Gasing


Gasing is a term that refers to both the Malay spinning top and the game of top spinning. Gasing was a popular game played in the kampongs (“villages” in Malay) of Singapore and Malaysia, especially among members of the Malay community. Competitive gasing is still played in Malaysia today.1

Historical background
While the gasing is a spinning top unique to Singapore and Malaysia, tops have been played in countries all around the world for centuries. Tops have turned up in many archaeological sites, proving that they have been in existence since ancient times.2

People in Asia made tops from a variety of objects, including conch shells, wood, seed pods and even iron. During the Song dynasty (960–1279) in China, court ladies were said to have played with tops made of ivory known as ch’en-ch’ien. In Japan, humming and whistling tops were popular.3

In America, the peg top, which was spun like a gasing, became popular in the mid-1800s. These peg tops were handmade by their owners or by craftsmen known as top turners. By the 1900s, tops were also made using machines in factories.4

The gasing was said to have been a popular game among the Malays since the time of the Melakan Sultanate (now the state of Malacca in Malaysia) in the 15th century.5 In the past, the game was usually played at the end of the rice harvest when farmers had more time on their hands.6

Some people believe that the creation of the gasing is associated with the berembang tree, which grows near the sea. According to them, the shape of the berembang fruit enables it to be spun on its tip like a top. It is believed that the fruit’s unique shape inspired the creation of the gasing.7

There is another story which claims that the gasing originated from a game children used to play with eggs. This inspired the creation of an egg-shaped gasing.8 Gasings today still come in the shape of a berembang fruit or an egg.

Gasing used to be played in the kampongs of Singapore but has since declined in popularity. This decline has been attributed to the lack of suitable playing spaces in the Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates where the majority of Singaporeans reside.9 The cement floors found in HDB estates are also not conducive for playing the game as the best surfaces for spinning gasing are those that are hard and sandy.10

In 1979, the Singapore Gasing Federation (Fedegasi) was established with the objective of reviving the gasing tradition in Singapore. The federation constructed special gasing courts for tournaments that it organised.11 It also made efforts to promote the game in the community and among school children.12

Description
Gasings come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Gasings for children are typically heart-shaped and small, often no larger than 10 cm in diameter. Gasings also came in other shapes such as berembang, saucer-shaped, egg-shaped and flat-top.13


Traditionally, there are regional differences in gasings, with different areas producing or using particular types of gasing. For example, the saucer-shaped gasing uri, which features a band of tin around the top, is found mainly in Kelantan, Malaysia.14 The gasing toyol, which is shaped like the fruit of a berembang tree, is often played in Malacca.15

Gasings also differ in size and weight. A gasing used in competition in Kelantan can be as large as a rice plate and weigh around 4 kg. Such a large gasing is launched with a 4-m-long rope and requires a player with great skill and strength.16

How it is made
Most gasings are made of local hardwood such as kuran, leban, casuarina and kempas.17 Craftsmen carefully select wood that is free of holes, cracks or imperfections that can affect the balance of the gasing.


To make a gasing, a cube of wood is first sawn off. This cube is then turned on a lathe and shaped into a cone using special tools. A spike is then embedded at its peg.18 Once completed, the gasing is floated in a pool of water to test its balance. A well-balanced gasing would float upright.19

How it is played
Gasings are spun with a string, cord or rope. To spin a gasing, a string is first tightly wound around the top. With the player holding on to one end of the string, the gasing is thrown or “launched” to set it spinning.20


There are different methods of launching a gasing. Some players launch it from their shoulder like a shot put, while others fling it like a frisbee. Regardless of style, a good throw is one that sets the gasing upright and spinning for a long time.21

Gasing competitions
Gasing competitions continue to be held regularly in Malaysia, especially in the northern states of Kelantan and Terengganu. These competitions are serious affairs. Gasing players train long and hard to defend the reputation of their kampong. The competitions are taken so seriously that a traditional medicine man, or pawang, is sometimes summoned to perform rites on the gasing and the venue before a match is played.22


These competitions usually include both individuals and teams who compete in two main types of matches:

