Wednesday, July 7, 2021


Karapan Sapi is a traditional annual event that happens only in Madura
ON A RECENT visit to Bali, I was lucky to see a one-of-a kind event called Karapan Sapi, a bull race that happens in Madura, a small island located across the Madura Strait to the northeast of Java Island, know for this scenic beauty. This traditional sport has been around for several centuries and happens at the district level, regency level and finally to the residence level, with the finals, wehre the competitors vie for the President Cup in the city of Pamekasan. The race typically happens  during the months of July to October.
History calling
The origins of this race are traced to Sapudi Island in Madura, and there are two interesting stories behind its history. One school of thought believes that the race was used by ulema, while another says this race was created by an important man from Sapudi Island to make the soil fertile by plowing.
Prince Kantadur from the local kingdom of Sumenep in the 13th century also helped popularize the race, and in the 1930s. Dutch rulers did their bit to organize and promote the sport across the East Java province. Interestingly, not all bulls make the cut to quality to be race ready.
It is said that the race bulls are the ones whose chest shape narrows from the upper area t othe lower area, have humped necks, short horns and a big strong body with long back, tight nails and along tail. Their daily diet includes, a mix of herbs, honey and eggs, which increases by several portions before a race. And yes, bulls ar also fiven a relaxing massage as well so that they can perform at top speed.
Sporty vibes
When I arrived at the venue, which happens to be a large open field fenced all around, there was a palpable undercurrent of exicitement. Row of chairs had been arranged at one end with a lot of local food – boiled peanuts, sweet potatoes and more. The racing event is evidently popular with locals and is quite a unique experience for tourists, making this a win-win for all sides.
For local especially, this event has prestige value because the winning bull owner stands to gain much socially and financially. Before the race begins, each team parades their bulls to the liting tunes of Madura’s traditional instrument, saronen, and local school children performing the traditional percot (whip) dance.
The participating bulls themselves are also given a makeover with rich clothing, flowery ribbons and other decorations as part of the parade. Just before the race begins, these are exchanged for more practical gear.
The race
Each team comprises a tukang ambeng (a person who releases the harness), a tukang gubra (a person to shout from the side of the race track), a tukang nyandak (a person to stop the ubll at the finish line) and a tukang tanja (a person to lead the bull after the race).
The race involves a pair of bulls attached to a standing wooden cart, on which a jockey stands to steer the bulls through the race. The jockeys are usually young boys who control the speed of the bull, locally called tukang tongko. The 100-meter-long race track usually takes 10 to 15 second to complete amidst the onlocker’s wild cheers.
One the flag drops, the jockey starts poking the bulls with a sharpened bamboo and tries to simultaneously keep his balance. The bull whose forelegs cross the finish line first wins the race, which has a series of elimination heats. So the next time you are in Madura, be sure to check out Karapan Sapi.

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