The Buffalo Fight
Posted on July 10, 2010 by Joe
The elaborate procession I described in my previous post was only the beginning of a ten day event, and while I missed the remaining nine days I was able to witness one other extraordinary tradition – a Water Buffalo Fight.
A little background on Buffalo Fighting: Tana Turaja is the only place in Sulawesi that does this, and it's not a person fighting a buffalo as you might expect. Instead, it’s buffalo vs. buffalo in a head-butting contest of superiority. Although pampered, lethargic, and docile, male water buffalo apparently have a mean streak when it comes to the company of other males; when two of these buffalo meet a territorial contest begins, and one buffalo emerges a winner while the other runs far way.
There is also a symbolic significance to the event. Buffalo fighting is held during funeral ceremonies because Torajans traditionally believe these buffalo are needed to assist the deceased to reach the afterlife. The strongest, most clever buffalo will win the fight, and when slaughtered, this is one that will assist the carry the deceased and fight for them.
This is the premise of a Torajan buffalo fight, and the entertainment factor of such an event is enough to draw in the entire town. The fights take place in the wet rice paddies and people line up by the thousands to watch. Most spectators stay on the boundaries, but a few wade through the paddies themselves, placing bets and collecting money from spectators. The paddies are only an acre or two in size and divided by raised paths where the crowd congregates to watch. Nobody knows in exactly which paddies the fight will take place, but once the fight begins hundreds rush over. Against the surge of the crowd, it was all I could do to keep my balance on the narrow raised path and not fall into the wet and muddy paddy once the fighting began.
It all happens fairly quickly: At first the two buffalo feign disinterest in each other, but eventually one buffalo makes his move and the other braces for impact. The two animals dig into the ground and butt heads, pushing each other back and forth until one of the animals gives up. This is where a problem emerges, as the buffalo are hemmed in by people. The retreating animal has nowhere to run but through the crowd, and these buffalo, easily weighting a ton, are not going to slow down for mere people. The buffalo charges straight for the crowd, and people scurry to avoid being trampled. Luckily, I avoided any buffalo collisions nobody was hurt. However, I am told it is commonplace for buffalo-related injuries to occur.
I could go on, but here is where a few photos are better:
A small part of the thousands lined up to watch the fights.
Two Water Buffalo Face Off