Bali Unique - Can be seen in almost any village or town usually in the morning. You will hear of them. You only see men at the cockfights. Though women may enter the tourist ones. Fighting cocks are given the greatest loving care. Being massaged, bathed and trained every day. Their feathers,combs,earlobes, and wattles are trimmed so that none protrude to provide a beak-hold for the opponent bird. The owner concentrates on its diet so that it becomes lean and little subject to fatigue. Pet,mascot,child,dreams,income, the bird is always carried with him around his courtyard and to the warung or banjar clubhouse, taking up as much attention as new wife. Their bell shaped cages are placed at roadsides so that the cocks may be amused by the passerby and not get lonely. A village will put up us much us a millions rupiahs on their favorite cock. Two cock eager to fight must be decided upon then equal or unequal bets are placed. The fight is blessed. Evil spirits receive an offering which hopefully satisfies them and also assures a good harvest. Brokers squabble. The birds are teased by their handlers, tails pulled, feathers ruffled, and palm wine sometimes spit down their throats, all to arouse the fighting spirit. Razors are strappedto their spurs. The fight is often finished in 15 – 20 seconds. Amazing ferocity even when crippled with wounds. If they both refuse to continue the fight they are put inside an upside down basket, then one almost always kills the other. Often a badly wounded cock can be revived by artificial respiration or by special massages, then fights again, and wins. The devotion, gesticulating and hysteria of the audience are fascinating to watch.
Cockfighting is a very old traditional in Bali, and before the Indonesian government banned gambling in 1981 the sport attracted huge crowds to the public wantilan arenas. Gambling was a large part of the attraction, but not the only one. Cockfights have a ceremonial purpose, and the government's ban includes an exemption - three rounds of a cockfight may be carried out for the purpose of ritually spilling blood, an important appeasement of the demons that accompanies Hindu temple festivals.
A cockfight is not just allowed at every Balinese temple festival or religious ceremony, it is required. The blood is an offering to the hungry forces of evil, the butas and kalas. Since religious ceremonies are almost daily affairs all over Bali, and since Bali is a rather small island, one still has an excellent chance of seeing a cockfight, if he arrives at the right place and at the right time.
The Balinese call the cockfights for ritual purification tabuh rah, "pouring blood." Of course it is illegal to bet on these three matches. But the law is not easy to enforce, given the ancient traditions of betting on cocks and the predilection of the population for this sort of thing, plus the remoteness of many of the ceremonies and accompanying cockfights. Theoretically the cockfights at temples, called tajen telung seet, consist of only three matches - telung means "three." This rule was (and still is) generally ignored. The Balinese can't resist continuing, often until sunset.
Cockfights used to be held on non-religious occasions. Sometimes a village might need money to renovate a temple or improve a public building. It could make quite a bit of money by staging a cockfight, because the house took a cut of the betting pot - often as much as 25 percent. The biggest non-religious cockfights in Bali were held three days a week at a public arena in downtown Denpasar. The gambling there was intense and serious, and amateurs knew they had best away. Permission for a village to hold a cockfight had to be granted by the police. But the big, public cockfights are permanently gone.
There is no point in worrying or preaching about the blood and guts aspect of cockfighting. Although such activities may shock our sensibilities, there is never any sense of guilt among the Balinese about this, or any nation of such treatment being "inhumane." The Balinese are not known for spoiling their animals except, perhaps, their cows and water buffalo's. To them, the death of a chicken in the cockfight arena is in no way different from its demise under the knife in the kitchen.
The cockfight itself, called tajen, meklencan, or ngadu, is only part of the scene. Everywhere you go you see men handling their siap, the fighting cocks. The birds are fondled, massaged, plucked, bathed, deloused, and fed the choicest mixtures of corn, rice, egg, and proprietary strength-building ingredients. It is said that a mixture of chopped grilled meat and jack-fruit leaves thickens the blood and prevents serious bleeding when injury results in the fight. No child is as spoiled as a fighting cock. Whenever two or more cock owners gather there are important mock fights in which the birds are released to confront each other. But no blades are used on their legs, and no injury result. A common late afternoon scene in any village is a group of squatting men, chatting with each other, and playing with each other's animals. In this idle pastime, megecel, the men ruffle the feathers, pull the bills and combs, feel and press the bird's muscles, and frequently hand each other the cocks they are handling. This may go on for hours on end, and the scene is endlessly repeated in village after village. It goes on even today.
