Independence Day, or “Hari Merdeka” is celebrated on August 17th of every year. Merdeka is a term in Indonesian that means independence or freedom. On this day, the Republic of Indonesia was proclaimed in 1945, as the Netherlands recognized Indonesia’s independence. Independence Day is a national holiday in Indonesia and it is also a public holiday for all government offices, schools and universities. It is the day when people celebrate their freedom from colonialism.

First President Soekarno read the text of the proclamation on the 17th of August 1945

The country’s flag has red and white colors. The red stands for courage and bravery; the white stands for purity. The figure who sewed the Indonesian flag to be raised at the ceremony was Soekarno’s wife, Fatmawati. Indonesia’s Independence Day is always greeted with fanfare and a flag ceremony at the State Palace annually. This ceremony was also held at schools and government agencies across the country not only at the State Palace.

The flag hoisting ceremony at the National Palace on the 17th of August 2021

Apart from a flag ceremony, Indonesia also had some traditional competitions in most neighborhoods. The games include Makan Kerupuk (Cracker Eating), Balap Karung (Sack Racing), Panjat Pinang (Climbing Pole of Pinang Tree) and Tarik Tambang (Tug of War). The competition is not only for fun but also aims to promote the spirit of hard work and teamwork, it reflects Indonesia’s history and values.

Cracker Eating

Makan Kerupuk (Cracker Eating) is a very simple and fun game. This game is also easy to play and safe to be played by kids and adults. Historically, cracker eating was inspired by Indonesian fighters who lived in poverty and could only eat crackers during the struggle against colonialism. So, this game aims to remind and respect the struggle of Indonesian heroes. It is also a symbol of unity, nationalism, and gratitude for the independence that has been obtained.

Sack Racing

This traditional game can be played by kids and adults. It is usually held in the field. Similar to running but you need to get into the sack. It is very challenging. So, you just need to get into the sack and run or jump to reach the finish line. This game began when Indonesian were forced to use gunny sacks as clothes because of the economic factor from 1942 to 1945 when the Japanese government occupied Indonesia. Post-independence, Indonesian expressed their pique by trampling on the gunny sack and their freedom from colonialism.

Climbing Pole of Pinang

Panjat Pinang (Climbing Pole of Pinang) needs to be done in a team. It can be played by kids and adults but mostly males. It needs an Araceae tree trunk that has been covered by oil to be played. There will be various prizes that can be grabbed on the top of the tree. The challenging part is the players need to carry each other up the slippery tree trunk to reach the top. The one who reached the top is entitled to take all the prizes, such as food, clothes, bicycles, and even electronics stuff. You know what? This traditional game has existed since the Dutch colonial era in Indonesia and is known as “klimmast”, which means climbing a pole.

Panjat Pinang competition in Indonesia

Historically, to celebrate Queen Wilhemina’s birthday this game was played every 31st of August for her. Besides this occasion, panjat pinang was done when Dutch people had important or ceremonial events. The prizes were unlike today, such as rice, sugar, and flour. Indonesian was very enthusiastic to join this competition because of their condition during the Dutch occupation from 1800-1942. They were willing to get dirty and fall down many times while Dutch people spectated.

It’s kinda hard to find panjat pinang games these days because it still a legacy of colonialism and too dangerous for the participants. The high price of the pinang tree and its long growing period also become the reason why these games are rare.

Tug of War

Tarik Tambang (Tug of war) could be played by kids and adults both male and female. It is also one of the popular traditional games that have been played during the celebration. It is involving 2 teams competing for strength to pull a rope. The team who successfully pulls the opponent across their line is the winner of this game. This game was created when Indonesian workers had no entertainment under Dutch colonialism.

These traditional games are to remind Indonesian of the dark memories of colonialism but also a reflection of Indonesian values that are always trying to be preserved, such as togetherness, struggle, and cooperation, as well as a symbol to commemorate Indonesian heroes in fighting for independence.



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