“Guarded. The bulls have won two cups in the grand final tournament in past year.”
Nine in the morning. A pair of big tan bulls, coats sleek and smooth, eye-whites flashing in spasms of fear and excitement. Nostrils snort and tug at nose-ropes and the dry ground soaks up a stream of creamy saliva. A shoulder heaves and a cloven hoof paws the white line. Ten strong man, sinews popping, thrust back against 600 kilos of taut, anxious flesh. A burning sun glints an a sequined head-dress, lights up the pale green shafts of the trailing sled and the crimson satin of the rider’s hunched, half crucified figure, spread-eagled between the ripping tonne of stud stock. The red flag falls. Whips crack.
In roughly 10 seconds two pair of bulls, their sleds and riders bucketing and swaying, cover 130 metres and drive a foaming wedge of muscled fury into the crowd bunched behind the finishing line. Somehow nobody is killed. Miraculously nobody is injured.
It is karapan sapi, a unique bull racing sport from Madura’s island.
Karapan Sapi, is Madura’s annual traditional event, it is such a bull racing tournament. It is usually held at week end within August to September, or ideally before or after the fasting month. The chapionship is starts from the district level to the regency level and moving forward to the level Residence. Last, the final will be held on September or October in the city of Pamekasan to compete for President Cup.
The karapan sapi was introduced in the 13th century by Pengeran Katandur, known and revered as Sayyid Ahmad Baidawi, a grandson of Sunan Kudus from Sapudi Island, Sumenep, Madura.
Apart from generating additional income from tourists visiting Madura, the karapan sapi has also brought positive benefits for local small businesses, including egg sellers who earn millions of rupiah from selling eggs used as a dietary supplement for the bulls.
Besides the egg business, lodgings, hotels and restaurants in Pamekasan, where the karapan sapi is usually organized, also see full occupancy.
Seven in the morning. The bull parade before the throng as courtiers before the King, a jangle with colours and finery, accompanied by Madura’s traditional instrument named Saronen; hawkers set up their stands; the crowd surges in a mass of purple and yellow, pink and green, blue and orange; seller of Madura style hat slice their wares into shapes-to-order.
Eight in the morning. The bulls, stripped of their parade regalia, wait calmly behind the scene with their handlers and supporters. When their moment comes they will tense like steel springs. Now they placidly blink their big, bovine eyes and look pretty in their sparkling headbands. Soon, the tornado.
This year, the final bull racing tournament held in Sampang after The East Java provincial administration has temporarily banned karapan sapi bull racing, following calls from local clerics opposed to cruelty to animals.
Karapan Sapi is such a prestigious event for Madurese people, for the bull’s owner will feel socially uplifted when their bulls can be a champion. This event is becomes an outstanding-event-party for Madurese, it needs more energy, more beneficial times and, of course, more money to spend. Regarding this event, the bull is becomes an investment out of gold and money. Thus, the owner will more concern to make their bull winning in this race.
In order to make the bulls run faster around the arena provided by race organizers, the animal handlers smear hot balm on the animals’ anus and eyes and beat them with a spiked stick injuring the bulls’ hide.
Madurese cleric Munif Sayuti said the karapan sapi, including the torture, deviated from Islamic teachings and law. “In several hadith, Prophet Muhammad told his companions about a woman who went to hell for placing a cat in a cage and not feeding it,” he said.
Munif said clerics had actually urged people not to engage in cruelty against animals in the karapan sapi over the past several years. The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has banned animal cruelty during karapan sapi races. Animal welfare activists have also urged the government to ban cruelty in karapan sapi races.
Indonesia is a member of the World Animal Health Organization (WAHO), an international animal health institute which has established basic principles for animal welfare. It is claimed that the karapan sapi violates WAHO principles, in which animals must be free from pain and injury.
A race bull owner from Sampang, Madura, Sahid, however, rejected the association of the karapan sapi with cruelty because, he said, before a race the bulls were provided with extra care which could cost more than Rp 180 million (US$18,793) every six months.
As well as traditional jamu herbal concoctions, the bulls are also given eggs and high-quality grass to make them strong and healthy.
“If a bull is injured during a race, we will take care of it and the wounds will heal in five days. I also don’t want to hurt the bulls, but without hot balm and spiked whips, it would be hard for the bulls to run more than 100 meters,” he said. Sahid added the ban on the karapan sapi had also caused egg sellers, grass suppliers and hotels owners in Madura to lose income.