ON a holiday at the beach in Terengganu recently, I showed a group of vacationing city kids a game children played four decades ago. I don't know who invented the game, or if it was called by the same name. We called it "cham keh thau" (or beheading the cockerel) in Hokkien, or more commonly called konda kondi. I don't know if the term was in Tamil or Malay, but I am certain it is not rooted in English.
The game uses two rounded sticks usually sawn-off brooms -- the bat measuring about 0.6m long and a short stick about 7.6cm to 10cm long.
The aim is to use the bat to hit the short stick and send it flying across the field to the opponent. There are three rounds to a turn. First, the short stick is placed straddling a three-inch long hole in the ground. The hitter uses the bat to flick the short stick across the field.
If the catcher fails to catch the short stick, the hitter goes to the second round. He throws the short stick into the air, hits it to send it flying towards the catcher. If the short stick is caught before it lands on the ground, the hitter loses his turn.
If not, the catcher still gets a chance to knock the hitter out of his turn by throwing the short stick as close as possible to the hole.
If the short stick lands within 0.6m of the hole, usually measured by the distance of the bat, the hitter loses his turn. Otherwise, he goes to the final round which gives the game its rather unglamorous Hokkien name.
This stage requires speed and dexterity of the limbs. The short stick is first placed with one end protruding from the hole at an angle. The hitter strikes the protruding end and causes the short stick to somersault into the air, before quickly hitting it to send it across the field.
If the catcher fails to catch the short stick, the position where it fell is noted. Using the length of the hitting stick, the distance from that point to the hole is measured. The number of counts represents the score. The game is played one against another or in teams of four to five persons over a pre-decided time or whoever reached the pre-determined score first.
I have not seen konda kondi being played these days. I wonder if anyone also remembers games like chopping (using a tennis ball to strike out opponents one by one until there is only one left on the field), rounders (a game similar to baseball), or even dividers (a game boys played by flicking a pair of dividers or a folding knife onto the ground in several rounds).
I think I can see why such games have fallen out of favour with today's city children. Within the confines of the space-challenged highrises where gardens are small and the grounds concreted, you can't play these games in their true form without breaking the windows of someone's condo or the windscreen of their cars.
A city-bred parent tells me that he wouldn't let his boys play such dangerous games although he would not mind them spending hours on the Wii or Playstation. As long as his children are safe, he would not mind the cost of frequent software or equipment upgrade.
I told him that he and his children are paying the price of losing out on the healthy interaction with other children that games of old provide.
Through games like konda-kondi or chopping, when played in groups, they learn about solidarity and teamwork, and of honour and integrity.
Yes, there is a chance of getting hurt in the rough tumble but that's how they learn to keep themselves safe in the real world.