No women are ever involved in any aspect of cock handling or fighting. Balinese society in Volvos no sex discrimination in daily activities, although there are some jobs that are basically for women, and others for men. There are, however, no prohibitions against men making offerings or women hoeing rice fields. Women just don't go to cockfights and have nothing to do with husbanding cocks.
Every road is lined with rows of bamboo cock cages, guungan siap, which are shifted regularly to give their inhabitants the proper balance of light and shade. The cages are placed near the roads to accustom the animals to noise, people, and activity. This way, when put into action in the arena, they will not shy from the spectators or run away. Hanging on the outside of the cage is a coconut shell dish, with which the bird is watered and fed his special mixture. The going price for young, untried cock was about Rp.7, 000 to Rp.10, 000 in 1980. The offspring of a good bloodline, like the offspring of a good horse, are highly prized and considerably more expensive. Cocks are generally not fought until they reach a year and a half old, and a cock is considered to be at his fighting peak at three years. The animals can live seven years, but occupational hazards almost always prevent this.
As with many other Balinese rituals, the lore and law of cockfighting is written in sacred palm leaf books called lontars. The writings are unbelievably intricate and detailed. There is a mind-boggling classification of cocks by color, shape, configuration, neck ruff, and other characteristics. Certain colors of cocks should fight cocks of other colors only during specific phases of the moon, on specific days, at specific times of day, from specific directions in the ring - and so on. This is the subject of endless discussions when men exercise their birds in the cool of the evening.
The larger temples generally have a permanent cockfight arena, a wantilan, which is outside the temple proper, but near its entrance. It may or may not have a roof. The arena itself is about 15 meters square, enclosed almost completely by tiered seats. At the smaller temples, an area for the fights is roped off nearby and rows of benches set up just outside the "ring." There is often a huge banyan tree nearby for the little boys to climb and from which they get a good view.
Most cockfights begin in the afternoon. Only the larger temples have morning stars. But people begin to collect long before starting time. The pushcart vendors sell their hot noodle snacks. Ladies set up stands and sell rice cakes, sate, fruit, and shaved ice with sweet, brightly colored syrups. Men play cards and shoot dice. Today, vendors hawk plastic buckets, photographs, calendars, stuffed animals, and squeaky whistles for kids. You can tell long before you arrive that a cockfight is being held. There are huge jams of bicycles, motorbikes, pedestrians, pushcarts, and various forms of public transportation. Getting there early is important, because there is never enough room, and once the fights have begun the crowd is impenetrable, even in the biggest wantilans. At the larger fights a small admission is charged, perhaps Rp.100 to Rp.200.
The cocks are brought to the arena in small, flexible bamboo cages, called kere or kisa, their fluffy tails protrude and it is impossible for the birds to move around. The cages are lined up around the edge of the arena, inside the barricade, and their handlers' squat behind them. It is a noisy affair, with the crowing of the cocks, the cries of the food vendors, and the raucous laughter and chatter of the crowd.
At the appointed hour a white-clad pemangku, a lay priest, advances to the center of the arena and presents offerings on the ground to the butas and kalas, chanting over them, ringing his bell over them, and finally pouring rice wine on the ground. Then he makes similar offerings to the gods in a shrine built up off the ground at a corner of the arena. Blood is on the way. Although the actual fighting is still a long way off, now the actions begin.
