Tarik Tambang: Indonesia’s Legendary Popular Sport

August 18, 2018 | Nora Ekawani



On the highly celebrated Indonesian Independence Day, there is one legendary game that would always enliven the day; it is Tarik Tambang of the Tug of War. This game is so popular in Indonesia and played in many celebrations; from the launch of a school, the anniversary of a city, even during the commemoration of religious holidays, Tarik Tambang often becomes part of the events.

Actually, there are many versions of Tarik Tambang. Some games might oblige each participant to wear a sarong. Or the women might be obliged to wear the traditional kebaya dress. Some play the game on muddy ground. Some play it inside a chest-high pool. Of course, Indonesia’s Independence Day would feel more festive with these variations.

Tarik Tambang is popular for its simple rules. Two groups, each consists of 8-10 people would pull an 11-diameter rope away from their opponents. Each group would be given a limit line that must be defended, while the rope has its dividing mark to show the position between both groups. The referee uses this mark when the groups start to tug. Once the referee blows the whistle, each group would start to pull the rope so that they would not step over the group’s line. The group managed to be tugged by its opponent and step over the group’s line would lose the game.

It is believed that the Tarik Tambang represents the fight of the Indonesian people against the Dutch. During the colonization period, many Indonesians were enslaved and made to do works like moving rocks, sand and other heavy objects using ropes. Due to the lack of entertainment for both the colonized and colonizers, the idea of Tarik Tambang came up. It was also said that then the participants were either native Indonesians playing against other native Indonesians or against the Dutch. This was seen as the beginning of Tarik Tambang as one of the traditional games played on every Independence Day celebration.



However, if we look at history, Tarik Tambang is actually a global game, because historical records show that this game has been known since ancient Egypt, Greek, India and China time. This was shown in the legend of how the sun and the moon competed in pulling darkness and light.

Notes from the book of Tang’s Dynast titled “The Notes of Feng” stated that tug of war had been used by the Chinese army to train their soldiers every spring and fall between the 8th and 5th century BC. Archeological evidence from India also shows that tug of war was already recognized as a popular game since the 12th century. The Konark sun temple in Orissa shows reliefs on the right wing of the building clearly depicting the game. This game was also played as sport/entertainment by the Europeans during the World Wars. Tug of war was even played in the 1900 to 1920 Olympics. But there is something unique in Indonesia. In Kaloka, Northwest Sulawesi, Tarik Tambang is a bit different since it is played on boats. The Ria beach of the Latambaga Sea would be the venue of the game. Each group would sit on their boat and row in order to pull their opponent’s boat. Of course, the participants must be fit and accustomed to rowing boats to reach the line marked by the referee. Meanwhile in some areas of East and Central Java, in order to commemorate the birth of prophet Muhammad PBUH, Tarik Tambang would be done while sitting, and it is usually held in the fields.

So, even if the game did not originate from Indonesia, Tarik Tambang will always be highly anticipated in the country, and it also has its own historical roots, and it is created so much so that it becomes more fun and alive. (NOE-Diversity)

Nora Ekawani
Penulis, Lulusan Arkeologi UI, Pengamat Budaya, Pencinta Wastra

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