Tajen - The Balinese Cockfighting

Cockfights, which in Balinese are known as tajen, meklecan or ngadu, are required at temple and purification (mecaru) ceremonies. No one knows when they started. The Tabuh Rah ritual to expel evil spirits always has a cockfight to spill the blood. Tabah Rah literally means pouring blood. There are ancient texts disclosing that the ritual has existed for centuries. It is mentioned in the Batur Bang Inscriptions I from the year 933 and the Batuan Inscription from the year 944 (on the Balinese calendar). The blood of the loser spills on the ground, an offering to the evil spirits. Three cockfights are necessary for this purpose. Only men participate. Women do not even watch.

To the Balinese cockfighting is much more than a religious ritual. Raffles in his History of Java commented,

"their predominant passions are gaming and cockfighting. In these amusements, when at peace with the neighbouring states, all the vehemence and energy of their character and spirit is called forth and exhausted."

Men in villages tend their roosters lovingly. They identify with them and much conversation turn on them. It is good sport. The vast majority of men own at least one rooster. They are symbolic expressions of their owners. The sound of roosters crowing to each other early in the morning is the normal wake-up call. It is common throughout Asia.

The roosters, often of very splendid colours, are kept in wicker, bamboo cages placed outside their owners' houses. It is important that the roosters get used to the commotion of everyday life. They are trained not to be distracted by unusual sounds when they get to the all-important fight. They are fed a special diet of maize. Red pepper is pushed down their beaks to give them spirit. The birds are at their fighting peak at about three years old.

A cockfight is an offering: see the article entitled Balinese Offerings. Cockfighting is a sacred matter. The rules are written down in the ancient lontar palm books, which are village heirlooms. The umpire's word is final. In the case of cocks dying at virtually the same time, he decides. Before the cockfight begins, a pemangku priest will present offerings to the evil spirits and also the gods. Then the serious business begins.

In pre-colonial times cockfights were normally held on market days. The ring is usually near the market in the wantilan in the centre of the village. The fights were taxed and the taxation was a major source of revenue for the princes, who were patrons of the fights.

If you see a large number of motorbikes parked outside a field or a temple - usually in the late afternoon, the chances are that a cockfight is being held. Cockfights are frequently held in Pura Dalem in Ubud next to Kunang-Kunang II, Murni's shop. Anyone can attend. It is a noisy, busy affair. Be careful during the fight, the cocks have lethally sharp steel blades attached to their spurs. They can cut a finger off.

There are usually about nine or ten matches. It goes on for three or four hours until sunset.

The fight
Men travel to cockfights with their roosters. They sit in a circle in the wantilan or an open area. Women sell lawar (mixed vegetables and meat), grilled pork, chicken satay, snacks and colourful drinks.

Each fight is treated equally and, as soon as one fight ends, men look for a suitable match for the next. They try to match cocks of equal ability for a good fight. The fight should be unpredictable. If there is an imbalance, the spur on the stronger bird is adjusted slightly to give him a handicap.

The expert spur affixers affix the spurs. The sharp steel spurs, called taji, are single blades, about four or five inches long, tied around the leg with string. Spurs are sharpened only at eclipses and during a dark moon and should not be seen by women. The word for cockfight, tajen, comes from tajian, the taji being the blade.

Once done the cocks are placed on the ground in the middle of the ring. The timekeeper sits at a desk on the right hand corner. He pierces a coconut with a small hole and puts it in a bucket of water. It takes about 21 seconds to sink. At the start and end he beats a kulkul, a slit drum. During this time of 21 seconds the cocks must be left alone. If they have not fought, they can be picked up and encouraged.

The process is repeated. If they still refuse to fight, both are put into a wicker cage and they always fight then. If this is not necessary and they fight on their own, as soon as one is injured, the cock that landed the blow is picked up, so that both birds are not injured.

The coconut is now sunk three times. Then the one that landed the blow is put down to walk around for another coconut sinking period. He is then picked up and the coconut is sunk twice more and the fight has to start again. The interval will have taken about two minutes, during which time the injured bird will be tended. The second round is the final one. Usually the one that landed the first bow lands another fatal blow. The loser is the one that dies first.

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