‘Makepung’, buffalo racing in Jembrana
The spectators moved closer onto the dry Sang Hyang Cerik circuit in Tuwed village, Jembrana, that steamy afternoon. They were impatient to see the result of the ongoing makepung race, anxious to see which flag crossed the finish line first, the green or the red.
The two-wheeled buffalo-drawn carts with red flags were from the west Ijo Gading team, while the ones with green flags were from the east Ijo Gading team. Ijo Gading is the name of the river that divides Jembrana into two competing camps, east and west, in this divisive competition. The two teams have competed against each other since the 1960s.
The carts tried to outpace each other along the narrow, 2-meter wide lane. The jockeys frantically screamed and hit the buffaloes’ behinds with thorny sticks to force them to run faster, not a good sight for animal lovers.
“I have been a jockey since I was 11 year old. In olden times, makepung was game carried out by local farmers to entertain themselves during the quiet period after the harvest. Nowadays, tourists can participate in the races,” a native of Banyu Biru village, I Wayan Mantra, said.
The races are now held regularly, every two weeks from late July to early November, at various circuits across Jembrana. The competition in Tuwed saw 140 carts, each drawn by a pair of buffaloes, divided into four divisions, with the last division reserved for rookie buffaloes and novice jockeys.
The competing buffaloes were adorned with glittering head gear and neck, ear and horn adornments. The decorations were not unlike the ones worn by Balinese dancers.
“I made my first race two weeks ago on Delod Berawah circuit,” a novice jockey, Sudmawijaya of Manistutu, said as he prepared his cart.
The 14-year-old jockey said that he and his buffaloes had trained hard for the race.
A few minutes later, the commentator called Sudmawijaya’s name and the jockey navigated his cart to the starting line. Then the race began and he sped away, the green flag fluttering from his cart.
“A victory in this race will increase the price of the buffaloes. Our buffaloes now command a price of Rp 35 million [US$3,675] after they won their race. We bought the pair for Rp 22 million,” Made Reni said.
- Photos by Agung Parameswara