CONGKLAK Title pic

Congklak one of Indonesia’s most popular traditional games. Do you know where it originates from and how it came to be found in Indonesia?

Congklak may be one of the oldest board games in the world. Evidence of the game has been found dating back to 7,000 BC, originating in either Africa or the Arab world. As Indonesia has been visited by traders from many corners of the world for centuries, they brought with them many pieces of their culture along with them, such as; religion, language, foods, textile traditions along with traditional games.

There are many versions of this board game from all over the world and more than 200 names for it. The names are taken from the local culture using words that reflect where the game is played, the manner of winning, the mode of play and the board or counters used.

Even within Indonesia the board game has many different names from region to region throughout the archipelago. The most common name is ‘congklak’, as congklak means ‘cowrie shells’, which are frequently used as the counters when playing the game. In Malaysia, the game is known as ‘congkak’, a name that is used in many Sumatran provinces, in Java the game is known as ‘dakon’ and in Sulawesi it is known as ‘mokaotan’ or ‘maggalecang’ amongst many other names.

Historical references to congklak refer to the game played by young girls of Javanese nobility. It is most likely that foreign traders, due to their close contact with the upper classes, introduced congklak to them. With the passage of time, congklak’s popularity grew until it’s now widely played by the common people as well.

Due to its widespread popularity, enthusiasts have developed numerous websites documenting various versions of the game. If you surf through these websites, it’s fascinating to see how each country or culture has its own customs relating to the making of the board, who can play, as well as how and when the game is played. Some sites feature on-line versions of the game as well, so students can play with other enthusiasts from around the world.

CONGKLAK board showing storehouses

Congklak – Playing board

Traditionally the playing board is made of wood, with variations from island to island in the number of holes on each side, either 5, 6, 7 or 9 holes. All the boards have two ‘storehouse’ holes, one on each end, which is generally a big bigger than all the other holes. The design varies from simple, unadorned woods, to boat-shaped boards, to highly decorated playing boards. In Central Java, elaborate designs utilising the Javanese ‘naga’ {dragon} are common {as in the photo above}. Dragons face out from both ends, with their tails decorating the side of the boards and legs suspending the board up off the floor {or surface on which it sits}. Congklak boards can be elaborately painted, with gold and red being popular colours.

Congklak – Playing pieces

Not much has changed since prehistoric times, when congklak was played with stones or seeds. In Indonesia, stones, seeds and shells are used to play the game, whatever is close at hand. Near a beach, shells may be used. Near rivers, the game may be played with smooth pebbles and in agricultural areas, seeds. Commonly used seeds are tamarind, kemiri and even corn kernels.

The widespread popularity of congklak around the world can undoubtedly be attributed in part to the simplicity of the materials used to play the game. Congklak, in all it’s variations, continues to attract dedicated players as well as craftsmen, mathematicians, programmers and collectors of regional art and handicrafts.

Whatever version you play today, and by whatever name you call it, you’ll find congklak a challenging game of patience and skill that anyone of all ages can enjoy playing.

CONGKLAK profile


I think congklak is a great game to teach students of all ages and I have taught it to many primary aged students who thoroughly enjoyed it. It has so many learning benefits such as;

  • strategic thinking skills
  • mathematical thinking skills
  • motor skills
  • face-to-face social interaction and cooperation
  • cognitive skills
  • analytical skills; planning and developing strategies
  • creative skills, and so on.

Click on the links below to find more information.

Aim of the Game and How to Play

How to make your own congklak board

Template design for dragon {naga} congklak board

Some other links to check-out; your students can also play an interactive online congklak game and follow this link for a useful vocabulary list to introduce to your students from the Language Learning Space. There’s also a Quizlet set based on various ‘games’ vocabulary.

I hope you have learnt something new about congklak and that you will consider integrating congklak or other traditional games into your Indonesian Language program, considering there are so many learning benefits and the fun that is just waiting to be had by all!

Do you enjoy playing congklak?

Have you introduced congklak to your students?

What other Indonesian traditional games are popular with your students in your Indonesian Language program?


  1. Liz Formby says

    I LOVE congklak! A wonderful game to play.
    We are waiting for our set of 7 boards to come via pos laut dari Bandung so we can start the congklak championships!!!

    • indospired says

      Congklak is such a great game isn’t it, Bu Liz! And congklak championships sounds awesome! Your students will love it! 🙂

    • indospired says

      It’s a great game Natty! I think Xander would really get into it! It kind of reminds me of chess {not that I play chess!} but it’s a strategic game, which makes it fun and challenging {in a good way!}. It’s not hard at all. Have a go and let me know how you go with it! I hope my instructions are clear enough to follow! Thanks for stopping by again…makes my heart sing to know that someone is out there reading my posts. 🙂 xxx

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