Spinning match (gasing uri)
The aim of this match is to get one’s gasing spinning for the longest period of time. After a gasing is launched, a wooden paddle may be used to transfer it to a stand to allow it to spin undisturbed.23 A champion top spinner in Kelantan was able to set a gasing spinning continuously for 1 hour, 40 minutes and 20 seconds.24

Striking match (gasing pangkah)
The aim of this match is to knock an opponent’s gasing out of a circle or to make it lose its balance and topple over.25



Author

Stephanie Ho



References
1. Largest gasing show attract 1,000. (2009, July 6). Bernama Daily Malaysia News. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
2. McClary, A. (1997). Toys with nine lives: A social history of American toys. New Haven, Connecticut: Linnet Books, p. 93. (Not available in NLB holdings)
3.
Wilkins, S. (2002). Sports and games of medieval cultures. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, p. 80. (Call no.: RART 790.09 WIL)
4.
McClary, A. (1997). Toys with nine lives: A social history of American toys. New Haven, Connecticut: Linnet Books, pp. 99–105. (Not available in NLB holdings)
5
Lembaga Muzium Negeri Pahang. (2012). Traditional games. Retrieved from http://muziumpahang.com.my/web/en/budaya_permainan_traditional.html
6. Kroll, B. & Kroll, R. (1995, February 25). Top spinning serious fun in Malaysia. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
7.
Yunos Pipet. (1993). Gasing Melayu. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa Pustaka, Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia, p. 2. (Call no.: Malay R q796.209595 YUN)
8.
Yunos Pipet. (1993). Gasing Melayu. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa Pustaka, Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia, pp. 2–3. (Call no.: Malay R q796.209595 YUN)
9.
Mardiana Abu Bakar. (1987, October 28). Malay village will keep gasing spinning. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10.
Ling P. W. (1979, March 14). Past glory of the gasing to be revived. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11.
Sumadi Sarkawi. (1981, October 22). Common ‘top’ for daddy and kiddy. The Straits Times, p. 4; Toh, W. C. (1980, November 1). They’re tops at this game. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12.
Making top as a top local game. (1986, March 12). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13.
Mardiana Abu Bakar. (1987, October 28). Malay village will keep gasing spinning. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14.
Yunos Pipet. (1993). Gasing Melayu. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa Pustaka, Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia, p. 45. (Call no.: Malay R q796.209595 YUN)
15.
Yunos Pipet. (1993). Gasing Melayu. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa Pustaka, Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia, pp. 42–43. (Call no.: Malay R q796.209595 YUN)
16.
Ismail’s mission is to keep the top spinning. (2008, December 9). New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
17.
Lembaga Muzium Negeri Pahang. (2012). Traditional games. Retrieved from http://muziumpahang.com.my/web/en/budaya_permainan_traditional.html
18. Yunos Pipet. (1993). Gasing Melayu. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa Pustaka, Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia, pp. 81–92. (Call no.: Malay R q796.209595 YUN)
19.
Yunos Pipet. (1993). Gasing Melayu. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa Pustaka, Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia, p. 102. (Call no.: Malay R q796.209595 YUN)
20.
Yunos Pipet. (1993). Gasing Melayu. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa Pustaka, Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia, p. 132. (Call no.: Malay R q796.209595 YUN)
21.
Yunos Pipet. (1993). Gasing Melayu. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa Pustaka, Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia, pp. 139–142. (Call no.: Malay R q796.209595 YUN)
22.
Paik-Leong, E. (2009, June 13). Magic of Malay top spinning. Retrieved from http://ezinearticles.com/?Magic-of-Malay-Top-Spinning&id=2471927
23. Lim, A. (2001, April 24). What’s spinning around? Retrieved from http://www.thingsasian.com/stories-photos/1556
24. Sumadi Sarkawi. (1981, October 22). Common ‘top’ for daddy and kiddy. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25.
Lim, A. (2001, April 24). What’s spinning around? Retrieved from http://www.thingsasian.com/stories-photos/1556; Spinning the gasing. (2012, March 20). Retrieved from http://malaysiansinnewzealand.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/spinning-the-gasing/




The information in this article is valid as at 10 October 2013 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Ethnic Communities>>Customs and Traditions
Customs
Games--Singapore
Recreation
Tops--Singapore
Sports and Recreation
Sports, recreation and travel