This ancient game is part of the country's mystical heritage.

Victoria Tunggono   18 August 2016 12:37 - Jelangkung, also called Jailangkung, is an Indonesian game used to communicate with spirits that's more than 1,500 years old. 

The game works like this: You draw a circle on a piece of paper, about 20 centimeters in diameter, the write the letters of the alphabet along the rim. You then hold the pen or pencil with the point in the center of the circle. At least two people hold the writing instrument at one time (you can't play this game alone) while another recites the incantation. The specific mantra differs from region to region, but usually goes something like this: 

"Jelangkung, Jelangsat, di sini ada pesta, pesta kecil-kecilan. Jelangkung, Jelangsat, datang tak diundang, pulang tak diantar." 

In English: 

Jelangkung jelangsat, we have a party here, a small party. Jelangkung jelangsat, come uninvited, go undelivered.

Once you feel the spirit arrive, you ask your question and wait for it to move the pen around the letters to spell out an answer. 

Traditionally the game was played with a doll made from a coconut shell water dipper and a wooden handle, dressed in human clothes and with a key pendant hung around its neck. At least two people hold the doll while the writing instrument is tied to its hands. The spirit would then occupy the doll. 

That doll was called a Jelangkung

Here is a video of the game:


Those are all just the basics!


Jelangkung was first mentioned in an ancient manuscript from the fifth century, which explains exactly the same rules for playing that are used today in Indonesia.

It can be played anywhere but it is most popular in haunted places and around sunset. In the past, people would play on the night of a full moon.

Once the spirit arrived, it would introduce itself and start telling stories. 

People would ask questions, such as the name of the spirit, when or how did it died and sometimes about the future or lucky number in gambling. 


The name Jelangkung comes from an old Chinese belief of the Gods Poyang and Moyang (similarly pronounced with Indonesian term nenek moyang, which means ‘the ancestors’), Cay Lan Gong (literally translated as God of the Vegetable Basket) and Cay Lan Tse (God Protector of the Kids). The game was played by children on the Moon, or Mid-Autumn, festival. 

They called on the Gods Poyang and Moyang to enter a vegetable basket doll (used before the water dipper). In the doll’s hand a writing implement, usually chalk, would be inserted. On its neck was hung a necklace with a key pendant. The children would light incense and recite the mantra and when the doll got heavier they knew the spirit had arrived. The doll would nod if it agreed to be questioned and would spell out its answer on a chalkboard. 

Before a doll was used, Jelangkung was called Fu Ji, and was played with a tree branch shaped like a “Y”. On person would hold each end of the fork other end would write the answer in sand. 

The tradition is closely related to Taoism, in which prophesies are part of daily life. 


There are plenty of variations of this game!

Cay Lan Gong might have disappeared in China, but the tradition was adapted, passed on and spread wide all over Indonesia. In Java, it is known as Nini Thowong or Nini Thowok.

Its ritual is used by adults as well as kids to help protect their village from bad spirits. They would use a compass (as in the geometry tool) and a scarecrow. 

In West Sumatra, the Minangkabau people play Lukah Gilo as a form of public entertainment. A shaman called Dukun Lukah directs the ritual as a play and up to four persons have to hold the doll, which is referred to as Lukah Gilo. Lukah is a tool used to capture river fish made out of plaited bamboo and shaped like a vase, and refers to the holders. Gilo means crazy. A basket is used as the doll, with wooden or bamboo hands and a pumpkin or coconut shell head. It is dressed up like a woman. 

The dukun recites the mantra over the lukah and it starts to move erraticly. The more the incantation is repeated, the wilder its movements become. As the holders are forced to catch up with its movements, then enter a trance-like state and the crowd cheers them on. It stops moving if the dukun stops chanting. 

Lukah Gilo is played on special occasions and usually at night, when it is thought to be easier to summon spirits.


There have been many cases in recent years where players have been allegedly possessed by the spirits they summoned.

The game should always end by dismissing or freeing the spirit from the doll. 

If it is left trapped inside, trouble is in store for those who called it! 



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