A few westerners went to see Balinese cockfighting, said the roosters are like ‘detached penises’; the whole thing clearly an escape from the local, conservative sexual milieu.
Well, you don’t have to watch the fight through Freudian spectacles – though I’m not denouncing the idea. I’m still stuck on seeing cocks for what they are.
The last time I went to a cockfight in Desa Kesiman I lost Rp. 50,000 ($5 CAD); the proceeding ‘dance’ involved the spirits of Balinese royalty possessing members of the audience, then circling the open earth of the cockfighting ring while others tried to stab themselves with daggers – all of which makes a little sense to me after a few years here.
As for cockfighting alone, as an all-male ritual, you can also see the displacement of man-to-man conflict, an attempt to civilize and suppress our stupid need for action. A war ritual – and if only war were just drones fighting, or high-stake games of chess.
In simpler times, the island of Sumatra was waged in a buffalo fight against the Emperor of Java, whom lost. The war was outsourced – to buffalo.
While to you they may only be ‘detached penises’ (might as well call them dildos), I get the feeling that the Balinese see roosters as suitable gateways for distributing and settling karmic debt (also loopholes to slip the trap of capitalism and redistribute the wealth in a community).
You can’t take roosters out of Hinduism. Cockfighting likely came from India (esp. Tamil Nadu) along with the radical Hindu mindset, and in no way is it a hobby. In no way is this primitive, senseless violence – to millions of people in Bali. Please, let me explain…
For the first three and holiest months in the life of a Balinese person, their little, angelic feet never do touch the ground. The demons are below, the Gods above. Incense is used to send prayers upwards. Babies are to be kept ‘clean’ of the underworld. One does not even place their backpack – not even on a marble floor. It has been written that this practice may have reshaped the local concept of intimacy – as for the first months of their lives Balinese are always, always, always cuddled.
In the resort I used to write for, the General Manager had a square of the parking lot lifted to throw a tajen cockfight on Galungan Day. Open, raw earth collects blood, feathers, skin – even limbs – to satiate certain kala demons and balance the powers of good and evil (while inside the resort, throngs of Australians gorge on pork sausages). Once well-fed, only then was this square considered purified, clean enough for other rituals – that westerners would call ‘dances’ – to unfold upon.
Cockfighting paints a picture of a malevolent Earth demanding sacrifice. They seem to be asking: if it weren’t chicken blood, whose blood would it be? Arab blood? Jewish blood? American blood?
This malevolent Earth, however, is more likely just pent-up masculinity looking to vent – in a way that involves strength (albeit of the rooster, not the man).
In affluent countries where we don’t have these practices, many people will consider themselves ‘too grounded’ even to consider the above as justification. I used to think that way too.
Though the people who most readily dismiss my explanation wouldn’t even notice if there was not beef in their sandwich at lunch, many can’t stand the idea of communal, animal sacrifice (even when the animals are cared for, die fast, are honored – and eaten afterward). Actually it’s not the cockfighting I’m trying to justify here, but precisely the connection to nature that it bespeaks – more than mere sexuality.
But wait. How are drugged-up chicken fights a sign of a strong connection to nature?
When we say that certain tribes are ‘living with nature’, do we not always mean nature as the external, unpredictable element? Do we not usually negate their own, human nature from our picture of that relationship? Do we not imagine, from the exalted comforts of our homes – perhaps to make it all seem worthwhile – that these people only deffer to the seasons and struggle to get by? Do not our western concepts of ‘living with nature’ paint an austere picture, denying these people their right to have the colors of nature (which can be quite savage)? The song of birds. The dance of cendrawasi. The fight of the rooster.
Also, something all foreigners should realize before coming to Bali: Hindus don’t believe in death like Christians do (or atheists of Christian origin). Wag your finger at them all you’d like, they are entitled to an opinion – whether it takes the scientific knowledge of the animals’ anatomy (nervous system) into account, or not.
These are the times we live in. People are still stumbling out of the bushes. Educated people are looking for work. People are isolating themselves from their own nature. We need to be empathetic.