Buffalo hooves are pounding their way through a dirt track in western Bali, commanded by enthusiastic jockeys who give their best to win the Jembrana Cup. About 20’000’000 Rupiah (roughly 1.500 USD) are waiting for the winner of this year’s Makepung-finals. This is quite a big deal for an average farmer living in the rural areas, since it would feed his family easily for one year. When reaching the sleepy village of Tuwed in the early morning, the performers are already busy – jockeys prepare for the spectacle by costuming their racing buffalos, called ‚kerbau pepadu’, with a elaborate headdress, while a traditionally dressed orchestra jingles balinese sounds on their bamboo xylophones. As the crowd flocks closer to the place of action, the mundane side of the fish farm comes to life, changing the face of village backyard to something more captivating.
With the farmers riding on their small wooden carts called ‚cikar’, and the bystanders whipping the buffalos duos back on track in case they’re about to head into the wrong direction, it might remind you spontaneously of ancient chariot racing. Hence ‚Makepung‘ is by far not as brutal as the European sport back in the days – at least not for the rivals standing on their decorated carts. The buffalos, however, are obviously not speeding up for the sake of fun, but because their buts get beaten regularly with a spiky club. These unlovely treats seem even to enforce the excitement among the spectators. Personally, I doubt that the animals get seriously injured, since their skin is bleeding little after a lap. After all, It’s great family entertainment, and most boys along the track seem to be eagerly awaiting their day of participation. Thus, the self taught jockeys are serving well as role modles for the youth. Gazing at the sheer speed I found it quite remarkable how the farmers are able to steer their furious bulls along the 3 km long circuit without loosing track nor crashing into each other.
The thrilling races last for about 4 to 5 hours. At the start, the opponents don’t kick off next to each other. So how to win? The buffalo duo starting first has to surpass their rivals with more than 10 meters, then they make the winner. But if the chasers are fast enough to reduce the gap to less than 10 meters, or even overtake their rivals until reaching the finish line, they would claim victory. Red against green! The Carts which are marked with green banners belong to the Ijo Gading Barat from the west bank of Jembrana’s Ijo Gading River, while the opponents, the Ijo Gading Timur teams from the east race with red flags. Both teams have been competing since the 60s.
With the hundreds of buffalo pairs divided into three racing divisions, the farmers compete in various open race circuits across Bali, leading up to the finals, or what has come to be known as the annually celebrated Jembrana Regent’s Cup. Tuwed’s racing circuit might be the most popular one, but there are many more, like Delod Berawah, Kaliakah, Pangkung Dalem, Merta Sari. Makepung is derived from the word ‚kepung’, meaning ‘chase’, a sport which has been introduced by Madurese migrants to celebrate the end of the rice harvest. The dates for each year’s event may vary – but the months of October and November are usually the safest bet to witness a Makepung. It’s the time between harvest and sewing before the rainy season starts.