Full Moon Festivities


Each full moon in Bali brings a rush of activity that spills over into the better part of a week. This lunar cycle, my neighborhood marked the occasion with cockfights, offerings, music, and a ceremony in the local banjar, an open pavilion that hosts community events. On Wednesday, the day before the full moon, a makeshift ring was erected at the end of my street. Local men and food vendors came from all around to enjoy two days of cockfighting. This time-honored Balinese tradition is generally associated with religious occasions, but the atmosphere is hardly pious.


In the recording, the fight is preceded by a lively round of betting with a man in the ring encouraging the crowd like an auctioneer. While the men around the ring wager with their neighbors, each rooster is fixed with a deadly sharp spur.

The two opponents are then introduced to each other and provoked by pulling out feathers around the face and neck.
At this point the crowd dies down and the cocks are placed at opposite ends of the ring. They charge and tear each other to pieces, with a victor typically emerging in less than a minute. Money is exchanged, and the men go back to eating and chatting until the next match.

I bought a fistful of steamed soybeans and found a seat in the shade, resisting invitations to join the gambling. I watched a few matches, but I lost my taste for cockfighting pretty quickly. I have never felt particularly sympathetic towards poultry, but I didn’t get much pleasure from watching them peck each other to death. The sport may be a little cruel, but it isn’t wasteful. The slain cocks were immediately plucked and taken home to the kitchen. The cockfight wound down around sunset. That night singing and story-telling was broadcast from the banjar on a loudspeaker. I could still hear the performers carrying on as I went to sleep.

On the night of the full moon the people of my neighborhood gathered to present offerings (pictured above), pray, and be entertained. The music and dance were provided by my sanggar, which is the gamelan club where I live and study.


Here we are in the banjar, with the crowd pressing in from outside. The woman in the green costume is dancing Legong, which is considered one of the most refined and subtle dances in Bali. It is traditionally performed only by young girls.

The following night, our gamelan group was invited to perform at a ceremony in Kintamani. This village is now perched on the rim of an active volcano. It was once down inside the caldera, which is almost 10 miles across, but was moved to higher ground after being destroyed by lava flows twice in the last century. The first flow stopped at the entrance of the village temple. They took this as a good omen and decided, despite thousands of deaths, to rebuild in the same spot. It took another eruption ten years later to convince them to relocate. The air up in the mountains was refreshingly cool, freezing cold according to my Balinese companions. The valley inside the volcano is rich farmland, famous for its mangos and coffee. It also holds Bali’s largest lake, which feeds the springs and streams that water the rice terraces of my neighborhood.

For the performance we went down inside the crater on a tiny winding road. The temple, which was much larger than my local banjar, was hosting dueling gamelans that night. We set up across the stage from another group and alternated songs for about two hours. The mood was hardly competitive; all the musicians seemed to know each other, and there were no official winners and losers. These young men have a casual attitude about performance: they practice hard to learn the music perfectly, but don’t seem to take it too hard if it doesn’t come out that way. No one is getting paid; they are here out of community obligation and the love of music…and of course free food.


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