Gasing, Toktil, Kebyak, and Hide & Seek are just some of the many popular games children play in Bali. In the sixties and seventies, before electricity appeared on the island, these games were played during the full moon. “In those pre-electricity, pre-computer times, children used their imaginations to create their own games using what was available to them, such as bamboo, coconut leaves, stones and other natural materials. They had so much fun playing together!” reminisced Made Taro, a long- time supporter and advocate of children’s games.
A long time means that he’s been involved with games for the last thirty years and during that time he has become quite familiar with games such as mengkeban (hide & seek), mencongklak (a counting game using stones), and menangluk ( a game played with bamboo), just to name a few.
That’s because for ten years Made Taro hosted a children’s games program on local television. He used many almost-forgotten traditional games as the main material for his show and it was quite popular with kids of all ages–from the toddlers to high school students.
In addition he served as the Deputy for children’s games at the Bali Arts Festivals for many years. “At those festivals we would demonstrate about five traditional games which were closely -linked to nature”, Made Taro recalled. But starting in 2000, the Bali Arts Festival stopped scheduling the children’s games, as an alternative, singing and storytelling contests were initiated. The children could no longer exercise their imaginations through the games and instead, feeling the pressure to perform and to win as the ultimate goal, lost their playful spirit and became depressed. Made Taro, feeling that his ideas were no longer appreciated, resigned from his post at the Bali Arts Festival.
This father of three believes that traditional games teach children respect for each other and help them to grasp the concept of winning and losing and in a manner that isn’t demoralizing.
But nowadays these modern kinds of technological games that are available even in the villages, only represent technology and violence. “He opposes games such as Play Station and Nintendo, which lead children to isolate themselves, thereby losing touch and interest in their friends-their main focus being on the computer screen.
“Traditional games teach kids about tolerance, mutual recognition and empathy. They develop their imaginations, appreciation of the environment and make real friendships with their peers”, he explained.
Since 1985 he has opened a sanggar, named Kukuruyuk, at his home in Denpasar where school children and anyone else interested in traditional games can gather. Once a week all are invited to play. They beat the gamelan and the games begin– Meong-meongan (cat & mouse), Tembing Gandong (the loser must carry the winner) and Metajog (running a race using coconut shells as shoes). The kids have a blast!
Made Taro’s interest in children’s games started in 1980 when he noticed children just hanging around after school hours. He also saw some kids get struck by motorcycles while riding their bikes in heavy traffic. However, after five years of his promotion of children’s games in the sanggar, there have been no more accidents with the motorcycles and the children’s grades at school have improved.
Being close to the children and encouraging them at the games are important parts of Made Taro’s life. A major part of his life involved teaching art at a prestigious high school in Bali. Upon his retirement in 2000, he had already won five awards from the government for his preservation of culture, the environment and the exchange of ideas between Indonesia and neighboring Australia.
This exchange of ideas between the two countries occurred in 1997 when he was invited to conduct workshops at an elementary school in Melbourne, Australia. During those workshops, he encouraged the kids to play in the same manner as the kids in his sanggar in Bali. Taking them to the forest to find bamboo in order to make their own bamboo gamelan instruments and teaching them the traditional games were all it took to make such a lasting impression on them that, “Even now, when they come to Bali on vacation, they come and visit me”, he said beaming proudly.
What now disturbs Taro about the development of children is the prevalence of computer games. “These kinds of games keep children from playing in the real world; they are so focused on the computer screen that they are totally indifferent to their friends”, he explained sadly. Games like Play Station continue to grow in popularity so that even the rural children have lost touch with nature.
What’s even worse is that the children aren’t satisfied with what they have and want every new game that appears on the market, thereby becoming little consumers. Even more sinister is the fact that children often imitate and re-create violent actions from these games, causing the kids to injure each other needlessly.
Made Taro believes that if all schools nowadays would bring back classes and teachers to train the kids in these traditional games, it might reverse children’s addiction to computer games. Traditional games definitely help children develop their imaginations and creativity. Living in Bali rather than in a gray industrial city certainly gives Balinese children a head start. Parents need to realize the value of traditional games versus modern computer games and steer their children to take the creative, imaginative and fun path while growing up.