The men who handle the cocks before and during the fights are not the owners. They are professional handlers, juru kembar, hired by the owners to manage the animals. A skillful handler is of great importance to an owner. The winning cock is the one that last manages to stay on its feet, even if it is mortally wounded and drops dead seconds later. A good juru kembar has large bag of tricks to revive a seemingly lifeless cock and instill enough spirit in him to return to the fray. He plucks, massages, and ruffles the feathers. He has salved and medicines. He may breathe on the cock's mouth, or even put the cock's whole head inside his mouth - anything to enable the wounded bird to get in there and land one more blow. One good stab is often all it takes to turn an apparent winner into a future feather duster - the fate of losing cocks. Sometimes, if the handler is a gambler himself, he may seek out owners of cocks that he thinks he can make win.
After the pemangku has finished his prayers, a dozen or so their handlers bring out cocks into the arena. Usually a miscellaneous crowd of bystanders collects too. The handlers are seeking opponents. After much wandering around and talking, quite time-consuming, a potential opponent is usually found. The two handlers' squat down, face each other and, still firmly holding their birds, allow the cocks to glare at each other and get in a peck or two. Ruffs flare, and the animals get very excited. Then the handler's exchange birds by simultaneously handing the bird with the right hand and receiving the other with the left. Their opponent's muscles are felt and its strength tested. When a match and the amount of the bet are agreed upon, the handlers signal the owners who are seated in the audience. Owners may veto the match, but they usually abide by the decisions of the handlers. Three or four such pairings constitute one set of matches, called mbakan.
The next step is to affix the blade, the taji, to the cock's leg. The person who does this is usually a specialist, a pemasang taji, or pekembar. It is the taji that gives the cockfight its name - tajen. A taji is a tiny, razor-sharp dagger; 11-15 centimeters (4-6 in.) from tip to tip. The blade is thin, and diamond-shaped in cross section, and terminates in an unsharpened, roundish handle, which is attached to the bird's leg. There are almost as many stories and as much lore about taji as about the powerful kris dagger. Menstruating woman may not look upon them or touch them. They may only be sharpened at the dark of the moon. They must be forged with charcoal from a tree that has been struck by lightning - and some say they may forge only when there is lightning going on outside. A member of a family in which there has been a recent death must not touch them. The prohibitions and lore are endless, and endlessly variable. A good taji may cost up to Rp 10,000 (in 1990, Rp 20,000). There are usually 10 or 15 pemasang taji around to be hired for Rp 500 or so to affix the blades. Sometimes the handler has his own taji. They are carried in a little wooden or leather wallet, called a kupak, which contains half a dozen or so different sixes of the little knives.
A single blade is attached, normally to the left leg, by wrapping twine around the leg and handle of the taji. This is an extremely important part of preparation. If a blade is improperly fastened, the cock will be at a great disadvantage. If the bird is small, the taji is attached to the outside of the leg; if large, to the inside. The angle of the taji is also critical. A good pemasang taji is very important. Sometimes, when one cock clearly outweighs the other, the heavier one is handicapped by modifying the attachment of the blade. But this is never done unless both owners agree. While the blade is being attached, the assistant, the saya taji, holds the cock. A firm grip is important. The blade is very sharp. And if the bird gets loss, the handler or a spectator could be critically injured.
When the cocks for the first set of matches are ready, the arena clears out, and the first match, sebet begins. The handlers of the first two cocks meet, with their birds, in the center of the arena and give the pot for the central bet, the toh dalam, to one of the referees, the saya. The wager was agreed upon when the match was made a few minutes earlier. It is always even money - no odds. If necessary, as indicated above, the birds are handicapped with the taji. The money is provided by the owners, who usually get contributions from family, friends, and backers in the crowd. This bet may be considerable. Even at the small matches, a central bet of Rp 100,000 is not unusual. And at the really big cockfights as much as Rp 1 million (U.S. $600) is often bet. Considering that the 1981 per capital income in Indonesia was U.S. $415, this represents a sizeable risk.
There are always several referees in the arena. But the chief judge, the juru dalem, is the man in charge. A casual visitor might think the timing official is most important, because he is almost visible. But the Balinese know who the juru dalem is. He must be a man of impeccable honesty and reputation, and he must have no relationship to or interest in any of the owners, handlers, or cocks. His word is undisputed law in the arena. If he is tainted in any way, people will not fight their cocks under him.
