January 24, 2021
By Aris Masruri Harahap
Exclusively written for Le Bel Objet (www.lebelobjet.be)
On 27 October 2019, a gasing from Kubu Raya Regency, West Kalimantan Province, won gasing competition in Melayu Art and Culture Festival XII (Festival Seni Budaya Melayu XII). It spun for 20 minutes and 8 seconds beating other representatives from other regencies in the province. The game to spin gasing at the longest is called pangkak gasing in the local language of West Kalimantan which means to compete for gasing (Buah Kayu Yang Terus Berputar, 2019).
Gasing or top in English has been played for centuries all around the world. According to historical records, it has appeared in many archaeological sites which proved that it has been in existence since ancient times (McClary, 1997). It is a game that has been played not only by children but also by adults. In principle, gasing is a toy that rotates on its axis. By using a rope, gasing is spun. To make it rotates on its axis, a player needs to spin the gasing first. Then, the player throws it to make it spinning while still holding on to one edge of the rope.
In Indonesia, gasing is almost spread throughout the archipelago and is known by different names throughout the archipelago. Based on information from the Indonesian government official site, Indonesia.go.id, the people of West Java and Jakarta call the game 'gangsing' or 'panggal'. The people of Lampung call it 'pukang'. The people of East Kalimantan call it 'begasing'. In Maluku, it is known as 'apiong' while in West Nusatenggara, it is known as 'maggasing'. The name 'maggasing' (also known by the name 'aggasing') is also used by the Bugis people in South Sulawesi while people of Bolaang Mongondow in North Sulawesi call it 'paki'. The people of Jambi, Bengkulu, West Sumatra, Tanjungpinang, and Riau Islands call it 'gasing'. East Javanese people refer to the game as 'kekehan'. Meanwhile, in Yogyakarta, the game is called by two different names. If it is made of bamboo, it is called 'gangsingan', and if it is made of wood it is called 'pathon' (Buah Kayu Yang Terus Berputar, 2019).
Although until now no one has been able to tell the traces of the original and the earliest gasing, it is said that the traditional game of gasing originated from people who lived on the Malay coast since the 15th century in the era of the Melaka Sultanate. In the old times, people usually played at the end of the rice harvest. It happened because they had nothing much to do (Ho, 2013). In other words, people had more time to do fun activities after months of hard work in the rice field.
According to Pipet (1993), the creation of gasing is related to the berembang tree that grows near the sea. The shape of the fruit of the tree allows it to be spun like gasing known today. It is believed that the unique shape of the fruit has inspired a gasing creation that looks like it. Interestingly, there is another theory that says the game of gasing was started using eggs to spin. The rule of the game the one which can last the longest becomes the winner. Then in its development, this egg was replaced with round wood.
According to Alif, Sachari, and Ichsan (2006), regarding the history of gasing in Indonesia, especially the ones in West Java, all parts of gasing were obtained from nature. It can be understood that in the beginning, the life of ancient people was a society that was very harmonious with nature therefore the beginning of the manifestation of traditional community games was always related to the natural surroundings. This was due to the intimacy of humans living with nature in their daily lives. The law of nature was understood as the 'God's law' which needed to be strictly obeyed so that when humans came into contact with nature, they would be aware of their creator.
Gasing might have been played earlier than the 15th century. History records that during the Song dynasty (960–1279) in China, there was a gasing game known as ch'en-ch'ien was played by the court ladies (Wilkins, 2002). Although the material used was ivory, not wood, it worked just like gasing known in Malay. Therefore, gasing might have originated from China before it's known and played by the people of the Malay coast.
Gungwu Wang's (1991) explanation on patterns of Chinese migration gives us further insight and a possibility to know gasing's origin. According to Wang, there are four patterns of Chinese migration: huagong pattern (Chinese coolies), huaqiao pattern (Chinese sojourners), huayi pattern (Chinese descent), and huashang pattern (Chinese traders). It is huashang pattern that he believes to be the point of departure of the Chinese migration and the most enduring pattern from ancient times until more recent times. He further argued that the huashang pattern has existed since at least the Song dynasty. This might explain the route of gasing's journey from China to the Malay coast and then to the Indonesian archipelago including Java island. It could be one explanation that it was the Chinese who invented the game.
Apart from the various theories regarding the origin of gasing, many authorities (i.e., Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore) believe that it is one of the nation's cultural assets that must be preserved (Ho, 2013; Larasati, 2011; Purwaningsih, 2006; and Royana, 2017). In the daily life of Indonesian, gasing is more closely related to children. In Javanese culture, for example, gasing is included as dolanan, a Javanese term to refer to children's games. In Java, there are actually many kinds and types of traditional children's games from the simplest ones to the more complex games which require distinctive motion, song singing, and special equipment (Purwaningsih, 2006). Different sources have mentioned a different number of dolanan in Java. In Serat Saraja written by Koesoemadiningrat, it is stated that there are 60 traditional children's games. Dharmamulya documents dolanan as many as 241 games. While H. Overbeck in the book Javaansche Meisjespelen en Kindertiedjes (Javanese Children's and Girls' Singing) stated that the number of children's games throughout Java is 697 games (in Dharmamulya, 1992).
Regardless of its origin, materials, different names, and shapes, gasing is an artifact that appears in various cultures including Java. The existence of gasing in Indonesia indicates the existence of intercultural interaction that has occurred since ancient times or at least hundreds of years ago.
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