Here’s how a winner is determined in a water buffalo fight. The two behemoths push each other around head to head until one turns around and saunters off with the other giving half-hearted chase. Neither is hurt. Sometimes one just trots off without fighting at all. They often scatter the squealing crowd, which is great fun. These fights attract heavy gambling, at least here in Tana Toraja where I am.
After several bouts lunch is served—rice and buffalo meat cooked in bamboo tubes, and tuak palm wine. Maybe it is the liquor that imparts enough courage and gets everyone in the mood for the next event, which is a kick-fighting melee by the young men, with recurring waves of kicking, leaping, and shouting, and no visible displays of pain. Like MMA without the polish and the TV cameras, just multiple waves of raw, visceral group kick-fighting. The appointed referees are roundly ignored. It ends by seeming mutual consent, with everyone in good spirits. All of this is followed by an aborted cockfight, where one of the roosters, perhaps wisely, decides it is not a good day to fight and turns tail. It seems timely that the skies then decide to open up for the regular afternoon tropical downpour.
The eel is tough and chewy. I didn’t plan on eating rice paddy eel tonight, or ever, to be honest, but right on schedule it starts raining hard at dusk and my friend’s uncle lives in this area with his family. When we stop at their house, they are naturally gracious and invite us to dinner, so here I am making small talk with everyone and grinding my way through the eel, but mostly favoring the rice and sambal. As usual, after a couple of hours the rain lets up, and we are able to make our apologies and leave.
It’s Saturday night in Kupang, Timor, and a traditional medicine seller is holding court with a circle of young men, telling his invincibility stories and displaying his pile of aromatic wood, bones, and bottles of potion. He says they are from neighboring Flores, and that the potion makes the teeth strong. I watch three of the men, perhaps audience plants, drink the potion and then bite off chunks from drinking glasses and chew and swallow them. While I see no immediately discernible negative effect, I decide I have no current need for this ability and after a while move on.
My friend is twenty-four and feels sad a lot, especially when alone. Her boyfriend dumped her for his friends, and now she is angry at men, sakit hati she says. She sleeps very little, and copes by smoking and drinking coffee and going to karaoke bars. Sometimes she goes to rock concerts and screams and cheers until she cries.
A friend of hers stops by this afternoon. He describes an accident he just saw on the street, not an uncommon event here in Jogja, where one of the parties got very emotional. He thinks this is both unusual and kind of funny.
Kevin Browne is a writer and anthropologist. He formerly lived in Indonesia and currently resides in Wisconsin.