Makepung: Bull Race
Makepung or bull race is the only spectacular crowd-gather event that is held in Jembrana Regency. Even the regency itself is nick named after this sport event, Bumi Makepung or Land of Bull Race.
The origin of Makepung is quite a mystery, some say it began as nothing more than rivalry between local farmers; others assume that it is introduced by Madurese migrants to celebrate the end of the rice harvest.
This ancient competitive race takes place on a race track about 800 meters long situated outside Negara, the capital city of Jembrana. The races are usually held three times a year, in August, September, and October.
Only the handsomest, sleekest water buffaloes are chosen to compete. Once a bull has been chosen as a racer, it receives endless care and attention from its owner. It lives in luxury unlike its unfortunate brother or sister which works the fields. Potential champion is housed separately in comfortable lodging and fed special protein diet full to enhance its racing performance.
The Makepung starts in the morning and by mid-day it’s all over. Early in the morning, 100 water buffaloes decorated with colorful silk flags, ribbons and jangling bells are led into the race track by their owners. Hundreds of spectators are already gathered, mostly men and boys. The owners parade their buffaloes on the race track before the crowd of spectators. This prelude may take an hour or so.
After the parade session is over, the buffaloes are striped off from their ornaments and a pair of buffaloes is teamed with a brightly clad jockey. The paired buffaloes are yoked to a rickety, gaily decorated two-wheel chariot. Two pairs of water buffaloes or more compete in each race. To gain speed, the jockeys twist the bull’s tail and lash their backs with whips. These heavy, awkward looking, clumsy and meek animals transform into galloping juggernauts, capable of tremendous speed (60 kph). Entrants are judged not only for speed but also awarded point for strength, color, and style. The winning bulls are used for stud and fetch up to twice market value when sold.
A variation of makepung is the magembeng, in which a pair of bulls is harnessed together and decorated with elaborate ornaments. Huge wooden bells (gembeng) are hung around their necks, making distinctive sounds as the bulls race across the field dragging the colorfully dressed jockeys behind them on the skids.