Every year Indonesian farmers come together to celebrate the end of the rice harvest with an astonishing spectacle called Pacu Jawi. The traditional bull race is held in the Minangkabau highlands of West Sumatra, Indonesia, where visitors can enjoy the event for four weeks each year in rotating locations in the Tanah Datar Regency including: Sungai Tarab, Rambatan, Limo kaum, and Pariangan.
While ordinary bull racing is a common sport in Indonesia, Pacu Jawi – which simply means ‘cow race’ in the local language of the Minangkabau tribe – takes it to a completely new level. Only in West Sumatra, the activity takes place in the knee-deep mud of rice paddy fields – instead of dry, solid ground – making it a mix of bull racing and mud skiing!
How Pacu Jawi works
Hundreds of spectators come from the surrounding regions to watch the farmers race their best oxes in this dirty and extraordinary event. In contrast to many other animal races, teams do not race against each other at the same time. Instead, each team has its own turn in which a certain distance has to be covered. Those who make it to the goal in the shortest time – preferably in a straight line – win.
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While the jockey is getting ready for the race, an astonishing number of 6-8 men are needed to rein the bulls and hold them in position. As soon as the crew lets go of the wild animals, the bulls run for their lives dragging the jockeys through the splashing mud. Balancing on thin wooden frames that are attached to the animals, the daring jockeys hold on tight to the bulls’ tales trying to keep them in a straight line. This presents one of the big challenges in this reckless sport. As the two oxes are not fixed to each other, they often tend to run in opposite directions. The jockeys’ both hands are constantly occupied to keep the animals under control. Thus, in order to make them go faster, the jockeys can only user their teeth to bite the bulls’ tales.
But not only the jockey have to keep a watchful eye on the bulls. Since the race tracks are not enclosed, the spectators have to be prepared at all times for any unexpected surprises. Without warning, the bulls sometimes suddenly decide to leave the track and run right through the crowd.
From entertainment to business
Pacu Jawi allegedly originated from a small town called Batusangkar, the capital of the Tanah Datar Regency. The highly thrilling sport was invented more than 400 years ago as a thanksgiving ritual. An exciting way of celebrating the end of the rice harvest. At the same time, it was an entertainment activity for the locals before the start of the new planting season.
Over the course of time, a third purpose of the event developed – the auctioning of the bulls. Today, this is actually the main reason to keep the tradition alive. After each race, the bulls are cleaned and displayed for potential buyers. The performance of the animals during the race determines their price at the auction on the following day. The faster and the stronger the bulls, the higher their price on the market.
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