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West Sumatra's Traditional Bull Race 'Pacu Jawi' Steps Up On the Global Stage

July 8, 2020, 09.42 AM

JAKARTA, – Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay stood dumbfounded on seeing pacu jawi, a traditional bull race in the West Sumatra regency of Tanah Datar.

“Oh my God are you crazy?!” the 53-year-old said on seeing the jockey gamely controlling the bovines surging down the muddy, 240-meter track.

Ramsay’s companion, Indonesian food writer Ade Putri, grinned at his apprehension. “This is one of the conditions to get a choice cut of beef for rendang [beef stew].” 

Ramsay tried out the messy race three times. He emerged sore and mud-spattered, but earned the audience’s respect.

Age-old tradition

The pacu jawi is a highlight of “Sumatra’s Stunning Highlands”, an episode of his documentary Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted on the National Geographic Channel.

While pacu jawi’s origins might be a matter of conjecture, its purpose is more definitive.

Also read: Gordon Ramsay's Uncharted West Sumatra Culinary Adventure

“Pacu jawi originated as a way for farmers in Tanah Datar to pass the time following the harvest,” according to “Pacu Jawi, Balapan Sapi Khas Minangkabau” [Pacu Jawi, An Iconic Minangkabau Bull], a article published on 15 April 2013.

“Held three times annually, Pacu Jawi’s origins as entertainment gave it a festive atmosphere,” the article noted. “It is also a Minangkabau form of thanksgiving for a successful harvest.”

The philosophy behind Pacu Jawi

Yet Pacu Jawi is also a study in ethics. “[Pacu Jawi] is a metaphor for how a leader and his people can all walk down the same path. That is why there are always two bulls in the race.”

“The winner is also not determined by the fastest [racer], but those who can go in a straight line,” noted the article. “In Pacu Jawi, the jockeys do not face off against one another. This is done to keep spectators from betting on the jockeys.”


Karapan Sapi racers at the Presidents Cup tournament on 22/9/ Karapan Sapi racers at the Presidents Cup tournament on 22/9/2014

The differences between Pacu Jawi and Karapan Sapi

At first glance, Pacu Jawi is similar to Karapan Sapi, the traditional bull race from Madura Island, East Java. Yet they are two entirely different races. “Karapan Sapi is run on a dry flat track, whereas Pacu Jawi is run on a wet paddy” the article noted.


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