Where once reserved for royals, modernising the songket means weaving it into the everyday fabric of Malaysian life. As a child, ...
Just Keep Spinning
Melaka-based gasing master Rimy Azizi Abdul Karim – otherwise known as Panglima Kayu Pusing – is going all out to ensure the survival of gasing, once a wildly popular pastime.
Four-year-old Adam Tuah eyes the gasing with intense concentration before launching it to the ground like a shot put in one fluid motion. The top lands with a whip-like crack before spinning upright for the next few minutes. Adam’s poise and skill seem startling for his age, but then again, he may have a genetic advantage. His father Rimy Azizi Abdul Karim is one of the most accomplished gasing masters in Melaka, so much so he earned the moniker Panglima Kayu Pusing.
At 33, Rimy is also one of the youngest active gasing practitioners of his generation. In hopes of attracting public interest in the game, Rimy occasionally includes Adam and his six-year-old daughter, Nor Umairah – also an adept gasing spinner – in his shows. But it’s Rimy, a skilled showman who can use his forehead, the back of his hand and even the tip of his finger as his playing field, who is inspiring local youths to pursue this sport largely seen as an old man’s game.
Coming from a lineage of gasing artisans that date back several generations, Rimy grew up watching his father Abdul Karim thrill crowds in exhibitions and competitions. After learning the basics of gasing making, Rimy went on a nationwide tour in search of other gurus that he could learn from. Though only 17 then, he managed to persuade no less than eight renowned gurus in Kelantan and Johor to take him as their apprentice, says Rimy proudly.
Since 2007, Rimy has been operating his gasing-making business out of Kampung Cheng, an idyllic village some 15km from Melaka city. Gasing Lagenda Enterprise works closely with Kraftangan Malaysia to produce tops as gifts and souvenirs as well as for competitive use. Apart from making tops for his own company, Rimy also conducts gasing-making courses and performs demonstrations.
Although a gasing doesn’t take more than a day to complete, the process begins months earlier. It starts with the search for hard wood that is malleable (liat) enough to be carved, yet hard enough to withstand intense duress. Depending on the design, cengal, ciku, tualang and leban kuning are popular picks, but the wood from the mangrove tree is highly prized for gasing, and for good reason.
“Mangrove trunks are very durable, making them suitable for the competitive gasing,” explains Rimy. “The mangrove trunks are further submerged in mud to strengthen them.”
Gasing pangkah, which Melaka is renowned for, is notoriously fierce. In this game, two teams of four players play in a circle known as “bong”. The goal is to “kill” an opponent’s gasing, either by knocking it out of the “bong”, or making it lose balance and topple over.
In keeping with tradition, Rimy used to source his raw materials from nearby rivers and forests but the scarcity and rising cost of raw wood has forced him, and other gasing makers, to seek alternative means. Abandoned old kampung houses have turned out to be a good source of sturdy wood, as once the wooden beams and planks have been dried and seasoned, they can be reused. Rimy reveals that it’s also more economical this way as it lowers the cost by as much as 40 percent.
Once the wood is obtained, the shaping process begins. Watching Rimy transform a block of wood into the iconic gasing shape, using an axe that’s thicker and longer than his arm, is quite a sight. Naturally, the job has its occupational hazards: “I once needed 19 stitches for my index finger because of an accident with an axe,” he confesses wryly.
The next process is tricky: a mesin larik (lathe machine) is used to pound a nail (or axis) into the centre of the top in order to add weight. This step balances the gasing, as the more well-balanced a gasing is, the longer it can spin. To test its balance, the gasing is sometimes floated in a pool of water (a well-balanced gasing should float upright). Finally, the top is chiseled, sandpapered and spray-painted for a smooth, shiny finish.
After years of honing his craft, Rimy is now considered a connoisseur of gasing. As he talks us through his personal collection, Rimy explains that in Malaysia alone, over 100 types of gasing can be found. “Each gasing’s characteristics tell a story, from its name and shape to even the type of wood used to make it. Gasing jantung is derived from the shape of a banana heart (jantung pisang), a popular ingredient in Malay cooking. Gasing talam dua muka (a dual-faced top) refers to a famous Malay proverb about the treacherous nature of humans, while lang laut is inspired by the sea.”
“Imagine the stories we can learn about our history and culture from this beautiful game,” Rimy muses. “It would be a pity if the day comes when you can only find spinning tops in a museum.”
To see Rimy in action, visit Gasing Lagenda Enterprise 833-1, Batu 5 ¾, Kampung Cheng, Melaka.
By Alexandra Wong
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