"One evening in Lovina, a series of seaside villages in the north of Bali, I met a local who was working at a beach-side bar and restaurant. I was enjoying a few Bintangs (Bali’s beer) along with some Canadian backpackers I had recently met when Putu invited me to a cockfight the next afternoon.
Needless to say, this isn’t an invitation I often get.
Cockfighting plays a very important role in the life of many Balinese men. A cockfight, in the simplest sense, is a fight between two roosters in a caged ring. To many men in Bali, it’s much more than this – it’s an obsession that has been passed down through the generations."
Cockfights - are still very popular on Bali.
The existence of cock fighting is more confusing, when you realize it's a part of the Balinese Hindu religion.In Bali, cockfights, known as tajen, are practiced in an ancient religious purification ritual to expel evil spirits. This ritual, a form of animal sacrifice, is called tabuh rah ("pouring blood"). The purpose of tabuh rah is to provide an offering (the blood of the losing chicken) to the evil spirits. Cockfighting is a religious obligation at every Balinese temple festival or religious ceremony. Cockfights without a religious purpose are considered gambling in Indonesia. Women are generally not involved in the tabuh rah process.
Cockfights outside the temple are forbidden in Bali, because of the gambling. Although in every village there is every day somewhere an illegal cockfight. Not in the centre of village, of course, not the market, but in a village house, barn or against a temple wall. Cockfights are spontaneously organized and hidden away, out of sight of the authorities and tourists.
But the police will not get involved. Bribed. That's not corruption! You should see it as a prepaid fine. A fine that is not registered anywhere, but goes directly into the pocket of one of the police officers. That is not unjust, because a police officer has paid a lot of money to become a policeman. A Balinese policeman who arrests one of his friends or
neighbours may be better ask for a transfer.
However cockfights are popular in Bali. The additional gambling in the fighting is illegal. There are even cockfighting arenas with bleachers. A village just outside Ubud has the biggest arena.
All forms of gambling, including the gambling within secular cockfighting, were made illegal in 1981 by the Indonesian government, while the religious aspects of cockfighting within Balinese Hinduism remain protected.
It’s important to understand that the double entendre for “cock” is not a coincidence here. A man’s sabung–fighting rooster–is an extension of his virility and masculinity. Yes, size does matter, the biggest roosters with the most ornate plumage tend to be the best fighters, and command the most respect. And in Balinese culture, honour and reputation are paramount.
You'll find the roosters in their wicker baskets lining village roads. Nearby, men escaping the heat of the day by squatting in the elevated, thatched-roof platforms that line the roads. They almost always have their prized rooster in hand.
The fighting roosters are stroked, massaged, combed, bathed in a pool of herbs and lukewarm water. Their owners pick dirt or bugs from the feathers, and hand feed them the finest kernels of corn, one-by-one.
Illegal cockfights are held almost daily. After working time between four and six. Sometimes there are 10 fights. The spectators can gamble their money for their
favourite cock. If your favourite cock wins, you'll get about two or three times your bet. With sign language and all sorts of secret cries deals are made. During the cockfights the deals are even increased. The fighting is also accompanied by much shouting from the audience.
Before the battle begins, they have a close look if roosters are just as strong. If this is the case, they get sharp blades attached to the legs. One of the two lives will come quickly to an end.
In the larger arena where the cock fights are held, is admission charged. But then you can also enjoy from nine o'clock in the morning till four o'clock in the afternoon. Sometimes manifestations organized three days long. Then there is also a market in which food and beverages are sold. The profit goes to a charity in the community.
Cockfights, of course, are brutal and some might find them unsettling. It should be noted that these roosters live extraordinary lives up until the fight. They’re cared for like a human child, and roam free in their owners homes, unlike the chickens held in tiny cages in factory farms in the West.
As discussed, cockfighting is a tradition dating back at least 1,000 years in Bali, and the Balinese have the utmost respect for their sabung. Roosters that are killed are brought back home and eaten, nothing is wasted.
From a Travel Report:
We arrive and tread through jungle to a tin shed nestled in banana plants, where rickety bamboo bleachers surround a hard-packed arena full of men holding various roosters. This is his home turf, but only if the bets are high enough will Dilly let his cocks fight.
Men fluff the necks of the cocks to make them angry, bounce them on their feet, taunt them, let them peck each others’ heads. Dilly plays it cool inside the edge of the ring but hangs back, watching. Rolling the well-worn cash in his hands, gamblers pensive thoughts etched in his ebony features, his tattooed eyeliner makes him seem even more intense.
The chosen roosters’ left leg is bound repeatedly with red thread that holds a large metal spike, so that one foot can rest on the ground and the other gouge into it’s opponent. Bets are taken and the yelling increases to a fevered pitch, but the chaos is a system understood by all.