Sumbawa, Indonesia. There have been a few days of torrential rain and the brakes on my motorcycle are fucked. A new local friend offers to take my bike to his mechanic buddy to get a brake job. "Sounds good," I say as I toss him the key. He returns the following day with the cracked and corroded discs of the old, and plastic wrap and receipt of the new. The cost? Four dollars. Plus, an invite to attend the local cockfights that evening with the mechanic and his pals. They pick me up at 6 p.m.
We convoy on our bikes for a while and end up in someone's backyard on the outskirts of the village. There are at least 50 people there, all yelling and crowding each other around a little ring. Yes, like a boxing ring, only smaller. Little men swarm me. They're all holding roosters in front of my face and yelling at me. I want to be polite and put some money down. I came to play. But I don't understand the process and get the impression that we need to buy our own rooster in order to participate. All of a sudden my friend is holding a haggard looking white rooster in his hands and telling me we need to pool our money together, buy the bird and throw him in the ring. We try to make the purchase, but figure out we only need to choose a rooster to bet on. We don't actually need to own our own fighter.
There are at least a dozen birds of choice. Their respective owners are each holding them, fluffing feathers and craning necks in effort to show us their value. I remember the only advice I've ever heard about a cockfight: Bet on the smaller one.
Odds are against us. We bet large because we don't really know what we're doing. Everyone else bets on the big bird. There must be fifty guys betting against us. The roosters go three rounds in aggressive attack. The crowd roars, they argue, they increase their bets, they turn away, and they turn back. We're all into it. Late in round three, the big bird tires. One leg drops, and then the other. Next, his head starts to droop to his chest. Our little man circles and takes a final jab and the big body sulks to the ground. The little hero turns his back on his defeated opponent in honour, triumph, pride and respect. Fifty pairs of eyes burn into us from around the ring as we hug each other and praise our little rooster. Aside from us, it's silent. We cash in and as the daylight recedes, the crowd disperses.
We take our dirty money and head back to town for a drink. Indonesian cockfights… It's violent. It's savage. It's a testosterone fest with no women allowed. I don't even eat chicken. But the cockfight is a cultural thing. It's about the working man coming together and celebrating sport through their faith in a rooster. Sure, it's a little weird and even primitive, but it's pretty cool. You may even win some cash.