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Makepung – Balinese Buffalo Racing  

by on Monday, 21 August 2006One Comment | 3,199 views

Jembrana Regency, located on the far western coast of the island, is Bali’s most sparsely populated district and rarely visited by mainstream international travellers’. There is an expanding Islamic community here due to the close proximity to the island of Java and over the centuries there has always been an interesting blend of Muslim and Hindu cultural traditions. However, the regency of Jembrana does in fact come to life several times a year for an attraction known as makepung or water buffalo racing.

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For this unique event buffalo’s are paired off and rigged to a wooden chariot contraption that is driven by a single jockey. Although there is very little written documentation about Balinese buffalo racing, it is believed to have developed in the 1920’s as a form of recreation for the local community after a successful rice harvest. After each crop when the land was dying out farmers usually had a few weeks to spare until it was time to begin planting. The agricultural community is renowned for its cooperative way of life and the races must have been a popular social pastime. It is said that some farmers even rode on the bare backs of their buffaloes before the idea of creating small wagons was conceptualized.

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It was some years later that the races were developed into a competitive event. Nowadays participants prepare themselves by decorating their wagons as well as the animals. Elaborate headdresses are made for the buffaloes and their horns are wrapped in coloured cloth to make them stand out in the crowd. This show of creatively is not necessarily part of the race criteria, but it does add to the spirit and prestige of the event. The jockeys’ also take extra care with their appearance and wear the Jembrana version of the Balinese ceremonial head cloth that is tied securely around the forehead.

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The wagons are actually very simple pieces of apparatus, comprised of just strips of bamboo for the rider to stand upon and two wooden wheels. The entire contraption is tied precariously onto the buffaloes’ necks with a wooden pole. A timber crossbar acts as a buffer and is carved at either end to resemble the head of a mythical dragon as a symbol of strength.

The buffalo races of Jembrana usually take place during the dry season when the skies are invariably clear and cloudless. Spectators from all over Bali begin to arrive early in order not to miss out on the mid-morning races. The racetrack covers a distance of approximately 2-kilometres from start to finish and the dust rises up as the participants thunder over the dry turf. In each heat there are just two wagons competing and as the buffaloes’ begin to pick up speed the jockeys’ maintain a firm squatting stance with one hand grasping the reigns and the other clutching a long stick. The event is structured in rounds with a knockout system until the final winner of the day is determined.

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If visitors’ happen to express an interest in attending this unique and traditional event, most reputable travel agents in Bali are aware of the Jembrana buffalo racing schedule.

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