Text by Donny Syofyan
In recent years, the Pacu Jawi cow races in West Sumatra’s Tanah Datar regency, around 100 kilometress from Padang, have become a cultural event many foreign and local tourists have discovered. In the Minang language, “jawi” means “cow” and since the 13th century farmers and the people of Tanah Datar have held the race three times a year after the rice harvest. Pacu Jawi is held on a four-week rotation with the subdistricts of Pariangan, Rambatan, Limo Kaum, and Sungai Tarab, and in just one season the number of competing cows reaches 500 to 800.
Unlike Kerapan Sapi in East Java’s Madura, where the cows race on dry land, at Pacu Jawi they race in muddy rice fields. The race involves a pair of cows controlled and steered by a jockey holding onto a stalk plow. The barefoot jockey runs with the cows in the water and mud, and while controlling the beasts, jockeys have been known to bite a cow’s tail, which is intended to spur the cow on to run faster and faster. People pack in to enjoy the lively sights of the running cows and the jockeys exercising control over their steeds while splashing through the mud. In the background, Minang music can be heard playing, adding to the spirit of the race.Click to view slideshow.
Each day, Pacu Jawi begins at around 10am and goes till 5pm, and the business of buying and selling cattle becomes unavoidable during the race. The price of a winning cow can rise up to two-fold during the event and the winning cow will be the pride of its owner.
It is difficult to know how to choose the winner of the Pacu Jawi. Deciding the winner of the race is full of philosophy and variables based around not just speed and body form, but their ability to run in a straight line.
Cows like to run in all directions; some go straight, some zig-zag, and some end up crossing into other rice fields altogether. One that is able to run straight will be respected by the public and is a real winner.
The Tanah Datar local government is right behind the promotion of this event. Tourists can get there by renting a car at the airport in Padang and there are several hotels in Batusangkar, the capital of Tanah Datar regency, such as Hotel Pagaruyung and Hotel Pagaruyung Dua for people to stay.