Top traditional sports of Southeast Asia

Modern-day sports dominance comes from the west, whether we admit it or not. But few can speak on our recreational ways before football, basketball, and badminton were transplanted to Southeast Asia?

Here’s a list of popular ASEAN sports, which will compel you to try them out.

I. Sepak takraw(Malaysia)

This is hands down the most popular sport played in the Southeast Asian region. Having been introduced in the 1965 Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur as a medal event, Sepak Takraw, considered Malaysia’s national sport garnered popularity in almost every country of the region.

Sepak Takraw resembles related native sports known as Sepak Raga in Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore, Sipa in the Philippines, Rago in Indonesia, Chinlone in Myanmar, Takraw in Thailand, Kataw in Laos, and Sek Dai in Cambodia. The sport is also claimed to be related to Cuju in China, Da Cau in Vietnam, Jegichagi in Korea, and Kemari in Japan.

Even its name is a mash-up of two Southeast Asian languages — sepak, Malay for “kick”, and the Thai takraw, referring to the woven rattan ball used in the game.

Sepak takraw I closely associated with volleyball and is played on a similar court with a net. Unlike volleyball, here, players are not allowed to touch the ball with their hands, only their feet, knees, chest, and head.

The Malay Sepak Raga resembles related native sports in Southeast Asia like Sipa in the Philippines, Rago in Indonesia, Chinlone in Myanmar, Takraw in Thailand, Kataw in Laos, Sek Dai in Cambodia, and Da Cau in Vietnam. Traditionally, these games are played in a circle, where the ball is passed from one to the other. As there is often no opposing team, it is usually played for fun by demonstrating several tricks, such as kicking the ball and placing it on the player’s head, keeping the ball aloft gracefully and interestingly.

II. Traditional longboat race (Thailand)

The kingdom of Thailand goes by many names. The country’s most famous nickname is ‘The Land of a Thousand Smiles’, but a lesser-known name for Thailand is ‘The Venice of the East and it isn’t hard to imagine why. A number of mighty rivers traverse the country keeping it lush and green and providing a livelihood to hundreds of thousands along their riverbanks.

The Chao Phraya, the river of kings, flows majestically from the capital Bangkok down to the Gulf of Thailand keeping the nation’s central plain fertile for more than 365 kilometers. The mighty Mekong River also flows through parts of Thailand and out into the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. These rivers are vital to the nation and provide food, transportation, and entertainment to all.

Towards the end of the long rainy season between the months of September and November, local towns & villages come together and organize colorful and traditional long-boat racing competitions. The timing of these events is determined by the phases of the moon and is different each year. The long-tailed boats can measure up to 30 meters in length and are typically adorned with beautiful decorations. This practice goes back more than 400 years and is one of Thailand’s oldest festivals. Neighboring villages compete against each other and bragging rights are not only distributed according to racing skills, there is also a friendly rivalry to see who has the best decorations! The teams of rowers compete against each other and typically have to row a distance of around 500 meters and the first one to cross the finishing line is the winner. Many people come out to see these races and the whole atmosphere is one of joy and excitement. These traditional boats are still very much alive and part of living history and culture in Thailand.


III. Khmer wrestling (Cambodia)

Khmer traditional wrestling is a folk wrestling style from Cambodia. It has been practiced as far back as the Angkor period and is depicted on the bas-reliefs of certain temples. The earliest form of Khmer traditional wrestling was called Maloyuth. Maloyuth was created in 788 A.D. by Brahmin Timu. It evolved to the current form of wrestling, Cham Bab, in the 8th century. Although predominantly a male sport today, Khmer wrestling was once practiced by both sexes as female wrestlers are also displayed on the Banteay Srei temple.

In Khmer wrestling, dancing is as important as wrestling. There is a pre-match ritual dancing before the match in which the wrestlers dance and move to the music. Matches consist of three rounds. Victory is obtained by forcing the opponent on their back. The person who is able to win two of the three rounds is the winner of the match. After each round, the loser is asked if he wishes to continue with the match. The match is accompanied by the music of two drums (called skor ngey and chhmol which means female drum and male drum). Traditional matches are held during the Khmer New Year and on other Cambodian holidays. This sport used to be a means of choosing tribal and regional leaders. In the olden times, elders taught the young in their village on the full moon night after harvesting. It would take place on a rice paddy outside the village and under the moonlight.

The sport is still practiced today in wrestling clubs in the Cambodian provinces of Pursat and Kampong Chhnang.

IV. Jemparingan(Indonesia)

Among the various forms of archery around the world, jemparingan stands out from the rest as it requires archers to take aim while sitting cross-legged.

This style of archery is unique to the former Sultanate of Mataram, which includes present-day Yogyakarta and Surakarta(solo)

In this form of archery, archers release their arrows at a cylindrical pendulum 30–35 centimeters in length and 5 centimeters in diameter while seated at least 35 meters away.

Traditionally, jemparingan is seen as a way to cultivate the knightly characteristics of sawiji, greget, sengguh, and ora mingkuh (concentration, gusto, self-confidence, and a sense of responsibility).

This sport chooses the cross-legged position, citing close resemblance to the meditation form. Just like kyudo or traditional Japanese archery, Jemparingan is seen as a form of meditation in action.

Jemparingan was once a medal sport in National Sports Week (PON), Indonesia’s national multi-sport event, but it was dropped in 2012 and can now only be seen at regional level competitions.

Source: The Jakarta Post



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