In Jakarta and elsewhere in Indonesia, much of August has been filled with activities linked to the 18th Asian Games (also known as Asiad) which are now taking place in Jakarta and Palembang. Never have the two cities looked so spic and span, festooned with flags of participating nations, the main streets cleared of knotty traffic jams and unseemly vendors. Indeed, the government has gone all out to ensure that the three-week sports fest proceeds smoothly as a once-in-a-lifetime treat for sports-crazy Indonesians. The last time that Indonesia hosted the games was in 1962 when the country was just over two decades old and founding president Sukarno was in power. This month, hundreds of athletes from 46 Asian nations have been competing in 59 different sports and 39 other disciplines. Since the first Asiad in New Delhi in 1952, only seven countries—India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Thailand—have competed in all of the regional games.
Indonesians have been particularly happy to see some of Asia’s traditional sports on the schedule, such as sepak takraw, a volleyball-type game played with the feet and not the hands. The history of this sport originates from the time of the 13th century Malacca sultanate and has since spread throughout Southeast Asia. Another traditional sport at the current Games is the pencak silat, which has its roots in Malay culture and is popular in Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, the southern Philippines as well as throughout the Indonesian archipelago. Then there’s dragon boat racing, now being contested by 11 nations, which created its own moment in history when unified North and South Korean teams won gold and bronze medals.
Outside of the games, Indonesians regularly compete in pathol, a form of wrestling which traces its origins back to Central Java’s Majapahit era when contests were held to select the best warriors to defend the northern port of Tuban, then vulnerable to pirate attacks. Then there is karapan sapi, in which jockeys compete head to head aboard two cows. Held every October in Madura, the race attracts many tourists to the island and is officially acknowledged as a national sport with a presidential cup rotated among the winners.
While no Lontar publications specifically focus on these traditional sports, we invite you to peruse our website for many of our books, documents and recordings which contain elements of these cultural traditions.