The juru dalem signals the amount of the bet to the timekeeper at his table overlooking the arena. This is of interest to all, because it indicates the confidence that the owners and handlers have in their animals, and thus will influence the amount of the side bats, the toh kasasi - bets between members of the audience or between them and the cock owners or handlers. To the uninitiated, this phase of proceedings is utter chaos. Bettors yell at each other, wave money around, stand up and gesticulate wildly, and make unfathomable signals with fingers and hands. But to the aficionado, this is all a very intricate and carefully structured series of events. It is as if one was betting on a horse race and there were no ticket windows or pari mutual machines.
Although the central bet is always even money, the side bets are never even money. One of the most fascinating aspects of cockfighting is the way in which odds are set. First the favorite, kebut, and the underdog, ngai, must be established. The first shouts of the betting are generally made by the experienced, more or less professional bettors. These are the men one sees at almost every cockfight. They follow the fights around and have no regular jobs except gambling. They quickly assess the two cocks, using their considerable knowledge and experience, and decide which is the favorite. And then they start shouting its color. The shout is a staccato repetition of the color name. For example, bieng means red and white. So if a red and white cock is being pushed as favorite, one hears; "Bieng, bieng, bieng, bieng, bieng" in rapid-fire succession. Color is classified in a variety of ways. Some examples: putih, white; barak, red; buik, speckled green and black; selem, black; brumbun, black, red, and white. These colors generally refer to the cock's collar or ruff and not to the overall body color. If two cocks have the same color, some other differing aspect will be called out - the size of the tail, the size of the body, or even the side or compass direction of the arena that the cock waving with the hand, palm toward the cock that bettor is backing.
The less experienced bettors listen carefully to the first calls and generally follow their lead. But one must pay strict attention because the favorite may change, depending upon the opinions of the bettors and the overall sentiment of the crowd. If more people yell one color name than the other, and do so more vigorously, the former will replace the latter as the temporary favorite.
After the first color shouts, made to establish the favorite, those who wish to bet on the underdog start yelling the odds they want. The color shouters are the backers off the favorite and the odds yellers are backing each other in a crowd when they are separated by a distance as great as the width of the arena, packed so tightly together that even standing up is difficult, and walking around is impossible. This is done, however, with great efficiency and ease.
If a bettor shouts or "Sapih!" after the odds he wants, then he wants to win in the case of a draw - a rare event. The first four on the above list, the shortest odds, are by far the most common. The backer of the underdog tries to get the longest odds possible, and the favorite backer tries to get shortest. The underdog backers usually start at about 3:2 and are forced by lack of takes to work down to 4:3 or 5:4. The favorite backers look for shouters of low odds, but, if there are none, have to settle for worse odds. Both types of backers usually indicate the amount they want to bet by holding up fingers.
Curiously enough, the monetary unit of betting is not the Indonesian rupiah, the standard of currency for the entire country, but the ringgit, an absolute unit used during Dutch colonial days. Nowhere in Bali will you hear a price quoted in ringgits except at a cockfight, and there nothing but ringgits are used. Since there is no ringgit currency in Indonesia, debts are paid in rupiahs - but they are always wagered in ringgits. It is rather like the way the guinea is used by the British in Transactions with high snob appeal. The number of fingers held up indicates the number of thousands of ringgits being wagered, unless the bettor indicates by his shouts that it should be interpreted as hundreds of ringgits. The conversion rate for Balinese cockfight "ringgits" is always one ringgit to two-and-one half rupiahs. Two fingers mean 2,000 ringgits (Rp 5,000), an average side bet at a medium size cockfight.
