Ram Fighting: Bandung, West Java

One game I had never heard of was Ram Fighting. It’s an old west Javanese tradition and, it has set rules and interesting preambles. They are exciting spectacles which culminate in annual championship matches held on the first Sunday after Independence Day.

Ram fights remain popular in Bandung

Every Sunday, Abimanyu, Kamojang and Sancang are left alone “at home” as their young travel to various towns to take part in fights. Formerly champions of West Java, they now have to stay in their “house” in Sumbersari, Caringin, Bandung, all day long, waiting for the return of their youngsters.

On Saturdays, their young are bathed and given silver triangular accessories that are worn round their necks. Sometimes, when the young have to take part in a particular prestigious fight, they are also dressed in leather coats.

Abimanyu, Kamojang and Sancang are old fighting rams. Their young are also fighters. All these sheep belong to Juhana, 30, who has a flock of 70. He employs six men to take care of them all, and to prepare them for fights.

Sunday morning is the time that Juhana and his rams keenly await.

The same was true of the first Sunday morning in February this year. Ten young rams were chosen and put into two pick-up vans to be taken to the Siliwangi field, right over from the Sasana Budaya Ganesha (Sabuga), Jalan Tamansari, Bandung.

Lines of trucks, pick-ups and a number of luxury vehicles were seen parked. The rams were taken off the vans and then neatly lined up along a row of wooden posts located to the right of the half-a-quarter-hectare field, where the ram fights were to be held. While their master was completing the registration procedure, the rams wandered freely in the parking lot waiting their turn.

At 7.00 a.m sharp, the loud, intense sound of a trumpet and drum marked the beginning of the fight. The referee, wearing a black martial arts costume and a headband, came forward to the center of the grassy field. Hundreds of spectators impatiently waited on the rows of seats round the fighting arena. A wooden fence was put up round the fighting arena to prevent the losing ram from getting out of the arena and running towards the spectators.

The master of ceremony announced the names of the rams that would take part in the fight, along with the names of their owners and their places of origin. It was just like what one would find at a boxing match.

The registration fee for every participating ram was only Rp 5,000, as this was not a professional fight but only an event for the rams to practice before more prestigious events.

For a prestigious ram fights, said Juhana, the registration fee may amount to between Rp 150,000 and Rp 200,000 per head. The fee is high, he went on, because the prizes were also big, such as cash of millions of rupiah, motorcycles, refrigerators and televisions.

The sound of cheering and clapping from young and old reverberated loudly when the first two rams entered the arena, and the sound of the referee’s whistle signaled the beginning of the fight. During the fight, the drum continued to be beaten, its sound boosting the enthusiasm of the rams and increasing the excitement among the spectators.

Nenah (30), a Dago resident with two children, said that watching ram fights was a very interesting form of entertainment.

“It’s free of charge, but it makes my children happy. It is better than taking them to the zoo because to enter the zoo you have to pay Rp 7,000 and spend more if your children want to play a game or two,” she said.

A ram that runs away from its opponent or falls down is declared the loser. Just like in a boxing match, rams often locked horns rather than attacking each other. In such situations, the referee will blow his whistle and pull them apart.

“If neither of the rams runs away from their opponent, the points they collect will determine which ram wins the match,” said Juhana, who has been involved in the ram fighting business since he was nine.

A ram can collect a point not only because of its boldness in attacking its opponent, but also because of the beauty of its horns, the color and type of its wool, or its position when getting ready to attack its opponent. Points will also be collected on the basis of the technique that a sheep employs when attacking its opponent or dodging an attack.

Only seven of Juhana’s 70 rams are good enough for major fight events, such as the championship cup from the West Java Governor or other provincial-level sheep fight events.

Meanwhile, Dadang Rahman, another sheep breeder, said that raising fighter rams was not the same as raising ordinary sheep whose meat would be sold on the market.

“It is like having pretty children. We must take very good care of them so they will be healthy and flawless, and then they can be married off,” said Dadang, who added he had been in the ram fight business for over a decade.

Sheep eat grass, tofu waste and cassava. Dadang said he had a regular feeding schedule for his 20 sheep to ensure that they were always in good health. At 7.00 a.m., the sheep eat tofu waste, at 2.00 p.m. they eat grass, and at night they have cassava.

Both Juhana and Dadang agreed that cleanliness of the feed determined the health and strength of the rams as well as the beauty of their wool and horns.

In addition to their regular feed, the sheep are also given vitamins and deworming medicine.

“They get vitamins once a month. The vitamins are injected into their bodies,” said Juhana, who added he learned how to inject vitamins into the sheep from a friend, a veterinary surgeon, who checks his sheep once a month.

The sheep are given deworming medicine every three months. On average, a breeder of fighter sheep will spend up to Rp 150,000 a month for his sheep’s vitamins and deworming medicine.

Aside from good feed, vitamins and deworming medicine, fighter rams are also regularly trained to run fast and improve their fighting technique.

“Once in a while they are allowed to swim in a pool of water,” said Juhana, who added he liked sheep because they were good looking.

Obviously, a ram fight will mean money for its owner. That’s why owners of fighter rams take very good care of the health of their animals. In fact, ram fighting is a lucrative business. Juhana, who inherited his business from Sumarna, his father, said that a good quality fighter ram was worth between Rp 4 million and Rp 5 million. A champion fighting ram could be worth over Rp 50 million.

In a professional ram fight, there are weight-based categories: Class A for rams weighing 70 kg and above; Class B, 60 kg to 69 kg; and Class C, 50 kg to 59 kg.

“It’s a good idea to start with just a good lamb, which is quite cheap. We raise it and train it to be a good fighter and when it wins a fight we can sell it for a much higher price,” Juhana said.

Aside from the Babakan Siliwangi arena, a ram fights are also regularly held on Sunday morning in some other places across Bandung, like Cilengkrang, Sulaiman Airport Margahayu or Paseh, Majalaya. Ram fights are also popular with West Java residents from outside Bandung.

Yuli Tri Suwarni, Bandung