A Unique Festivity

Dating back hundreds of years, Panjat Pinang is one of the oldest, most popular celebrations of Independence Day in Indonesia. Every August 17th, towns and villages place the trunks of chopped betel nut trees vertically, hanging a hoop covered in prizes at the top. The trunks are then greased and oiled up before men in teams of four are allowed to scale the slippery trees for a chance to reach the prizes, which include bicycles, buckets, food, and clothing—all luxury items for these communities.

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A Shady Past

Despite the festival fun, the famous Indonesian tradition is not without its controversies. While many believe the challenge of collecting the prizes teaches people to work together to achieve a specific goal, the entire affair has some shady roots in Dutch colonialism.

In the 1700s, Dutch colonists, as a form of entertainment, started the ritual of erecting the greased poles in villages and hanging trinkets at the top, only to watch and enjoy the spectacle of the locals scrambling to reach the goodies.

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With this unsavory beginning, some want to ban Panjat Pinang—yet others want to keep the tradition as is because it has since lost its original meaning.

Whatever side you fall on when it comes to Panjat Pinang, you can’t deny the irony—with Panjat Pinang being an annual event practiced in celebration of independence from colonialism.

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