Chak-ka-yer or tug-of-war is one of the oldest traditional team games of Thailand. It is believed that chak-ka-yer derived from imitating the work of humans pulling a trolley with a heavy load, the behaviors of bulls, buffaloes, or elephants in pulling heavy things, and a Buddhist ceremony called Chak-Phra, in which a Buddha image is placed on a beautifully decorated cart and pulled in a procession so that people pay respect to the Buddha image as it rolled by.
It is also believed that chak-ka-yer was known and played in the Sukhothai period, around 1157 CE. However, a document in a Thai literature called Khun Chang Khun Phaen shows that there was also a game named sak sao, which was a kind of chak-ka-yer game played in the late Ayuttaya period, around 1757. Evidence also shows that the chak-ka-yer game was included in the first athletic game of students in 1897, during the reign of King Rama V of the Rattanakosin period.
Meaning and Significance
In chak-ka-yer, two teams use physical effort to pull a rope in opposite directions as a way of keeping the middle of the rope in their own side. The belief that chak-ka-yer originates from moving heavy things and the Buddhist Chak-Phra ceremony reflects Thai culture in hospitality, devotion, patience, and cooperation in public activities. Chak-ka-yer is usually played for entertainment as well as for unity, friendship, good relations, and understanding between men and women. The matches usually take place during annual festivals and holidays, such as the Songkran Festival(Thai Traditional New Year), New Year’s Day, the City Sacred Buddha Image Festival, and the King’s or the Queen’s birthday.
Playing Styles and Method
Chak-ka-yer is played by both men and women, and it is more popular among adults than with children. The players are divided equally into two teams of eight to twelve players per side. There are many ways of dividing the teams. The matches are often segregated by gender, with male teams pitted against male teams or females against females. Some matches mix genders but the male-to-female ratio must be the same for each team. In some areas, matches are played with male teams going against female teams. In the latter case, the male team must have fewer players than the female team has.
Generally made of manila or leather, the chak-ka-yer rope is twenty to thirty meters long and two and a half centimeters in diameter. In some areas in the north, a long wooden stick, such as bamboo, is used instead. In these cases, the game is called saksao (pull-a-stick). Three pieces of red cloth are tied to the rope as markers. The first strip of red cloth is put in the middle and is used to mark the results of the match. About two to three meters from the middle cloth on both sides, the other two strips of red cloth are tied to mark the boundary area for each team, and neither team is allowed to hold the rope in this section.
Chak-ka-yer is one intangible cultural heritage element of traditional Thai sport. It gives physical, mental, emotional, intellectual, and social values with Thai identity, and it is also a popular game that has been played throughout the country from the past to present.