Gender, Deviance, and Economics: the Balinese Cockfight
Clifford Geertz theorizes that, cockfighting in Bali, Indonesia is a focal point of culture and kinship relationships. However, women are not allowed to participate or watch the matches. Therefore, does the exclusion of women from the activity also have symbolic meaning? The Indonesian government banned the cockfight, and constituted it as gambling in the 80s. This study will prove that Balinese women have subsequently built and benefited from the economics of the declared but not internalized deviance of the cockfight. Bali & the History of Tajen
Bali, Indonesia has a population of over 3.5 million. The population is 92 percent Hindu, 6 percent Muslim, 1 percent Christian, and 1 percent Buddhist. Close to 100 percent of the population of Bali speak Indonesian as well as Balinese. The capital of Bali is Denpasar and cockfighting is very common here. Outside of the capital cockfighting is also fairly common in the countryside.
Tajen (cockfighting) has been a part of Balinese culture since pre- colonial times. There are ancient texts disclosing that the ritual has existed for centuries. However, it is unknown exactly when the ritual started. Tajen is required at temple and purification ceremonies. The Tabuh Rah ritual expels evil spirits, and always has a cockfight to spill the blood (Tabah Rah literally means pouring blood). The blood of the loser spills on the ground as an offering to the evil spirits, and three cockfights are necessary for this purpose. In 1597 the Dutch arrived at Bali, and in the 1840s Dutch political and economic control over Bali began, banning cockfighting. The independent Indonesian government also banned Tajen in 1981 because Islamic teaching constitutes it as gambling. Nonetheless cockfight continues in Bali, and is considered part of the “Balinese Way of Life” (Geertz 1972: 23).
From time to time the police make a raid and confiscate the cocks and spurs (the blades tied to the legs of the cocks). They give fines for the activity, and sometimes punish people by exposing them to the hot sun for a day (people have died from this punishment). Javanese are the largest, and politically dominant, ethic group in Indonesia. There is a disproportionate number of Javanese officers within the Balinese police force, and this leads to distrust of the police and further disregard for the imposed gambling laws. The anxiety between Java and Bali is rooted in the religious tension. Futhermore, according to Clifford Geertz the geographical island of Bali “is perceived from its shape as a small proud cock, poised, neck extended, tail raised, in external challenge to large, feckless, shapeless Java,” (1972: 27)
Balinese women are not allowed to see the blades tied to the cock, they are not allowed to participate or watch the cockfight, and instead participate in other games and betting that take place on the fringes of the cockfighting area.. For Geertz this differentiation is a reinforcement of statues (caste) differentiation. At most cockfights there are, around the very edges of the cockfight area, a large number of mindless, sheer- chance type gambling games (roulette, dice throw…). Only women, children, adolescents, and various other sorts of people who do not fight cocks- the extremely poor, the socially despised- play at these games, at, of course penny ante levels. Cockfighting men would be ashamed to go anywhere near them. (Geertz 1972: 16)
Money raised during these cockfights is sometimes used for educational, community, or religious purposes. In the Balinese countryside cockfights are held on market days, and near the markets. Often the cockfights are organized by merchants, and markets are often staffed by mainly women. “Trade has followed the cock for centuries in rural Bali, and the sport has been one of the main agencies of the island’s monetization,” (Geertz 1973: 78).
Aside from the religious history...