Praying for Our Prey

By Amy Chavez

For The Bali Times

I was riding my motorbike on Saturday, when I came upon a cow standing on the side of the road mooing at me. For some reason, cows always moo at me. So I did the polite thing — I mooed back. Then it hit me: This was not just another Saturday in Bali. It was Tumpek Kandang – the day to pray for animals. Suddenly the meaning behind that beckoning moo became obvious — stop and pray for us!

Not surprisingly, this cow was standing right next to Tanah Kilap, where a Tumpek Kandang ceremony was taking place. So I turned my bike around and went back to the temple to pray for the cow and all the animals of Bali.

In Bali, Tumpek Kandang is celebrated twice a year, which is every 210 days on the Balinese calendar. On this day they thank the animals because without them, humans cannot live. We eat the eggs from the chicken; we drink the milk from the cow; we eat the flesh of the goat.

I entered the temple with canang (offerings) in five coconut leaf trays filled with flowers, biscuits and candy accompanied by five sticks of incense. I went to the appropriate altars, and sometimes the inappropriate ones, to perform the rites. The locals were patient and did their best to guide me through the maze of the temple.

It really makes you feel important to be able to give thanks to the entire animal kingdom all at the same time. I laid out my offerings and I thanked the animals as if it were the Academy Awards: I, on the behalf of all humanity, would like to thank the animals who have, over the years, made my life possible: the cows, the chicken, the birds … and I went through all their names. Then I thanked them for all their cuisine: Eggs benedict, Porterhouse Steak, Bebek Betutu, Goat Satay. I was there a long time. Drooling through most of it. But it is a good feeling to sincerely thank nature for all it gives you.

That same afternoon, after feeling a bit heady from all the appreciation of the animals, I read an article in this newspaper about roaming cows in Denpasar. How nice: cows wandering around the island in freedom, I thought. But no, three cows were “apprehended” after residents complained they were disturbing the community.

It makes you wonder how exactly they “apprehend” cows? “Hey, Wayan Sapi, put on these hoof cuffs. We’re off to Polda! Don’t bat those big eyelashes at me now…”

But no, the officials used a tranquilizer gun. While the news makes them out to be nothing short of cattle gangs, we should stop and think about what cows do naturally.

Banteng cattle (Balinese cows) are completely non-violent. They are the Beat Generation of cows, spending most of their time wandering around in search of their navels, which of course we know, they will never find. But who is to discourage them from a bit of bovine introspection? From pensively chewing the cud of life? To me, the decrease in visible cows in our daily lives is a pity.

Besides, don’t we have bigger problems than roaming cows? Forget poor road maintenance, poverty, sanitation, AIDS, mangy street dogs — it’s those damn cows that we’ve got to get rid of! Uh-huh.

But, seeing a problem here, I decided to go and talk to the cows. What makes me think they’d listen to me? Well, I’m not saying that this happens all the time, but sometimes when I pass a field of cows, they all look up and moo at me. Have you ever had this happen? It could just be a coincidence, but I do feel there are times when cows look up to me. Just like the cow standing and mooing at me near Tanah Kilap.

So I went to the cows and this is what I told them: You’ve got to fight for your basic bovine rights. Look at the street dogs. They’ve got full roaming rights. Look at the chickens. Ditto. If people say it’s dangerous when cows wander out on the roads, well, you tell them they shouldn’t have paved right through your pasture, then. You could set up a toll gate, you know. At the very least, demand that the government put up more Cattle Crossing signs. Why shouldn’t they share the roads with you? I mean, c’mon, cows are as big as cars. It’s not like they can’t see you!

And you know, roaming is not unique to cows. The Australian Aboriginal people go on walkabout; the Mongolians are a nomadic culture. So there you go, cows, you have rights. Your slogan should be: Don’t fence me in!

It seems odd that while demand for Bali beef reportedly rose more than 15 percent in March, that bovine tolerance is declining. Especially now, people and animals must learn to coexist. Which is why Tumpek Kandang is a great opportunity to thank these animals.

So the next time you see a wandering cow, you might consider rolling down your window and shouting: You beautiful bovine, thanks for the porterhouse steak!

Filed under: Arts & Entertainment

Comments are closed.