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Bali Cock Fighting Capers

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Photo credits: David Metcalf

Meeting Pak Jaga

I witnessed my first cockfight in Bali, in a small village just outside of Ubud. I stumbled upon it by chance while running with a local Hash Harriers sports group. The run took us through a temple complex in the middle of the jungle, and we literally ran right through the path of a cockfight. Only men are allowed to watch this sport, so being female it was very opportune for me to get to witness this firsthand.

It was a fascinating scene. Money was changing hands rapidly and the feisty fighting cocks were squawking and nervously screeching, as they prepared to engage in battle; a battle that only lasts one minute. The atmosphere was pretty chaotic with loud cheers of crowd support, mixed with copious feathers flying left, right and centre, and the hype of gambling. Cockfights are only permitted at ritual ceremonies and are designed to purify and appease the spirits of the earth.

These birds are treated to a lot of luxuries and it’s a far from a cruel and bloodthirsty sport, as many people think. The birds have a longer life than normal and are highly valued. They are fed the best food and get hours of pampering from their owners. It is not uncommon to see a Balinese man grooming his rooster, sometimes for hours. In contrast, a rooster’s brother or sister lives a very short life, cooped up in a cage.

A cockfight involves the spilling of blood and a fight to the death. It happens not only in Bali, but also in Borneo, Mexico, the Philippines and even in Wales. In preparation for a fight, the cocks have metal claws known as taji, attached to the their feet. This allows for a quick death.

I took the opportunity to meet one of the cockfight owners, Pak Jaga and learn a little more about this age-old Balinese tradition. Jaga told me he had been involved in the cockfighting business for thirty years and was taught by his father in their local village. Jaga was a busy man. He also operated a small warung (shop) and worked in his fields, as a rice farmer. With a huge beam spreading across his face, he was very proud to tell me, “I have six children ranging from 5 to 38 years. My children are from three different wives. Yes, I am a busy man, but cockfighting is my most favourite activity”.

He was quite a character, constantly interrupting his speech with a wink and a nod, and very excited to tell me all about the business of being a successful cock seller. “ I raise roosters for fighting and they go for around Rp150- 200,000 (USD$11 – 15),” he explained, “But, if you have a good one, sometimes it can fetch up to Rp1,000,000 (USD$77).”

Like breeding racehorses or greyhounds, Jaga studies the physical body of the cock at a young age and its temperament, and makes a decision as to how it will perform as a fighter. With his discerning skills, he purchases the ones that he feels will succeed in fighting and then looks after them for one year until they are ready to take to the ring.

His goal is to sell five cocks a month. He also helps out on cockfighting days with various activities, such as getting the cocks ready for fighting and plucking the feathers from the losers so they can be sold for eating.

“If I had more money,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “I would buy merchandise to sell at the cock fights. That would be a real winner. Look at how many customers are here!” He confessed he never seems to be ahead of the game and to sell merchandise he would need a start up investment of around Rp2,000,000 to buy the merchandising stock. “I just dream about that,” he said with a chuckle.

It was a delight to meet Jaga, a very friendly and jovial character, always joking around and his positive spirit really seemed to add to the village atmosphere.

Story by Stephanie Brookes

Photos by David Metcalf

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