A Balinese man holds cockerel at an evacuation center after being evacuated from Mount Agung volcano at Rendang in Karangasem Regency, on Indonesia's resort island of Bali on December 4, 2017. A volcano may be rumbling off in the distance, but for a group of Balinese men and their fighting roosters it's the roar of the crowd that says the show must go on. / AFP PHOTO / SONNY TUMBELAKA / TO GO WITH: Indonesia-Bali-animal-social, FEATURE by Bagus SARAGIH
A volcano may be rumbling off in the distance, but for a group of Balinese men and their fighting roosters it's the roar of the crowd that says the show must go on.
Far off the Indonesian resort island's tourist trail, heavily-tattooed men gather at a clandestine site where birds battle each other -- usually to the death -- in a gory spectacle known as tajen that meshes blood sport with ancient Balinese Hindu traditions.
About 100 male spectators gather on bamboo benches around a dirt ring as two roosters pulled from wicker baskets lunge at each other even before the match starts. The two owners exchange birds to check weight and temperament, a show of sportsmanship to make sure they're evenly matched.
"If the owners of both fighters reach a deal and say 'okay, let's fight', then the roosters fight," said I Made Gunawan, who's rooster was fighting. A small dagger about 10 cm long is tied to each rooster's left ankle.
The heady smell of incense wafts over the ring as a roar erupts from the crowd. Bets are placed, with most events lasting 15 fights. The roosters are set loose and feathers fly in an explosion of jumping and pecking that sets the already excited crowd into a bloodthirsty frenzy.
The match goes the distance -- three rounds over eight minutes -- until the referee calls it a draw. Both roosters, weak and wounded, are unable to keep fighting.
The ankle blades usually make it a fight to the death in a matter of minutes, punctuated by trails of blood seeping into the dirt.
The winner's owner not only gets bragging rights and some of the betting proceeds -- usually 10% of the purse -- but they also get the carcass of their opponent's rooster, for eating. "My fighter lost today -- it won the last time," said Sudira as he helplessly watched his dying rooster be slaughtered to make dinner.
It's a short career for surviving roosters, who are retired after just a few matches.
"They're then used to breed with hens," said Kadek Rudi, whose best fighter was recovering from severe belly wounds. "The offspring will also be good fighters like their father."