The (funny) water buffalo fight in Sulawesi, Indonesia

In Tana Toraja on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, the water buffalos are used as sacrifical animals. Here on the land of the Toraja, the water buffalos play a big role and are very important on the funeral ceremonies as the Toraja people believe that the buffalos leads the deceased on to their afterlife. The descended’s soul is believed to move on with the animal’s spirit. The Torajan funeral ceremony in Sulawesi is very complex and can last several weeks with the last process and the main event, the slaughtering of the buffalos. But just a few days before the buffalos are being sacrified, usually on the third day of the funeral ceremonies, there are water buffalo fights.

I am sorry of the bad quality of the images! I was testing another camera and didn’t realised it was on mode Hue or something because the photos came out veeery colorful and I tried my best to fix the issue.

Before heading to Sulawesi for the Tana Toraja funeral ceremonies, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see when the buffaloes were being sacrified or even the buffalo fight! I didn’t want to see something so cruel. The sacrifice ceremony was rough, I have to admit that! But for the bull-fight, I had a picture in my mind of the Spanish bull-fight with a lot of blood and torture of the animal. Beside that Toraja’s buffaloes are starved before the fight to put them in a bad mood, I was not expecting that the water buffalo fight in Sulawesi to be so…funny and harmless ?

The funny crowds

When we arrived at the bull-fight area we found it very funny to see what it felt like all the men from the villages were gathered here on a tiny piece of land to have a glimpse of the bull fights. Some were sitting on small branches of trees and the roofs and we were more nervous for them than for the buffaloes.


The start

It was fun to see how proud young boys and men brought their buffalo to the fight pit and we could see how much love they had for the animal. If you think about it, the locals spend their lifetime to save money to buy enough of water buffaloes for the very important funerals. An ordinary black water buffalo costs at least $5,500, a very heavy price for an ordinary Torajan rice farmer. For the lower class,  Torajans can sacrifice up to 3 buffaloes at their funerals, the middle class from 6 to 12, and the highest class will have at least 24. And beside the cost, it is the spirit of these animals that leads your love one to the afterlife! So imagine, how much the water buffaloes are loved here.


The fight

Ok, I wouldn’t call it a fight…it feels more like a long stare! Have you ever witnessed a sumo wrestling fight which the ceremony can last forever and the actual fight can be over after just a few second? It’s the same case here with the water buffalo fight in Sulawesi. The buffaloes could stare at each other forever but most of the time, the they just ignore each other. The locals have then to provoke the buffaloes to fight. And when the water buffaloes finally decide to lock horns, they could stay in that position forever until one of the local kick their butt, but often just after a few second one of the buffalo runs away, or just turn away to graze…which would also make the other buffalo deciding to graze. And the crowds would laugh! It’s hilarious!

Read about more about the sumo wrestling in Japan Japan’s national sport, Sumo wrestling.

All of the fighting buffaloes has a name prayed on them. Some were name as Tokyo, Grandong or Kampa Lino as you can see above.

Tokyo deciding to pee before the show.

The buffaloes can stay on this position for a while before the crowds get impatience and try themself to provoke the fight or reaction from the buffaloes. But luckily, there are army men guarding the area. It was so funny to see the men get chased by army men with bamboo sticks.

When the crowds are getting too close, the army are there to put them back behind the fence.


And the winner is?

Can you guess the winner by looking at the picture below? Yes, the winner is the buffalo chasing the other buffalo who chicken out. Once the short fight is over, the crowds will cheer loudly and rush towards the owner and the winning buffalo. 

The losing water buffalo at the buffalo fight in Tana Toraja, Indonesia.

All the crowds are running toward the winning owner and his buffalo, Sulawesi, Indonesia.

The proud owner of the winning water buffalo! Perhaps this is the last moment of joy the owner will have with his buffalo because in a few days the buffalo will be sacrified.

A local in front of me was sculpting buffalo horns.

Me, one of the few women on the buffalo fight in Sulawesi, Indonesia.

At the end, the buffalo fight in Sulawesi felt more like a comic show than an aggressive buffalo fight. I left the place feeling amused and relief that I didn’t have to regret coming here.


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  1. Ok, firstly, I cannot believe the number of men gathered here to watch the show! Secondly, its funny to think that the buffaloes are just staring at each other while the men are trying to provoke them to fight! What is wrong with men, they just want to see some violence and bloodshed and that is why they’re trying to push for them to fight! I cannot believe you also witnessed the sacrificial ceremony, that could NOT have been pleasant.

  2. This looks like a really interesting and charged tradition! I’ve never heard of a water buffalo staring match, but there’s always a first for everything! Good to know it’s just a harmless game, and the villagers really come together to watch this! A really enjoyable read.

  3. I didn’t know that there’s buffalo fight in Indonesia. This tradition sounds really interesting to watch! It looks like the whole village was there for sure haha. Everyone seemed so excited about the fight!

  4. Oh my gosh, I was cracking up laughing the entire time I was reading this. I am sure if I was there in person I would have been laughing even harder. However, I know it is cultural, but it is so sad that tradition dictates the sacrifices when it is so costly for each family. It might be quite a struggle for some.

    Regardless, I want to see the water buffalo “fight”!!!

  5. Thanks for sharing great piece of content. Its their culture. As they do this for joy and entertainment. Indonesian are very polite people with great sense of humor. I laughed whole the time i watch this.

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