dust to glory

words: bud schmeling 
photography: bram paulussen

An eternity removed from the iconic breaks of Kuta Beach—celebrated in Endless Summer, the Citizen Kane of surf movies—is the Regency of Jembrana, the ground zero for makepung, or Balinese buffalo racing. At the crossroads of steeplechase, animal pageantry, and agrarian festival, the annual competition celebrates the end of the rice harvest with specially bred buffalos and their jockeys careening around a dirt track. The winning team is not determined entirely by speed—instead, judges look for a combination of strength, style, and flair.


The Jembrana Regent’s Cup is the highlight of the makepung circuit. The festivities commence in the early morning hours, before the oppressive heat renders the animals sluggish, with the garishly festooned buffalos participating in an elaborate fashion parade.

The racing buffalos, known as kerbau pepadu, are treated with great care and used primarily for stud. The jockeys traverse the 2 km course in traditional ploughs that are slightly modified for the sport. Once on the track, and upon reaching top speeds of 60 kph, things can become quite perilous—it’s not uncommon for both rider and animal to end up in a ditch.

Two teams—divided into red and green, representing the east and west of the province—battle over five hours, culminating with the jury raising a colored flag to decide the champion. Winning riders earn honor and, hopefully, an elevated market value for their bulls.