Favorite and underdog backers scan the crowd quickly, looking for someone to take their bets. The backers of the favorite stand and wave toward their choice, while the underdog backer's wave rupiah notes, not to indicate the amount they wish to bet, just to attract attention. When eye contact is made with a likely looking prospect, the two exchange a complex and rapid series of signals to make sure each understands the nature of the bet. Palm waving indicates the favorite. Finger extension indicates the bet size. Lip movement reinforces the signals, because the din makes oral communication impossible at a distance. If the bet is agreed upon, the two men signal the fact by touching their heads or pulling at the fronts of their shirts. I f there is disagreement; they break eye contact and look elsewhere. If someone shouting odds cannot get a bet, he lowers them one notch on the scale and keeps trying, getting closer to, but never attaining, even money. The handlers also bet, spurring the crowed to back their cocks by holding them aloft and walking around the arena. During this phase of proceedings, confusion and noise reign supreme. The sound is deafening, as the odds criers yell: "Cok, cok, cok, cok!" or "Gasal, gasal, gasal, gasal!" The backers of the favorite shout his colors in a frenzied patter.
While the betting is taking place the handlers carry the cocks to the center of the arena and incite them to fury by pushing them at each other, plucking their combs, and bouncing them on the ground. As fight time approaches, the frenzy of betting reaches a state of pandemonium.
Then the timekeeper sounds his gong. The match is to begin. Last minute bets are sealed and the crowed becomes quite. The chief referee and the judge's squat down in the corners, and the handlers release their charges from opposite sides of the arena. At this point, anything can happen. Usually the birds flare their ruffs, extend their necks, and after a preliminary glare, have at each other in a fury of feathers and flying feet, so quickly that the eye can hardly follow the action. The crowd groans and shouts almost as one man, following the action with their bodies. Pretty soon one cock lands a solid blow with its taji. At once its handler signals the head referee, who signals the timekeeper to stop the first round, or elebaan. This is to prevent the two animals from making further contact - at this point the aggressor's instinct is to move in and peck his opponent to death, but the wounded bird, at such close range, could easily stab him with his taji.
When the bird is pulled apart, the timekeeper starts his clock, called the ceeng. It is a half coconut shell with a hole in the bottom, placed large side up, in a bucket of water. It sinks in about 10 seconds, or one ceeng. The timekeeper's gong, the kemong, is sounded once after each ceeng. The cocks are allowed three ceengs to recoup between rounds.
During the break, the handler of the wounded cock works frantically, trying all of his tricks to revive the bird's fighting spirit. He is often quite successful, and the injured animal, seemingly indifferent to its wound, sails right at his opponent. At the end of the third ceeng, both cocks have to be put on the ground immediately. Failure to do so forfeits the match. Round two starts. If the wounded cock cannot stand, and if the other one can stand for one ceeng, the match is over. If the two birds start fighting, the match proceeds as in round one, until one or the other is struck. The gong is sounded again, a three-ceeng period is allowed for the revival of the injured animal, and the fight continues. If both cocks are still going strong after five rounds, the match is declared a draw. This seldom occurs. The timekeeper keeps track of rounds on a counter called a pengetekan, a wooden frame with a horizontal wire. Five wooden strips are suspended vertically from the wire, sort of like the beads of an abacus. The timer pushes one counter aside after each round.
Often the wounded cock loses its appetite for fighting. Or, in some cases, a cock may not have any desire to fight at all right from the beginning, and tries to escape from the arena. The crowd scatters quickly because a wild flapping cock with a lethal dagger strapped to its leg could cause great harm. One or another of the spectators grabs it by the neck and returns it to the ring. The handler has nine ceengs to get his animal back into action or he forfeits the fight.
Another rest is signaled if the cock stays in the arena, but do not start fighting. During this time out, the handlers of the reluctant cocks try to urge them on. In the next round, if the cocks still do not clash, the pemeruputan is ordered. This is an ordinary bamboo cock cage without a bottom. It is the tiebreaker - the finisher. The word mruput means, "to fight in a surrounded place." The two reluctant cocks are placed on the ground under the cage, and the referee brings it down quickly and leaves it down for one ceeng. The head referee watches carefully from close up. Victory goes simply to the aggressor. It need not kill or even wound the other cock, although it frequently does. It merely has to display aggression. But if the cocks - now face to face with no retreat - start to fight again, the cage is pulled off and the fight continues as before.
