In Indonesia Football Is Played with a Ball of Fire

Sepak Bola Api, or The Fireball Game, is a unique game Indonesians play to welcome the month of Ramadan. It’s a lot like football only they have to kick a flaming fireball.

It seems regular football is pretty boring. At least that’s the feeling I get after discovering similar games like Footdoubleball, Cycle Ball or Burton-on-the-Water. The latest addition to the list of games that makes football look easy is an Indonesian tradition that had people kick a flaming football in celebration of Ramadan. It’s called Sepak Bola Api and is usually celebrated in the Yogyakarta, Bogor, Tasikmalaya, and Papua regions of the Southeastern Asia archipelago. Just like in the regular game of football, two teams of 11 eleven players kick a ball and try to shoot it in the opposing goal. But that’s easier said than done when playing barefoot and kicking a flaming ball.

Photo by Juni Kriswanto

As you can imagine, a normal football wouldn’t last very long set on fire, so Sepak Bola Api is played with a special ball made from coconut shells. The best coconuts are old and dry and the trick is to remove around 0.5 cm from the outer skin of the shell, rounding it up using a knife. The liquid inside the fruit has to be removed and the shell punctured with the tip of the knife, before soaking the ball in petroleum or kerosene. According to some sources the ball has to be soaked for seven days, while others claim just 30 minutes are enough to keep it burning throughout an entire game.

 Photo by Arbi Anugrah/Detik

Although the match itself is the highlight of the evening, the pre-game rituals are just as important for the players. Apart from physical strength and skill, Sepak Bola Api players also need to train their spirit, and go through a special ritual that supposedly makes them impervious to fire. They fast for 21 days before the big match, recite their aurad-aurad (special prayers), avoid foods cooked with fire and those containing elements of life, and go through “matigeni” (fasting one day and night without sleep). After going through all the stages, players no longer fear fire  so they play barefoot and even use their torsos and heads to handle the ball.

Photo by Arbi Anugrah/Detik

I’d like to see how Messi of Ronaldo do in a game of Sepak Bola Api. They suddenly don’t seem that special anymore…


Sources: East Javanese, Partnership 18