The Jakarta Post
Drive through any given village in Bali and you'll see vibrantly colored fighting roosters in woven cages pecking at the green-tipped grass at their feet.
Come later and you'll see the cocks taken out of their cages to be stroked and caressed by local men who sit together, enjoying the last rays of sunshine while discussing the qualities of their proud and elegant birds.
Bali, like many other nations, has banned cock fighting as a cruel sport, although the practice is still allowed on the Island of the Gods for ceremonial purposes.
These fighting birds are as much a part of Balinese Hindu rites as the burning of incense and giving offerings to the gods.
Breeding the roosters, some of which boast feathers with a golden luster that evokes songket, takes place up in the cool, mountainous region above Gianyar.
In a small hamlet called Malet, the birds are big business. Village head I Ketut Ludea says that while Malet raises about 600 roosters every year, most are sold to other communities nearby.
The rest are used for local ceremonies.
'In our village we must sacrifice birds before turning the soil to plant our crops, so we need around 250 birds for these ceremonies,' Ludea says. 'We can sell the other 350 birds, which does not make this our most important revenue for the village, but a side job that many of us use for the education of our children.'
Such children include Ledea's 12-year-old grandniece, who studies English twice a week in nearby Tampak Siring on the back of this additional income.
As Clifford Geertz noted in his seminal essay 'Deep Play: Notes from a Balinese Cockfight', too much is at stake for the practice just to be a game.
Finances are not the primary reason for breeding roosters in Malet. Ledea says that the village's ancient adat, or local law, demands sacrifices to ensure good harvests.
'After we harvest our rice or other crops, we can't dig the soil before we have sacrificed the birds,' Ledea says. 'When the soil is dry, it must be left fallow for a few months and we are not allowed to plough at this time,' according to the man. 'Our rule is after the ceremony we can start to plough and plant again. This occurs every year and is special to our village.'
He continues: 'Our belief is that this is the traditional way to farm. We must make the ground holy so that hopefully we will have good harvests. This belief is ancient, but we still hold it to this day.'
During the ceremony, the roosters are sacrificed to the gods, their feathers colored red, black, white and yellow. Some even have iridescent plumage.
Cock fighting may be distressing to some, but these birds live charmed lives. Massaged and bathed, they are vaccinated and their pens are sterilized.
A charmed life, that is, until they are beaten in the ring. Then they become dinner.
'Fighting birds these days are around 8 months old, so if they lose the fight they are good to eat. Not tough like the old fighting birds from the past,' says Ledea.
The more beautiful and fierce the bird is the better, Ledea says.
Meanwhile, his son, I Kadek Adnyano, 30, is proving to be a talented fighting cock breeder.
It takes skill, dedication and a good deal of money to breed birds who can win in the ring. Kadek's fine breeding male ' with maroon, vibrant orange and iridescent black plumage ' was imported from the Philippines.
At five years of age, the rooster has proven a good investment. His offspring are almost carbon copies of their powerful and fierce father. Over the 10 years a rooster can be expected to breed, a cock could produce 'thousands of chickens ' but just 20 percent will be males,' says Kadek.
Kadek's breeding birds live in luxury, with dozens of hens in the harem of each male. Their cage is formed of fine netting in the jungle, where the birds scratch and peck at the grass, enjoying dust baths and nesting in the shade of trees.
Although the roosters will face challenges in the ring, their daily lives will be as close to 'natural' as possible. The hens, meanwhile, will live out their seven years of breeding life in this forest cage, raising their chicks naturally.
This doing things the natural way extends to the breeding process itself. When possible, Kadek and other local breeders look to cross imported birds with Bali's jungle chicken species.
Although small, the jungle chickens are hardy and aggressive.
When crossed with the larger imported birds, you have a very valuable potential champion, Kadek says, comfortable with a practice that some find worrying, but that is deeply rooted in the sacred on the Island of the Gods.
' Photo by J.P. Djwan
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