Wednesday, 25 August 2010

My Work: Bali Cockfights

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

We were fortunate to encounter a number of cockfights during the Bali: Island of Odalan Photo~Expedition ™.

I say fortunate because, while cockfights are gruesome and certainly bloody, they offer glimpses into a tradition practiced on the island (and elsewhere in the world) for ages. All animal rights activists and many other lay people consider it a horrible blood sport which ought to be banned. In Bali, cockfights are known as tajen, but have been forbidden since 1981 since it's considered gambling. Notwithstanding, it continues to be practiced as a ritual to expel evil spirits, and feverish gambling by bebebotoh (always men) is the norm when it occurs.

The area where the cockfight occurred was full of men, who were engaged in gesticulating and yelling their bets according to the color of the roosters. In the middle of the circle formed by the crowd, the bebebotoh were stroking their prized roosters, preparing them for the fights. Others were tying razor-sharp spurs to the birds' legs, while others were busy carving up carcasses of those that had been vanquished.

There seemed to be a sort of hierarchy. A older man, dressed in better quality clothes than the rest of the throng, was sitting very calmly in the midst of the frenetic betting activity, taking it all in. He clearly was a main player of some sort here. I couldn't tell whether he participated, or whether he was the "banker". He may have been a wealthy gambler who joined these cockfights to satisfy his passion.

My movements were restricted, as the men were in no mood to allow anyone to obstruct their view of the cockfights. However, I managed to photograph at will, and recorded some raw ambient sound, which includes the crowds yells and bids.

The roosters' demise is quick...the "combat" is short lived and takes about a minute or two for one of the roosters to fall. Thereupon, it's carried away and eviscerated to be consumed later.

As a side note: I often witness similar rituals; some secular and others religious, and I always try not to pass judgment on the practice. While I personally consider cockfighting to be cruel (as I do of bullfighting), I also respect the right of the Balinese (and others) to practice it, especially when it has a religious significance. Unfortunately in this case, it was all unapologetic gambling.

Having said that, I found the atmosphere electric and compelling, and I am at work on an audio-slideshow of the two cockfights I've witnessed in Bali this time. It will include the one I've described above, and another which was part of a melasti on a beach.