Faster than you'd think
Published/Last edited or updated: 19th April, 2016
Sunday is buffalo racing day, not just around Sumbawa Besar, but right across Sumbawa. So if you’re at a loose end on a Sunday on the island, ask around to see if you can enjoy a day (or an hour should suffice really) of the local art of buffalo racing.
Every Sunday, farmers gather across the island at fallow but flooded rice fields and buffalos normally used for ploughing fields switch occupations and instead race from one end of the field to the other. The buffalos are paired, yoked together and a “jockey” stands on a length of wood attached to the yoke. The jockey then “rides” the buffalos, at high speed, from one end of the paddock to the other. At the far end there is a single wooden marker and one of the aims is to have the buffalo pass with the pole between them — this is harder than it seems as the buffalos are often quite directionally challenged and run all over the shop.
The races are surprisingly fast — those animals you see slowly staggering through the ricefields can work up quite a bit of speed when they get going. The going is fast and muddy and the crowd loves it — cheering the best performers and groaning when jockeys are thrown, or fall, into the mud. The winner is judged (there was a judging panel of six at the races we attended) not just on speed, but also on proximity to the wooden marker, size of the buffalo and other factors we didn’t quite grasp.
At the race we attended the winners each scored a spring mattress and a garland for the buffalo.
These races happen across Sumbawa, throughout the year, of a Sunday. The location will move from week to week and you’re best just to ask at your hotel for a pointer in the right direction. We stumbled upon our race by accident — on the way to something else, our guide saw a bunch of trucks carrying buffaloes, correctly assumed it was buffalo racing and asked them where the race was that day.
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.