A Balinese tradition, the Negara Bull Races (Mekepung) are held in Perancak, a little way away from Negara in Bali. The origin of the race is not known, but it is assumed to be a celebration of the end of the rice harvest.
Hundreds of bull and rider teams compete in this event which occurs on Sundays between July and October. To get there, I had to wake up at 2:00 AM and leave Ubud by 3:00 AM to reach Negara by 6:00 AM. We were not the first to reach there, but were among the few foreigners that were seen in what is still not a tourist attraction – a show put on by the locals just for the locals. I have always respected Balinese traditions which are always meant not for tourists but for the Balinese themselves.
Two pairs of bulls are hitched to make-shift chariots and ridden by jockeys around a one-track course. The bulls are chosen carefully, on the basis of strength and color and they are not used for ploughing fields. The Bulls are bathed and decorated with colourful garlands and headdresses. Many have their horns painted and also wear large wooden bells.
At first, these bulls are paraded before the spectators, and then the race begins, with two pairs racing at one time. The winner is not necessarily the first past the post. The judgment is based on speed and style, points are awarded for the most elegant runner and winning is considered very important. Although gambling is illegal in Bali, I am sure there was some wagering going on at the sides.
The dexterity and the riding skills of the jockeys was impressive. What was however painful to watch were the whips lashing out at the bulls many of which are spiked with nails to get the extra push. It was not uncommon to see bloodied sides of bulls which the locals assured would heal quickly.
It may only be a matter of time before the races become less bloody and the animal activists challenge this long standing local tradition. For those who want to experience pure Bali, one may be able to see these in the interim but a word of caution for the fainthearted.