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Pacu Jawi – Racing Bulls in West Sumatra

Pacu Jawi – Racing Bulls in West Sumatra

The sleepy province of West Sumatra, Indonesia, is home to the traditional practice of bull racing called “Pacu Jawi”. In an area called Tanah Datar these Pacu Jawi events are held over eleven months of the year, each time in a different district within Tanah Datar. Races sometimes goes on for a period of four weeks before moving on to the next district. The race track is a flooded paddy field in between the planting season.

Pacu Jawi, involves one very brave rider, two raging bulls, lots of mud and heaps of high adrenaline. With only rudimentary ploughing equipment harnessed to each bull, the rider stands behind the bulls and “surfs” while holding on to just their tails. To madden the bulls into charging faster, they bite the tails! The excitement really picks up when the bulls decide to go different ways causing much strife for the riders who are sometimes seen, legs akimbo, hanging on for dear life.


If you don’t mind being splattered with a bit of mud as the bulls thunder through the paddy fields, it is truly a spectacle to behold. A carnival-like atmosphere surrounds each race with the local Minangkabau people selling delicious treats such as satay and fried bananas for nibbles, and trinkets for souvenirs.


Getting there

(First check with local operators about race schedules and locations. No races are held during the month of Ramadan)

  • Fly direct to Padang, West Sumatra, and hire transportation to the districts where the races are held, almost every other weekend.   
  • Alternatively, fly to Jakarta and take the daily domestic flight to Padang.  From Padang it is only a couple of hours drive to witness Pacu Jawi.

Staying:  There is a wide choice of hotels and homestays in the capital Padang and the town of Bukit Tinggi.   

Must try: The nasi padang is the most popular local food.  It is a miniature banquet of fish, chicken and spicy vegetables served with steaming white rice.

Text by: Arhnue Tan
Photos by: Tan Kai Swee


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