Makepung Buffalo Races in Bali

Jembrana Cup Final 2016

The Makepung buffalo races in Bali is a competition which anyone interested in unique cultural events should experience at least once in their lifetime!

makepung buffalo races competition
Pair of buffalo racing at Makepung during the Jembrana Cup


Makepung on the Indonesian island of Bali is a Unique Tournament or Grand Prix where Asian Water Buffalo are raced around a number of circuits throughout the racing season. The races usually takes place every second Sunday from the months of July to November when the Cup winners Cup is decided at the Finals at one of the many tracks in Jembrana Regency. In 2016 the final took place at the Delod Berawah circuit which is a beautiful location with the Beach (Pantai Delod Berawah) being a stones throw away from the circuit.


makepung buffalo races circuit action
Makepung buffalo racing circuit action


Makepung buffalo races are not only a Balinese tradition which has its origins dating back to the 1960’s but the races can also be observed on the Island of Madura which is located off the north coast of East Java and is known there as Karapan Sapi bull racing (slight variation) which can be traced back to farmers working on the land with buffalo and plough who would race each other in their spare time for fun which as we can see now turned into something a little bit more serious and competitive than it originally was.


fancy dress albino buffalo at makepung buffalo races
Albino Buffalo’s at Makepung


There can be up to two hundred pairs of racing bulls or kerbau pepadu at some of these events all dressed up to the nines in fancy headdresses and ornamentation which are generally on show before and during the races as the Buffalo’s wait their turn to hit the track, it’s almost like a buffalo fashion show with all the pomp and circumstance one would expect at such a colourful Balinese event. The gathering is usually large with all the riders, pairs of buffalo and spectators literally jockeying for position.


buffalo with ornamental headdress
Buffalo with ornamental headdress


During the early days of the Makepung buffalo races competition just the one buffalo was used in the race as would have been the case when the farmers were ploughing the fields at harvest time and raced for fun. Other changes that have been noted are the size of the Cikar or jockeys wagon which has decreased in size and the elaborate decorations such as crown and tassels which are now adorned by the buffalo’s and becoming ever more stylish along with colourful flags.


Wood carved face on jockeys buffalo cart
Wood carved face on Cikar or Jockeys Wagon


The races themselves that ensue throughout the season are different heats which all lead up to the finals. The winners are determined not only by crossing the finishing line first but they are also judged on the distance between themselves and their adversary at the time they cross the line. If the buffalo’s are ahead by a minimum of 10m when crossing the line they will be declared the winners but if the buffalo’s who started at the rear can decrease the distance between the two racing chariots by 10m then they will be declared the winners. The length of the racing circuits are between 1 and 2 kilometres with each race taking around 10 minutes to complete.


man races buffalo along dirt track
Buffalo, Jockey and Cikar or Chariot on the track


As the Makepung buffalo races progress one cannot help but notice the wounds that are inflicted on the buffalo’s hide due to the spiked baton not dissimilar to a medieval mace which is used to whip them into action! Certainly not for the faint hearted and it does beg the question, “is there not a more humane way to make these wonderful beasts go at breakneck speed around a race track?”


buffalo hide with bleeding wounds
Bloody wounds on the buffalo hide


Seven circuits can be found within Negara district of Jembrana Regency namely Sangyang Cerik, Delod Berawah, Kaliakah, Pangkung Dalem, Merta Sari, Tuwed and Awen. Exact dates are difficult to say as rescheduling can occur and TBA or too be announced often decorates the dates on the flexible calendar for the coming season so if you want to catch one of these culturally magnificent competitions in west Bali keep checking any resources at hand from June onwards at any given year to have a chance to witness a truly unique experience.

man holding two buffalo with beautiful decorations
Ornately decorated water buffalo

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