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 yet the enjoyment and comradery among 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 a brief thank you 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!

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 rice cooker.

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! ๐Ÿ™‚

Since no one person is able to climb their way to the top and retrieve the prizes, 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.

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. It is the topmost person who has the duty of grabbing the prize — provided the human totem pole reaches full height.

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.

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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.

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.

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

After the fun was finished and all the prizes were announced, the entire village enjoyed a hearty meal served on banana leaves. Only then was it finally time for us muddy folks 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.

Once the fun and games were over and I’d motorcycled back to Jogja, the very first thing I did was call my chiropractor to 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?

Want To Try Your Luck At Panjat Pinang?

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In closing I leave you with a round of panjat pinang I witnessed in Karanganya

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About Derek Freal

"Some people eat, others try therapy. I travel." ย  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.

18 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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

      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 ๐Ÿ™‚

  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 ๐Ÿ˜€


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