Camaraderie in Panjat Pinang Competition

August 29, 2018 | Ahmadie Thaha



The amusing panjat pinang or greasy pole climbing contest always colors Indonesia’s Independence Day celebration. This lively contest also fosters camaraderie and unity for a common goal.

Months after August, many trunks of areca trees used for the Panjat Pinang competition still stand in fields in Indonesia. There is a bamboo hoop at the top of the greasy pole. This hoop is a place to hang prizes for anyone who has succeeded in climbing the greasy pole.

Indonesia celebrates its Independence Day every year on the 17th of August. As part of the lively celebration, the pole climbing competition leaves moving memories. Dozens, even thousands of people form teams that help each other in the effort to climb the greasy pole. It may be easier if the trunk of the areca tree is not greased with lubricants such as soap, oil, and cooking oil. Cheers and shouts of support from the audience enlivened the atmosphere.



The pole climbing competition has long been the hallmark of Independence Day celebrations in Indonesia. This competition always stands out as the most exciting activity. At the celebration of Indonesia’s 77th Independence Day, on August 17, 2018, 172 areca trees stood tall and neatly lined up. However, in other places, for example, in Kali Malang (Malang River), East Jakarta, areca trees are tilted as if it is a leaning bridge over the river.

Hundreds of prizes hung around and at the top of each tree. The items that were hung as prizes were worth 1.5 million rupiah per tree. In Bali, even at last year’s Indonesian Independence Day celebration, a motorcycle became the top prize, apart from other small prizes. It is not surprising that the community is forming a team to win these prizes.

Anyone can form a team to compete. Usually two teams of four people are competing on one pole. Climbing the greased pole alone on the Independence Day is not possible for it takes a team of four to six people to help and support each-other. Unity, cooperation, mutual assistance and good communication among team members determine the success of winning the prize.

Usually, the greasy pole climbing competition starts at noon. One team starts first. One team member steps forward and leans against the pole sticking straight out of the ground, standing perfectly upright. Then, the other members climbed onto the shoulders of his partner, followed by the third and fourth members. The spectators applauded loudly as the fourth member seemed to be able to climb the shoulder of his third partner. However, the struggle is not over. Each team member still has to assist the team’s top climber to get to the top.

Some pole climbing competitions allow team members to wear clothes or hand or foot binding equipment to help them climb the ten-meter high pole. However, the traditional pole climbing competition is carried out without clothes except pants and without any supporting equipment. We can imagine how difficult it is to climb a greasy pole without aids.



Originally, this competition was held by Dutch nobles when colonizing Indonesia. The participants consisted of bumiputera (the country’s indigenous races) who were competing to win prizes hung on the pole top. Dutch nobility held a competition called de klimmast as entertainment during important celebrations such as weddings and birthdays. Also, the Queen’s Official Birthday. Over time, the pole climbing competition is held to commemorate a new historical moment.

Moreover, the climbing competition was brought to Indonesia by Chinese. In China, pole climbing competition is popular in Fujian, Guangdong, and Taiwan. It is competed during the celebration of the ghost festival every year. The procedure of the game remains the same; The game procedure is the same; It is a teamwork, with lots of prizes hanging above. The difference is, the height of the pole that must be climbed is not only as high as the areca tree, but a structure made of areca tree and woods which can reach up to 3-4 levels of a building. To win the first prize, each team must climb up the pole to release the red roll attached to the top.

Regardless of where it comes from, the pole climbing competition has become a part of everyday life of the Indonesian people. This competition continues to this day because the game contains valuable lessons. The areca trunk pole is said to symbolize someone who initially stands alone and relies on personal strength, but when there is one common goal, people begin to interact, cooperate and unite in reaching that goal.

The competition relies on physical strength that requires hard work. In addition, the competition needs teamwork to achieve a common goal. From the pole climbing, we can also learn about gratitude when at the top. We must remember those who have tried their best to help us reach the top. In pole climbing, it takes unity, teamwork and good cooperation among team members in order to win the prizes hanging at the top of the battle tree.

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