Cockfighting Culture, A Timeless Tradition in Java and Bali

cockfighting in Bali

javaprivatetour.com – Indonesia, a land of vibrant culture and age-old traditions, offers travelers a unique opportunity to delve into the depths of its rich history. Among the many intriguing aspects of Indonesian culture is the practice of cockfighting. Join us on a captivating journey to explore the profound symbolism and heritage associated with this age-old tradition in the islands of Java and Bali.

A Window into the Past

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Cockfighting in Bali in 1915

Cockfighting in Indonesia has a history that predates modern records. While the Chinese and the Indians often claim to be the cradle of chicken domestication, it’s a little-known fact that Indonesia holds the third place in this lineage. The interaction between humans and roosters on Indonesian soil carries the key to understanding the enduring myth of the fighting rooster in their culture.

In April 1958, anthropologist Clifford James Geertz and his wife were conducting field research in a remote village in Bali. Their encounter with a police raid during a cockfighting event was a pivotal moment in their research. It not only opened doors to the Balinese community but also revealed the profound significance of cockfighting in their culture. Geertz’s essay, “Deep Play: Notes on The Balinese Cockfight,” shed light on the layers of symbolism hidden within the seemingly simple act of roosters battling it out.

Geertz’s exploration of symbolic interpretation unveiled the core importance of cockfighting in Balinese society. Beneath the surface, it represents a complex cultural structure, intertwining concepts of status, heroism, masculinity, and social ethics that underpin Balinese culture. Cockfighting, according to Geertz, transcends mere gambling; it serves as a symbol of status, authority, and more.

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From ‘Ayam’ to ‘Jago’: A Linguistic Evolution

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Children Watching Cockfighting in Java 1900

The term ‘jago’ in Indonesian might lexicographically mean “rooster,” but it carries a connotation of a “champion” or “winner” in the context of a competition. In Javanese, ‘jago’ translates to “rooster” but holds similar connotations.

Historically, cockfights involved two roosters fighting with natural spurs or, in some cases, spurs crafted from materials like bamboo, sharpened wood, or iron. Thomas Stamford Raffles, in “The History of Java” (1817), documented the widespread nature of cockfighting among the Javanese.

Etymologically, the word ‘jago’ is believed to have originated from the Portuguese word ‘jogo,’ meaning “game.” This term likely refers to the cockfighting games enthusiastically embraced by the Portuguese in the Indonesian archipelago. Over time, the word was adopted into various local languages such as Malay and Javanese. In the case of Banten, the absorption of the word ‘jago’ into the local language can be traced back to 1810.

Cockfighting, along with other spectacular contests like elephant or tiger fights, was common at royal festivities in Southeast Asian cities, as noted by Anthony Reid in “Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce 1450-1680 Volume One: The Lands Below the Winds.” Ayam, in the past, was a symbol of grandeur and authority in the kingdoms of Southeast Asia.

A Glimpse into History and Myth

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Relief About Cockfighting at Dalem Poerwa Temple in Bangli

Cockfighting also finds its place in ancient folklore. Javanese folklore, “Cindelaras,” set in the 11th century Jenggala Kingdom, tells the story of cockfighting and its connection to symbols of power. Similarly, the Sundanese have their own folklore, “Ciuang Wanara,” which hails from the 8th century Galuh Kingdom and tells a tale of exiled princes who reunite with their royal father through the practice of cockfighting.

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These historical and mythological accounts showcase the sacred and symbolic connotations of the rooster’s power. In Bali, particularly, Geertz revealed the importance of ‘taji,’ the spurs attached to the roosters. These spurs, made from metal, were sharpened during lunar eclipses or during non-full moon periods. They were seen as sacred and needed to be carefully maintained, hidden from the view and touch of women.

Historically, the word ‘sabung,’ meaning ‘cockfight,’ has been documented in inscriptions in Bali dating back to 922 AD. ‘Sabung’ was used metaphorically to denote “hero,” “warrior,” “victor,” or “strongman.” However, the exact source of these inscriptions is not specified.

A Timeless Tradition in Modern Times

Cockfighting Tajen or Tabuh Rah Tradition in Bali
Cockfighting Ceremony called Tajen or Tabuh Rah Tradition in Bali

The practice of cockfighting continues in Indonesia, retaining its symbolic significance while evolving to accommodate changing sensibilities. In Bali, the traditional ‘tabuh rah’ cockfight remains a part of religious and ceremonial events. This sacred ritual is a vital aspect of temple festivals, purification ceremonies, and pilgrimages.

In today’s era of digital revolution and Industry 4.0, the mystique of the rooster endures. While the sacred significance remains strong in Bali, the rest of Indonesia sees cockfighting predominantly as a hobby, with gambling aspects often excluded. Associations like PAPAJI (Paguyuban Penggemar Ayam Jago Indonesia) have emerged, emphasizing rooster fights as a form of sport rather than gambling. These organized events are time-bound, with the winning rooster determined by a score, and the roosters’ spurs are deliberately blunted to minimize harm.

The value of champion roosters in these events can reach hundreds of millions of rupiah, reflecting the continued fascination with these powerful birds.

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Cockfighting Sport in Indonesia

Java Private Tour: Your Gateway to Indonesian Culture

As you embark on this enlightening journey through the history and traditions of cockfighting in Java and Bali, remember that Java Private Tour offers a unique way to experience the rich culture of these islands. With knowledgeable guides who are fluent in English, flexible itineraries, and a deep understanding of the local culture, Java Private Tour ensures that your exploration is not just informative but also a memorable adventure.

Discover Indonesia’s captivating history and vibrant traditions with Java Private Tour. Our experienced guides will introduce you to the real essence of this fascinating culture, making your visit an unforgettable experience. Travel with us and let the mystique of Indonesia’s past and present unfold before your eyes. BOOK HERE to plan your journey today!

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