When I agreed to go and watch Madura bull racing with my girlfriend, little did I know that I would be standing at the centre of the finishing line watching two tons of bovine come hurtling towards me with a ten year old child holding on to them for dear life.

Images of my impending doom swept before my eyes, reminding me quite how bad an idea this had been, but I seemed to be alone in my worries. There were no cries of pain as the speeding bulls met a solid wall of human flesh. Instead a small boy with a large smile on his face emerged from the crowd who quickly surrounded him. For this one day he would become a local celebrity, a rite of passage passed, a race won.

Madura bull racing is a centuries old tradition for the people of the island that is located just off the North coast of the island of Java. The competitions that are held each year are a chance for the local people to celebrate a successful harvest and show off there prized possessions. It is not as whacky a tradition as the cargo cults of Papua, but Madura bull racing is pretty close.

The main Madura bull racing competition lasts for two days and as the young bulls rip down the racing line the cows are given their own chance to shine in their very own beauty contest. To make sure the cows are looking their best for the contest they are given a makeover, complete with eyeliner, make up and jewellery.


When the beauty contest starts, the cows are made to walk in pairs in front of the judges around the ring. Young unmarried women dance behind the cows. Surrounding the women, with large smiles on their faces, are old men with stacks of cash from the recent harvest. The money is given away to the women who do the most suggestive dancing. When passing the money the use of hands is optional and bigger notes can be passed from mouth to mouth, it’s pretty shady, especially given the fact that Madura is so famous for prostitution. As for the cows, there are no loosers and everyone receives a prize for taking part.

For something a bit different the two days of Madura bull racing comes highly recommended. The main cow racing festival is in the middle of October, but the dates change each year. If you’re a foreigner expect VIP treatment and access to all areas as the friendly locals make you feel welcome. We slept in the local parliament building. Whatever you do don’t forget to bring a hat as after two days in the sun I had turned a dangerous shade of red. Madura Bull racing is a real spectacle, but if you’re in the are, don’t forget to do see the sunrise over Bromo.