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A Sea of Pigs (Part 2) Rantepao, Sulawesi, Indonesia | We're Not There Yet

Okay, so don’t freak out: we went to a cockfight. We are both fully aware of the ethical violations of these things, but we figured: just once; and if not now, then when? So we went to the cockfight. They are technically illegal in Indonesia, but permits are granted with some frequency, often in conjunction with a funeral ceremony (go figure). Our guide is the kind of guy who is a fixture at these things, although judging from the attendance, any male between the ages of 13 and 70 were typical attendees. I have read about cockfights and seen movies featuring cockfights and it was more or less exactly what I expected. Men strolled around cradling glossy roosters in their arms like new mothers and the flurry of money changing hands during each round was dizzying. Typically, fights were over quickly although the exceptions were particularly gruesome in being so drawn out. The winner was plucked up into its owner’s arms and the loser had its leg chopped off and was also handed to the winner as a little bonus. Our guide told us that the loser was dead before its leg was chopped off, but I wasn’t so sure. R told me that he watched several near-dead one-legged roosters bleed to death on the ground next to the ring, so I think that the concept of humane dealing with the birds is a bit elastic. Of course, it is a cockfight.

Cock getting a good look at what it’s all about. Betting.

Youth hanging out before a match

Fighter getting ready for it’s match

salty old guy watching the action

Facing off.



The fight. The birds have a razor tied onto one of their feet. When the cocks fight, this is what they use to kill each other.

Blood and sand.

The blood-soaked victor

Defeat. The spiked foot is chopped off the losing bird (which isn’t usually even dead yet) and returned to the loser’s owner (to recover the razor). The loser’s body is given to the winner’s owner to eat!

We ended up staying at the cockfight about an hour before I had seen enough. In the time we were there, our guide bet many times and told us he came away with 500,000Rp (around US$50). I was a little bit baffled with the amounts of money changing hands in what was essentially a game of chance with 2:1 odds. Consider that a long distance bus fare costs around $10 and that a typical meal rarely costs over $3, often half that. Our guide’s fee was actually $25 a day and I watched him gamble the entire amount, twice over. I guess I’m not much of a gambler, but it seemed crazy to me that someone as hard up as he claimed to be (or as most Indonesians are, at least comparatively), he was comfortable to put all his money on the table for a 2-minute fight. Later, over lunch, he brought up the subject of money and told us that we are rich. This is a particularly tricky subject to deal with in developing countries because we overwhelmingly are rich compared to them, but not so much in our own culture. We try to explain cost of living, the idea of selective spending (e.g., we don’t own a car or home or have a family), but if someone holds some resentment towards us or is trying to milk us for money, then there is nothing to be said about it. This was during the end of the second day and we had really not been very impressed with our guide. I’m not sure whether he was angling for more money from us or what, but we ended up paying our agreed-on fee and nothing extra. I felt a little bit of guilt as an American who is used to always tipping, but in this case, I felt that he really didn’t deserve it and I certainly wasn’t convinced that any extra cash would make a meaningful difference to him, since he bets it so readily. R and I have debated tipping on many occasions, as tipping is generally not the custom in many countries that we visit and most other tourists (ahem, Europeans) don’t tip anyway. What we have found is that we like to tip when we enjoy the experience and when we feel like it is warranted and we always feel better about it when we do- in fact, this guy was the first that we declined to tip in recent memory. I still do feel a bit of guilt about it, but I have to say that I feel so much better to give it to someone who was a pleasure to spend time with.

We spent the last day on our own, touring the market, which features a whole area for the sale of water buffalo and pigs, but was just another market otherwise. A good guide might have offered some insights or taken us to particularly interesting out-of-the-way corners, but it was nice to just take a look around and leave when we’d have enough. I don’t think that we missed seeing any sights in Tana Toraja, although a better guide- or even a good guidebook of the area- might have enhanced our stay. The place is spectacular, nevertheless, and we were charmed by many people we met and places we saw. We even did a little souvenir shopping, which we rarely allow ourselves. Now we just have to get the stuff home and Google it to find out what it’s all about.

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