Cockfights are staged in Bali on auspicious days in conjunction with Hindu ceremonies that require a sacrificial blood offering. The spilt blood is combined with a series of complicated purification offerings to appease the negative forces of the underworld. The Balinese believe that by performing such rites they are satisfying the hunger of the evil spirits that often disturb man and his environment. Chickens are used as they are one of the most accessible creatures from the animal kingdom that roam around village compounds with relative freedom in search of food scraps.

Cockfights for religious purposes are usually staged within the outer courtyard of a temple complex and consist of only a couple of rounds using different cocks each time. Those attending dress accordingly, in traditional sarong and behave as if they are attending any other ceremonial event. However, the Balinese obsession with gambling means that some cockfights, or tajen as they are locally known, are sometimes staged for pure pleasure. Although gambling in Indonesia is considered highly illegal, recreational cockfights are held around the island, but in relative secrecy. Police crackdowns in recent years have seen a huge decline in this blood sport that was once a thriving activity for village men.

To prepare for a cockfight a piece of land is cleared and the ground swept of debris. A makeshift square arena is constructed from lengths of bamboo with the size depending on how many spectators are expected to turn up for the event. Women do not usually attend cockfight apart from a handful of enterprising stallholders who sell coffee, cigarettes and grilled sticks of satay to the spectators. The fights are governed by a complex set of rules; which above all relies on a system of mutual respect and trust. Before a bout commences, the pair of cocks are matched to ensure a fair fight. Many Balinese believe that if a chicken has an unusual colouring or some sort of physical abnormality such as an extra claw it will prove to be a powerful fighter. A popular choice of cock is the betet, a breed that was introduced from the Philippines that has the ability to leap several metres into the air.

Negotiations take place between the owners of the cocks as well as some minor preparations before the commencement of the fight. A professional handler positions and tightly binds razor sharp blades to the natural spur of the claw of each cock. Betting from the audience begins and it is a noisy affair with bids and odds shouted from each end of the arena. Official judges are positioned in each corner of the arena and a time-keeper sounds a bell to indicate each round. As the cocks are released they charge at each other in frenzy. A bout is often over in a matter of minutes with the defeated cock injured with a blood wound. Once all bets are settled in a gentlemanly fashion, all cocks that have survived or didn’t have the opportunity to fight are bundled back into bags made from woven palm leaves ready for the next event.

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