Cockfighting in Bali
March 2011

Old habits die hard. The puritanical Dutch banned it. The new Balinese elite have banned it. But it's still around. Cockfighting was and still is an essential part of Balinese culture––especially for the men. For Balinese men, "cock" (like in the English language) refers to the animal as well as to the male sex organ. Even though the fights are a more clandestine affair and take place at the fringe of rural settlements, the participants are as passionate about is as ever.

I encountered one of these literally bloody events in a shady bamboo forest in a remote village in the northeast of Bali. Fascinated by the deadly ritual, I spend the whole afternoon moving along with the crowd, trying to capture the explosion of brutality and rage exhibited by the birds––equipped with 4 to 5–inch long razor-sharp blades on their feet––and the buzzing noise of the betting observers. A lucky day for a photographer!

For the participants, the cockfight is not just betting and winning (or losing) money. It's also about the expression of loyalty by the betting observers for the respective animal owner (they don't bet against relatives and friends), and expressing the status of the bird owners (the higher the status, the higher the bet). On an even more mundane level, it's also about a good meal: the birds that don't make it end up on the charcoal grill, turned into delicious satay.

All images © 2012 Jorg Sundermann, Text by Heiko Schulze