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by Peter Moskos

February 6, 2010

Notes on the Balinese Cockfight

My wife and I were in Kalibukbuk, Bali, visiting a few friends from Amsterdam, one of whom kind of lives in Bali now. He asked if we wanted to go see a cockfight. Well, in the name of Clifford Geertz and “thick description,” yes! (Hell, and this slightly worries me, I’ve enjoyed every bit of blood sport I’ve ever seen from bullfights to Thai Muay Thai kickboxing.)

Every student of sociology and anthropology knows Clifford Geertz’s classic, “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight.” It’s based on his 1958 fieldwork. It’s a qualitative classic. Not until Geertz and his wife ran from a police raid of a cockfight were they accepted in the village.

Well I didn't have to any running but it turns out that 50-years later, cockfighting is still illegal and not at all underground. Some places are shut down. But just because they don't have enough money to pay off the police.

So one night at dinner we're introduced to a slightly hardcore character who will take us (but only the men, he says) to a cockfight the next day.

So my buddy and I meet him and follow his mopen to the town of Singaraja. First we stop by his house where he judged the feistiness of a few of his cocks (and yes, the puns are same in the Balinese language) before placing one in a bag. They're kept throughout Asia in these wicker cages.

We continued and got to the venue (we never would have found it on our own). I love the parking lot. I resisted the urge to push a bike over, starting the domino effect and certain bar fight.

In some ways all sports venues are the same. There are parking lot attendants, tickets, seats, fans, food vendors, and games. But nothing I’ve seen is quite like a Balinese cockfight. I wish I had internet access and could have reread Geertz’s piece. There was a lot going on I didn’t get. I respect a man with the skills to tie a razor to the foot of the rooster. The betting, $10 was normal, is high stakes for a poor country.

Some side betting games.

And one of the food vendors. We ate nuts and drank warm beer.

I guess pairing up the birds.

Tying on the razor.

Our man told us which bird to bet on.

Here's some of the pre-fight scene:

Then, right before the fight start, there's this brief silence and then this wave of sound, unlike anything I've ever heard. You can hear the sound (I didn't start the recording early enough to get the "wave") at the very start of this video. Fair Warning: this a video of a Balinese cockfight. These are birds with razors strapped to their leg killing each other. Don't watch it if you don't like it.

That was our man's two-year old bird that died first. It was sold as food to somebody for $5. But the fight was a draw. I was happy with a draw because I may not know all the nuances of cockfighting, but I know a dead bird when I see one! If somebody won, it sure wasn't us. But part of the rules is that the “winning” bird has be standing after or for a ten count.

Also worth a few pictures is the following day's “pig roast in the hood” (my friend's words, not mine). This involved killing a pig, cleaning it in the river, and roasting it over an open fire.

Here's some of the scene, worth a few pictures:

Everybody loves cracklin!
The pig was delicious. The people, friendly. A good time was had by all. We have the feeling they party a bit like this everyday, this day they just had a pig.

It would be remiss to not mention that in the river were, among other things, one woman bathing and brushing her teeth upstream and another doing laundry. On the opposite bank people were gutting and cleaning a dog to eat. We were told they only eat the "bad dogs." Why not? Hell, on our side we were eating a dish made with raw pig's blood (mixed with grated coconut, spices, and grilled pigs innards). If it all sounds hardcore, well, I suppose it kind of is. I think it's only the second time bougie old me has eaten at a home without running water.

I also got a kick out of the fact that I was corrected for eating with my finger wrong. You can't take me anywhere! I didn’t even know you could eat with your fingers wrong. (Take note: after you grab your food, don’t put your fingers in your mouth but place the food on the ends of your first two fingers and then kind of shovel/push the food with your thumb into your mouth.)

The majority of trip was spend in Thailand and Bangkok. The food in Bangkok is incredible. I love Thai food and the Thais are truly more into food than any country I have ever seen. And their sheer obsession with food, the amount of prepared food for sale--delicious, clean, spicy food--is hard to imagine. But those stories are for another time.

Leaving Thailand, we saw perhaps the secret to their success: a sign keeping out all those with “‘hippy’ characteristics.”

And the police station sign on the Malaysian side of the border train station. We really did not want to leave Thailand, but damn it was nice to be a place again where you could sound out the alphabet!

And I've been to Maryland. I know Maryland. And this, my friends, is no deep fried fish Maryland (as seen in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia).


Tim said...

This is amazing.

The best part was after absorbing it all, I get to see the tag: "For academics." So awesome.

I mean, not awesome, but awesome for those of us who can contextualize it, I guess.

PCM said...

I didn't know how else to tag it.

And I figured only academics have read Clifford Geertz and had any prior interest regarding Balinese cockfights!