As soon as the winner is declared, money starts to fly. Side bets are paid in cash - at once. No I.O.U.'s. Those who are wedged into the crowd wad up their bills and throw them at the person who won their money. If the money misses or lands in the arena, someone always forwards it to the rightful owner. There is remarkably little bickering and dispute over whom owes what to whom. I have been told of an increasing number of gamblers who bet with no cash on hand. The police quickly grab these men. And, if they cannot raise money from friends on the sport, are hauled off to jail and sufficient of their property sold so that the debt can be paid.
The owner gets the entire pot from the main betting, which has been watched by the referee during the fight. From this money he pays the handlers and the taji man, gives the house its cut, and distributes the winnings to all those who contributed to the bet. He also gets the body of the loosing cock. He always gives the taji leg to the pemasang taji. The lower part of the leg is chopped off and placed, with taji still attached, on the timekeeper's table. The owner retrieves it, unwinds the sting, puts the blade back in stock, and looks for further work.
The match itself has lasted only a few minutes. Immediately the second match of the set begins. The cocks have already had their tajis attached. Their handlers carry them into the arena, the central bet is quickly made, and the side betting begins just as before. There is no connection at all between the separate matches. One set consists of four or five matches. When they are over, the handlers and hangers-on come out into the arena and start looking for opponents, just as they did before the first set. These goes on until dark, the crowd never thinning until it is all over. Many temple anniversary festivals last three days, and so does the cockfighting.
Some cockfights actually take place inside temples. It is not an especially common event, but it does happen. I recall one such instance at Eka Dasa Rudra, the once-a-century exorcism that took place at Bali's mother temple, Besakih, in 1979. It was considered important to spill blood in the actual temple itself, since the ceremonies concerned themselves largely with the exorcism of evil spirits. The cocks were handled only by the pemangku, who told the spectators not to bet because of the sacred nature of the offerings. But the urge was irresistible, and money changed hands as usual during the three brief tabuh rah.
Cockfights are regularly held at the ceremonies performed in family house compounds when it has been determined that the grounds are unclean and in need of some sort of purification. At such times a very large offering, called a caru, is made inside an enclosure of coconut leaf mats, and the butas and kalas are placated. Word of the cockfight gets around fast, and villagers from all over come to help stage an impromptu tajen right inside the family house compound. Some temples regularly have their obligatory three tabuh rah inside, but these are conducted rather quickly and unceremoniously, so that the outsider will be unlikely to be able too see them.
Gambling on cocks has been responsible for the dissipation of good many Balinese fortunes, large and small. Many a raja of old lost his palace, wives, and treasure by being "cook crazy," as the Balinese call a habitual bettor. I have heard from many of my Balinese friends how their fathers or grandfathers were reduced to poverty by this addicting habit. There are now even troops of professional gamblers who go from fight to fight, pooling their financial resources to back a favorite in the central bet. Stories are told of wild rages and uncontrolled fury displayed by those who lose large sums of money. Countless friends have told me that they really should stop betting. But they never did.
Fighting cocks, cockfighting, and wagering on the fights have been popular obsessions with the Balinese for generations. The tourist who could worm his way into the sweating, jostling, noisy, gesticulating crowd of men and join them, standing around an open arena, watching the proceedings, might have wondered if he had stepped into a different country. Are these the graceful, deferential, dignified people whom he has seen in his hotel? Are these the same individuals who carry the offerings to the temples and pray with such heart-felt fervor? The boisterous crowd was a sight to behold. As it suddenly quieted down and the action began, the fast and flurries of engagement were punctuated with the "Ooohs" and "Aaahs" of the audience.
This opportunity is no longer available, and although this is probably beneficial in the long run to the Balinese people, it unfortunately transforms rather routine studies and photographs of cockfighting into irreplaceable historical documents.
Source: Bali, Sekala & Niskala,
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