It certainly wasn’t something I planned to do. I’m all for humane treatment of animals. But cockfights are a part of Balinese culture, and it was a privilege to be able to witness one.
My plan for the day was to drive from Ubud to the Tegallalag rice terraces, which are said to be particularly scenic. So I entered it into Google Maps, and drove to where it put the pin.
One of the many problems with Google Maps is how it puts little pins on big areas. The terraces are not one small thing that can be marked on a map. They are everywhere. What I wanted to find was the scenic viewpoint.
I drove to where the pin was, and there was nothing there. I drove for a while down the road. Nothing. I took a side road. It started going up a big hill, so I wasn’t sure.
A Balinese guy on a motorbike rode up and started talking to me. He said there was a cockfight, and he wanted to take me.
Traveling in touristy places like Bali has made me wary when local guys approach me. They are usually trying to sell me something. But I was curious about the cockfight. I figured having to pay a guide would be worth it.
A Local Scene
I followed him to the venue. It was full of local guys. There wasn’t a bule to be seen among the crowd.
Before the main event, which is all about gambling, was more gambling! Guys crowded around various games of chance set up on the ground. My guide, who didn’t speak much English, disappeared among the games.
The most popular game was quite elaborate, and was some sort of card game. Another was a dice betting game. I noticed a carving of this game at the airport. A third game was another type of card game.
The only time I saw Rp 100,000 notes was from an ATM. I saw these bills, the biggest in Indonesia worth about 8 USD, changing hands here.
Then it was time for lunch! One of Bali’s most famous dishes is babi guling, or sucking pig. It’s a whole pig with crispy skin, and you get part of it. It can be quite expensive in tourist areas.
This was the real deal, and was delicious and not expensive. Local food for local people!
The Main Event
It was almost time for the main event, and the area was filling up with men. The women stayed outside.
The crowd was full of energy and enthusiasm. Without a guide, I was on my own to interpret what was going on.
At the beginning of each match, two owners/handlers bring their chickens into the ring. The officials in the ring raise a hand to solicit bets. People in the crowd bet by raising a hand.
Then the crowd starts chanting excitedly. Could they be saying the name of the bird they are betting on?
The handlers put a big razor blade on their bird’s claws. They unsheathe the big blade and display it.
Then it’s time for the fight. But the birds aren’t too interested in fighting. To build aggression their handlers stick them in each other’s faces. The whole time the crowd is chanting excitedly.
Now it’s really time for the fight. The handlers back off to the edge of the ring and put their birds down. The birds attack furiously, in a flurry of bright colors and feathers.
It was always hard to see what happened. Surely there was blood, but it was hidden by the birds’ bright feathers.
The birds went at it until one went down and an official somberly hit a drum once to stop the fight. Then the handlers would pick up their birds.
They’d put them back down, and if they were both still standing, the fight continued. This went on until one of the birds wasn’t moving any more.
It was pretty brutal, but it was nice to be able to see this side of Balinese culture. It’s certainly not something I would normally be into in my free time, though.
When I had seen enough, the guy from earlier came over to say goodbye. He didn’t want any money. He just wanted to share part of his culture.