Pacu Jawi in Tanah Datar, Watch Dramatic Muddy Races

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cow race in west sumatera
Pacu jawi or cow race in Tanah Datar, North Sumatera. (Image: Kemenparekraf)

There are various traditional sports spread across various regions in Indonesia. There is a cow race in Madura, Makepung or buffalo race in Jembrana (Bali) and Pacu Jawi (cow race) in West Sumatra. Of course, there are other traditional sports that are no less unique.

Located in a stretch of muddy and watery rice terraces, the traditional ceremony that has become a tourist attraction, Pacu Jawi (bull race), is now always eagerly awaited by domestic and foreign tourists.

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Uniquely, this typical tourist attraction of Tanah Minang, West Sumatra, precisely in Tanah Datar District, is held after the rice fields have finished harvesting, which will then be plowed with a pair of cows and driven by jockeys to speed up but straight and can still be controlled until the cows reach the end of rice field.

In the Minangkabau language, pacu jawi means ‘cow race’ which is a traditional sport competition that has become a hallmark of Tanah Datar District, West Sumatra.

In this traditional sport, a pair of cows run in a muddy field about 60–250 meters long, guided by a jockey standing behind them holding the two cows.

This is not a ‘race’ in the true sense because the cows are only released in pairs without a match so there is no official winner. The pair of cows ran in turns, while the audience judged the cows (based on their speed and ability to run straight).

The people of Tanah Datar (particularly in the four sub-districts of Sungai Tarab, Pariangan, Lima Kaum, and Rambatan) have been holding this traditional sport for centuries to celebrate the post-rice harvest.

Usually, this event is also coupled with a village and cultural party called alek pacu jawi. Currently, this event has become a tourist attraction supported by the government, and has become an object of photography so that it attracts many photographers.

According to local custom, one of the requirements for the area where the Pacu Jawi is held is that Mount Marapi must be clearly visible. The 2,891-meter-high mountain is said to be the origin of the Minangkabau people who now inhabit West Sumatra. Since the majority of local residents are farmers, the pacu jawi event is organized when the rice fields are empty after harvest and before the next planting season.

The tradition of pacu jawi has been around for centuries, including before Indonesia’s independence, and begins with harvest celebrations and entertainment for villagers.

In the past, this event was only held twice a year, but due to the shorter harvest cycle, it is possible to hold this event even more frequently.


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