The fight is called tajen, a word derived from the steel blade tied to the cock’s leg, taji. So complex and mysterious is the sport of cockfighting, that there are around 75 words used that are not used anywhere else in the Balinese vocabulary. There are also beliefs that certain coloured cocks should not fight certain other colours on particular days depending on the phase of the moon.
The blade or taji is fixed to the cock’s leg. This is done by a third person, a specialist, not the owner or handler. It will be fixed in different positions, depending on the size and weight of the cock. There are many unusual stories about the taji that lends more intrigue to cock fighting. Some say that the taji should only be sharpened in the light of the moon. Undoubtedly there are dozens of different myths from village to village.
The Indonesian government made all forms of gambling including cock fighting illegal in 1981. Prior to this, big time professional events in large public arenas were a daily occurrence throughout the island. The big events are a thing of the past, but cock fighting is still very much alive in Bali.
The preliminaries involve much noise and colour. The owners or handlers need to find an opponent and then fix the bet. This is a very time consuming activity. After 3 or 4 pairings have been made which is considered one set of matches, the preparations for the fight begin.
Before the fight can commence, the side bets need to be made. The cocks are brought into the ring and the referee announces the central bet that was previously established between the owners. This is where the chaos begins. Yelling, arm waving and hand signals go on around the ring while the wagers are set. This too can take some time. Another interesting point is that the wagers are made in ringgit, a unit of money used by the Dutch many years ago. Nowhere in Bali is the ringgit quoted other than at the cockfights.
The fight itself also has some complex rules. It usually only lasts a few minutes and the fight is over. All side bets are paid with money being tossed and handed around the ring. The owner of the winning cock takes the entire central bet, and also the body of the losing cock. It will not be wasted.
The loser loses more than money. A Balinese man dotes on his fighting cock. It’s a symbol of his virility — the word ‘cock’ is a phallic synonym in Balinese, just as it is in English. It also means hero, warrior, bachelor and ladykiller. To add insult to injury, the winner gets to cook the carcass of the losing bird. This is not just a trophy, but a delicacy — the adrenalin is supposed to enhance the flavour. ‘Chicken curry tonight,’ said the man beside me, with a grin
Cock fighting has been a popular obsession with the Balinese for generations. With the intrigue, the mystery, excitement, and colour, it will continue to be part of their lives for many more generations.