One of the secrets of Bali that your tour guide will not show you is the illegal practice of cock fighting.
The Indonesian government made all forms of gambling including cock fighting illegal in 1981. Prior to this, big time professional events in large public arenas were a daily occurrence throughout the island. The big events are a thing of the past, but cock fighting is still very much alive in Bali.
The existence of cock fighting is more confusing when realising it becomes part the Balinese Hindu religion. A major part of the religion is to make offerings for many different good and evil spirits. Visitors to Bali would be aware of some of the offerings placed on the ground and at temples. There are some ceremonies that require a blood sacrifice. At these ceremonies, cock fighting is legal.
Cock fighting and betting on the result, has been a popular obsession with Balinese men for generations. Many forms of gambling in western societies are anti social, but cock fighting is quite the opposite. It is a very social event.
Many Balinese men own one or more fighting cock. They are kept in rattan cages and fed high quality food to develop muscle. The cages can often be seen on the side of the road during the day, to make the birds used to noise. In the afternoon you will see men sitting in groups, chatting, and grooming their birds.
The fight is called tajen, a word derived from the steel blade tied to the cock’s leg, taji. So complex and mysterious is the sport of cockfighting, that there are around 75 words used that are not used anywhere else in the Balinese vocabulary. There are also beliefs that certain coloured cocks should not fight certain other colours on particular days depending on the phase of the moon.
The men and their birds assemble at the location of the event. By the temple if it is a legal event, or some more obscure place if it is not. The preliminaries involve much noise and colour. The owners or handlers need to find an opponent and then fix the bet. This is a very time consuming activity. After 3 or 4 pairings have been made which is considered one set of matches, the preparations for the fight begin.
The blade or taji is fixed to the cock’s leg. This is done by a third person, a specialist, not the owner or handler. It will be fixed in different positions, depending on the size and weight of the cock. There are many unusual stories about the taji that lends more intrigue to cock fighting. It is said that menstruating women should not look at or touch the taji. Some say that the taji should only be sharpened in the light of the moon. Undoubtedly there are dozens of different myths from village to village.
Before the fight can commence, the side bets need to be made. The cocks are brought into the ring and the referee announces the central bet that was previously established between the owners. This is where the chaos begins. Yelling, arm waving and hand signals go on around the ring while the wagers are set. This too can take some time. Another interesting point is that the wagers are made in ringgit, a unit of money used by the Dutch many years ago. Nowhere in Bali is the ringgit quoted other than at the cockfights.
The fight itself also has some complex rules. It usually only lasts a few minutes and the fight is over. All side bets are paid with money being tossed and handed around the ring. The owner of the winning cock takes the entire central bet, and also the body of the losing cock. It will not be wasted.
Cock fighting has been a popular obsession with the Balinese for generations. With the intrigue, the mystery, excitement, and colour, it will continue to be part of their lives for many more generations.