If you ever happen to notice a long line of Hondas parked along a narrow road, or men discreetely rushing along with a rattan basket slung over their shoulder, chances are they are off to a cockfight or tajen.
Cockfighting is as natural to the Balinese as breathing. Long after it was officially banned by various governments, it continues in the villages and on the outskirts of towns.
Ostensibly, cockfighting is legal at times of religious celebrations. The spilling of blood is an elaborate ritual that continues to appease demons of darkness in many cultures that still have a connection with the natural order. Bali, Borneo, the Bronx, the Phillipines, Mexico and Wales are just a few of the regions where cockfighting is recognized as a ritual pastime. It is definitely not a tourist attraction and it is taken very seriously by the afficionadoes. But it is exciting. Apart from the temple ceremonies, the gatherings are often held in conjunction with some other religious ritual event – a funeral (ngaben), or a big temple birthday (odalan) or even a house blessing.
Many westerners have a negative reaction – believing it to be cruel and bloodthirsty but the roosters bred for fighting live the lives of valued pets – fed the best foods and petted and cosseted every day. They live royally for at least a year or two, a much better deal than those bred for meat whose sad, caged lives last little longer than the six weeks it takes for the growth hormones and artificial feed to kick in and make them ready for slaughter. (One episode of the TV series Boston Legal actually addressed this issue and the cockfighters were exonerated! And that is in the USA).
A fight lasts little longer than five minutes when one of the birds dies nobly and fast, while the victor receives a heroes welcome, going on to be cosseted and valued even more. fighting is a natural inclination of roosters and even my little dog has been terrorised by our local rooster who likes to lord it over the compound. Feathers fluff out on the neck, the feet come forward and the back claws are ready to tear into the victim. It is this natural talent that is enhanced with the addition of the long ultra sharp metal claws known as taji, attached to what would be the birds wrist.
These taji are made by skilled metal workers known as pande and are considered, like kris (Indonesia’s world heritage, ceremonial dagger) to be imbued with magical powers. They are blessed and given offerings on the appropriate days.
In many parts of Bali, the whole cock fighting phenomenon is filled with ritual. There is always a “boss” in charge to keep proceedings working smoothly and to make sure the crowd behaves well. Generally all attendees wear a sash tied around their waist, as in any other religious ceremony. So with much that happens in Bali, the sacred is blended seamlessly with the profane – the seen and the unseen, Sekala and Niskala. If you are ever lucky enough to witness a cockfight enjoy it without guilt. The Balinese do!