Of Roosters and Men: Bali’s Livestock Market

Of Roosters and Men: Bali’s Livestock Market

I went to the Livestock Market looking for pigs. I had it on good authority that there would be some, so I rolled out of bed at five in the morning to make the hour drive from Ubud in time to arrive just after the sun came up.

There was a rolling cart stacked four feet high with chicks dyed blue, pink and green.

There were cattle with ropes looped through their nostrils.

There were geese, their necks snaked high above their holding pen, squawking at anyone and everyone who walked by.

There were puppies piled up in crates, reminding me that I wasn’t in America anymore.

There were bunnies that had ridden in on motorbikes.

There were ducklings peeping around a shallow dish of duck chow and lazing in the bed of a truck outfitted just for carrying them around the island.

And there were roosters everywhere.

Cock fights are both big business and deeply ingrained in the culture and religion in Bali. They’re technically illegal now, but they still take place regularly, both as a gambling sport and in temples during ceremonies and religious festivals. Just up the street from our villa in Ubud there was a gambling cock fight every other day. When I asked what would happen if the police showed up, our driver laughed, “we’ll give them money and they’ll leave!” But, also, he added, “we move the fights around sometimes so they don’t find us so much.” Bribery, I imagine, gets expensive.

And so, with a thriving cock fight economy, everywhere you go in Bali there are roosters. Most are tucked inside individual bamboo cages that resemble garden cloches. They can be seen at roadside stands, restaurants and outside homes and businesses. But no where are they so abundant as at the livestock market, where a sea of bamboo-ensconsced roosters stretches out in front of you seemingly as far as the eye can see.

Men wander through the sea, crouching occasionally to pull an individual rooster from his pen, smooth his feathers, and test his resolve. Fingers intertwined with the roo’s legs, they bounce the bird in the direction of another. Choosing a good rooster is an art.

About halfway through the market I happened by a man whose english was strong. It wasn’t hard, he was hollering at me as I walked by, “Mama! Mama!” In Bali, they call western women “mama,” whether you like it or not. “Mama!” He persisted, “What you doing? Why you here?”

“I’m looking for pigs,” I shouted back.

He didn’t understand. “Pigs…ummm..” I tried gesturing with my hands. “Small. Pink. Curly tail…” And then I remembered all the signs at little warungs — restaurants — along the road with the pictures of suckling pig on a spit and got both excited and a little ahead of myself, “Babi guling! But big!”

He laughed. “Ahh. Babi. Pig. No,” he shook his head, “not here.”

“There are no pigs at this market?”

“No.”

“Is there a pig market?”

“Yes. But far.”

“North?” I asked, pointing in a direction that I thought was north, but could have just as easily been south, because I am horrible at cardinal directions.

“West.” he answered, gesturing off towards the sea of rooster-baskets.

And that was as close as I ever got to finding the pig market. Though I must admit, I didn’t try very hard.

So there were no pigs to see on my visit to the Bali Livestock market. And there were no Balinese women. And there were no other westerners.

Just poultry and cows and Indonesian men, and me.

But that isn’t so unlike home. Minus the Indonesian part.

You get used to being a token in this industry as a woman; you get used to sticking out a bit. So I walked around for a while longer, snapping pictures and making pleasantries in broken and severely limited Bahasa Indonesian. I was just where I wanted to be, pigs or not.

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