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Cockfight in Denpasar.

Photos taken between 2018 and 2020 somewhere in West Denpasar..

Text excerpts from "Deep play: Notes on the Balinese cockfight" by Clifford Geertz.

 Cockfights (tetadjen ; sabungan) are held in a ring about fifty feet square. Usually they begin toward late afternoon and run three or four hours until sunset. The matches are here, held by night between 9pm and midnight.

  About nine or ten separate matches (sehet) comprise a program. Each match is precisely like the others in general pattern : there is no main match, no connection between individual matches, no variation in their format, and each is arranged on a completely ad hoc basis.


The selected cocks have their spurs (tadji) affixed, razor sharp, pointed steel swords, four or five inches long. This is a delicate job which only a small proportion of men, a half-dozen or so in most villages, know how to do properly. The spurs are affixed by winding a long length of string around the foot of the spur and the leg of the cock. The lore about spurs is extensive - they are sharpened only at eclipses and the dark of the moon, should be kept out of the sight of women, and so forth. And they are handled, both in use and out, with the same curious combination of fussiness and sensuality the Balinese direct toward ritual objects generally.

The spurs affixed, the two cocks are placed by their handlers (who may or may not be their owners) taking one another in the center of the ring.” During these twenty-one seconds the handlers are not permitted to touch their roosters, as sometimes happens, the animals have not fought during this time, they are picked up, muffed, pulled, prodded, and otherwise insulted, and put back in the center of the ring and the process begins again,. Sometimes they refuse to fight at all, or one keeps running away, in which case they are imprisoned together under a wicker cage, which usually gets them engaged. Most of the time, in any case, the cocks fly almost immediately at one another in a wing-beating, head-thrusting, leg-kicking explosion of animal fury so pure, so absolute, and in its own way so beautiful, as to be almost abstract, a platonic concept of hate. Within moments one or the other drives home a solid blow with his spur. The handler whose cock has delivered the blow immediately picks it up so that it will not get a return blow, for if he does not the match is likely to end in a mutual ally mortal tie as the two binds wildly hack each other to pieces.


Surrounding all this melodrama, the crowd packed tight around the ring follows in a frenzy, moving their bodies in kinesthetic sympathy with the movement of the animals, cheering their champions on with shouts and hand motions, shifting of the shoulders, turnings of the head, falling back as the cock with the murderous spurs careens toward one side of the ring (it 1s said that spectators sometimes lose eyes and fingers from being too attentive).


There is a vast body of extraordinarily elaborate and precisely detailed rules, passed on from generation to generation as part of the general legal and cultural tradition of the villages. In the hundreds of cockfights I saw in Bali, I never once saw an altercation about rules. Indeed, never saw an open altercation, other than those between cocks, at all.​

I will not talk here about the aspect of cockfighting around which all the others pivot, and through which they exercise their force. | mean, of course, the gambling.

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