Childhood Games of Baby Boomers – Rubber Seeds

In the ’50s and ’60s, there was hardly any palm oil plantation (maybe none at all) but we sure had many very neat and tidy forests, a la our rubber plantations. The rubber trees (Hevea Brasiliensis) were grown in neat rows and were favourite playgrounds for children then. Somehow conditions seemed so much safer then, and parents did not care that the children routinely ran into rubber estates to play.

Rubber Seeds. Photo from Wikipedia.

The mature rubber trees bear flowers and hence seeds once or twice a year (I forgot. Does anyone remember?) and gave rise to the seasonal “fighting rubber seeds” game. The idea was to find a seed that could outlast any other seed when squeezed together. The two competing seeds were held in the palms of your hands and squeezed together using your thighs for leverage. The one that cracked and broke, lost. It’s somewhat like the British children’s game of conkers  using the horse chestnuts to “battle”, except in conkers, the horse chestnuts are threaded and then swung at each other, while the rubber seeds are actually squashed together until one broke. How do I know about “conkers”? From Beano, Dandy, Topper….children’s comics of that period!

A rubber tree tapped for latex. Photo by Wang Sun Chan.

The rubber seeds were picked from the rubber estates (it seemed as if there was always a rubber estate near wherever you lived).  I recall a rich variety of seeds; there were large ones, small ones; generally rectangular but there were also triangular ones. Generally, the smaller seeds were the tougher ones. We would break an unwanted seed to use its core  to rub and polish the favoured seed until it had a wine red sheen. Then it was time to do battle. There were cheats, of course. A common method was to make a small hole at the top and to squeeze in additonal core material to compact the interior of the “fighter seed”. That way, it would not break so easily. A more insidious way was to pump glue into the fighter seed.  The “super glue” (cyanoacrylate adhesive) was not available at that time, but even the ordinary glue was enough to give an unfair advantage. Great care had be taken to ensure that the hole was well disguised so that the opponent did not know.

Another simple game of the baby boomers. They were all seasonal games. A time for “Kotak”, a time for “Rubber Seeds”, a time for “Kites”, a time for “Marbles”.  Do you remember?

Photo Credits:

Header photo of a “rubber estate” and photo of a tree being tapped for latex were taken by Wang Sun Chan at the Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia, 17-Feb-2014. 

The photo of the rubber seeds is taken from Wikipedia, reproduced here under the Creative Commons Licence.




7 thoughts on “Childhood Games of Baby Boomers – Rubber Seeds”

  1. I was told by my friend that they flowers only once a year

    I was told by my friend that the rubber trees flowered only once a year. Then they will drop their leaves , new shots will grow back till the trees are full of leaves again. The hard shell that carry the rubber seeds can be fix together and blow it as wind-mill or fan, that is how we played in those days.

  2. I suppose we were not that fighter cock type back in idyllic Trengannu, home of the leatherback turtles. Some of us did use them seeds for “fighting” but mostly we used them in our congkat game. They get smoother upon usage and give a much better feel than say marbles or pebbles. Is it true that a chicken will die if it eats the rubber seed?

    Now that I am in the wood biz, I got a funny question a while back from a SYT, asking in all seriousness if rubberwood is made of rubber? Hahahahahaha. Didn’t know to laugh or cry.

    1. Is the rubber seed edible?

      “… hazardous linamarin were found in RSO (rubber seed oil)”

      “The kernels of the rubber seeds can be eaten……”
      “…..the Indonesians have been eating preserved rubber seed kernels for ages.”
      “In Sarawak the seeds are preserved by soaking in salt water over night. The “kesam” kernels can be stir fried with Ikan Bilis …..”
      “……rubber seed rum” or preserved rubber seed is available as a condiment in several restaurants in Jerantut Pahang.”

      Is rubberwood made of rubber?

      Good question! Is hamburger made of ham?
      Never mock a seemingly silly question, ha! ha!

  3. Hmm.. Rubber seeds. I used to play the “fighting rubber seed ” game back in the late sixties and early seventies with my neighbors and friends. Come to think of it, I have not touched or seen a rubber seed for almost four decades already. Hey! I didn’t know about the dirty tricks of drilling holes in the rubber seeds and filling it with whatever to strengthen them. No wonder my rubber seeds were always cracked in the fight. How tricky can some people get.
    Since you mentioned my childhood favourite comics Beano, Dandy and Topper, you missed out Beezer, I wish to digress a bit to comics if you don’t mind. My favourite characters were Biffo the bear, Dennis the Menance, Desperate Dan, Winker Watson, Bash Street Kids, Minnie the Minx, Greedy Pigg, Billy Whiz and Lord Snooty. I used to go hungry to save a portion of my daily school pocket money of 30 cents to buy these comics. I always treasured the annual publication of the Beano and Dandy Book which came in hardcovers . It’s a pity none of these comics of mine survived the ravage of time. All were either lost or torn. Apart from these comics, I also enjoyed reading the Superheroes comics like Superman, Wonder Woman, Fantastic 4, Incredible Hulk , X-men, Spider Man (Spidey) and Aquaman. Apart from these. I also used to buy war comics, usually about World War 2 with battles between the Jerries and Englanders. Occasionally , the Yankees were also seen in action. As expected, it was always the Jerries who ended up as the losers.
    Those were the innocent and carefree days.

    1. Stuffing the seed with addtional core (taken from another seed) was an expected “cheat”. But I didn’t know glue was also used until I mentioned to an elder relative that I was planning to write this article. He told me about the glue trick. Selecting your best fighting seed then was very much like how people now choose a durian. Shake it near the ear to hear if the core bounces around inside. If you can hear a dull (hollow) sound, it means there is too much hollow space between the core and shell. That seed would be a loser…unless you then stuff additional core material into the available space.

      As for the durian, when you shake it and can hear dull thuds, that means too “seedy” with too little “meat”.

  4. There is another use for the rubber seed. We use to rub the seed on the cement floor till its hot and press it on the arm or thigh of our unsuspecting friends. It can be very painful. Come to think of it, this not a good way to treat friends. well we give and we also received. all for fun

  5. The rubber seeds in my arsenal was not as good as the ones that my friends had so I never really appreciated the rubber seed (not to mention also the smell that emit from the rubber estates nearby)…..different from what I was asked by a taxi driver in Shanghai when he knew I came from Malaysia and he said to me he had to ask me a question since I am from Malaysia….he asked “Is the rubber tree big?”….I guess if he’s never seen a rubber tree before, he would probably not have played with rubber seeds too….something that we Malaysian can think about to trade online then???….

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