up, and got ready to get muddy!

Let Me First Explain How The Game Is Played…

  Panjat pinang requires chopping down a tall nut-tree and affixing a large circular wheel to one end. Prizes are then hung up from this wheel, including foods, drinks, clothing, electronics, and other useful items or small appliances, such as a ricecooker. Often the prizes are wrapped or bagged so that they remain a mystery, but of course this also means people usually try to grab the biggest one. To combat this sometimes the game is played with pieces of paper hung from this circle, each containing a number. In between rounds teams open their paper and the number inside corresponds to a particular prize.

After all the prizes have been affixed to the top of the pole it is then hoisted up and placed vertically in the center of a muddy field. Next the entire length of the nut-tree is greased and the fun commences! 🙂

Panjat Pinang, Indonesia
Up top you can see the various prizes hanging from the wooden ring

Since no one person is able to climb their way to the top and retrieve the prizes the participants divide into teams of 5-7 people, depending on the height of the tree. From that point on it is up to them to build a human totem pole tall enough for the person up top to latch on to the upper wheel and pull down a single prize.

Panjat Pinang, Indonesia
It starts off easy enough, with one person gripping the pole while the next is given a boost up onto his shoulders

The tallest person has the dubious honor of being on the bottom while the smallest and most lightweight individual on the team is up top and has the duty of grabbing the prize — provided the human totem pole reaches full height.

Panjat Pinang, The Slippery Tradition Of Indonesia
Thanks to my height I was stuck on the bottom every round…

  As the guy on the bottom I can honestly say it starts off easy. Sure, having one or even two people standing atop your shoulders is not that difficult. But by the time you have four or even five people above you, each one swaying and moving, supporting them becomes much more tedious.

Panjat Pinang, Indonesia
This is not a quick process either. It can take several minutes for each person to get in place.

Panjat Pinang, Indonesia
The village of Minggir decided to use slips of paper instead of hanging the prizes up top. This photo was taken about halfway through the day, after many of the prizes had already been claimed. You can see the last few pieces of paper hanging up top still.

Each team has one attempt to reach the prizes up top, after which the next team steps up and gives it a shot. That day in Minggir we had four teams competing.

Panjat Pinang, Indonesia
Resting with my Panjat Pinang team in between rounds

Panjat Pinang, Indonesia

Since we were using slips of paper instead of hanging the prizes themselves up top, in between rounds there was always a brief ceremony where the prizes were distributed. The number on each slip of paper corresponded to a select prize which was then handed out to the team.

Panjat Pinang Prize Time
This particular prize was a brand new computer monitor.

It is up to each team to either share the prize amongst themselves or decide who deserves it most.

Panjat Pinang Prize Time
Intense jubilation accompanied each prize announcement

After the fun was finished and all the prizes were announced the entire village enjoyed a hearty meal served on banana leaves and then it was time for all of us muddy folk to shower up. Of course there was no washing all of the mud out of my shorts, which to this day are still stained a darker color.

Panjat Pinang Closing Photo

Panjat Pinang Closing Photo
You may recognize this photo from my brand new Facebook profile — that’s right, I finally joined FB.

Panjat Pinang Closing Photo
Panjat Pinang Closing Photo
Posing with my newfound friends in Minggir

Panjat Pinang Closing Photo
One final shot of my teammates and the friends that brought me out to Minggir (the ones not covered in mud)

Once the fun and games were over and I’d motorcycled back to Jogja the very first thing I did was call my chiropractor and tell him I was coming in for an emergency alignment. While popping my vertebrae back into proper alignment his wisdom to me was: “never do panjat pinang again!”

But I tell you what, if I ever get the opportunity again, I most definitely will!

Have You Ever Participated In Any Traditional Games Or Ceremonies?

Would You Try Your Luck At Panjat Pinang If Given The Chance?

Share Your Thoughts Below!

In Closing I Leave You With A Round Of Panjat Pinang I Witnessed In Karanganya

About Derek Freal

"Some people eat, others try therapy. I travel."   Cultural enthusiast. Adrenaline junkie. Eater of strange foods. Chasing unique and offbeat adventures around the world since 2008. Derek loves going to new destinations where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, or places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo -- supposedly its healthier and more efficient. For more information (about Derek, not squat pooing) including popular posts and videos, check out his bio.

17 thoughts on “Panjat Pinang, The Slippery Traditional Game Of Indonesia”

  1. Wow…what fun you had! It sure helps if big, tall and bulky men the size of Vin Diesel or ‘The Rock’ supports the rest of the team at the bottom while those light-weight, small-sized men climbed to the top.

    Panjat pinang is a wonderful game/tradition that builds good camaraderie. I’m glad you just suffered a slight vertebrae misalignment.

    • It was a blast Erika!! I was actually expecting to get a real injury, not just knock some vertebrae out of place. Of course that expectation still didn’t stop me from going for it 😉

      Thanks for reading and commenting, much appreciated!

    • Usually I am not the type of person to get that dirty. I mean I’m not a clean freak or germaphobe or anything like that, but I do appreciate being somewhat clean. I definitely took several showers that night, one in the village and two back at home. Of course I still couldn’t get the grease from the pole out of my hair! It was in fact 2-3 days later, after a trip to the beach and swimming all day, that finally all the grease was out of my hair.

      But if was fun, a lot of it. Totally worth it. And yes, I had a wonderful time 🙂

  2. That is the kind of experience that people travel their whole lives looking for. Looks like you had a blast. If I ever need to change a light bulb, I’m calling Derek!

    • I would highly recommend trying it! Definitely a lot of fun, but yes you’re right, it requires a lot of energy and strategy too. During all my time in Indonesia that has been my favorite experience beside the Siak tourism film 😀

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