Animals are very much a part of everyday life in Bali. Some, like the water buffalo, are domesticated species; others simply occupy the same space as man and are either tolerated or exterminated. Most unfortunate of creatures is the Balinese dog—a wretched and ulcerous brute, maltreated and unloved, yet a ubiquitous and often alarming feature of every Balinese village. Not every animal, however has such a miserable existence, and there are some which are especially privileged—the cow and the fighting cock, for example, are the subject of lavish care and attention.
The keeping of birds in cages is a very ancient tradition in Indonesia. They may be kept for their song, their aptitude for mimicry, their soothing cocing, or lust simply because they are beautiful to look all. Favourite song birdsinclude the Asian pied starling (Sturnus contra), black naped orioles (Orioluschinensis) and the white-rumpedshama (Copsychusmalabricus),while cockatoos and hill mynahs (Graculareliiosa) make good mimics. Other species, like the spotted dove (Streptopeliachinensis), fill the air with mellillucus cooing sounds, while the Java sparrow (Paddaoryzivora) and a variety otmunias (Lonchura spp.) are admired because of their attractive appearance.
The low-slung Balinese pig, with its sagging back and pot belly virtually dragging along the ground, was once a characteristic sight in Bali, but is far less common today through the introduction of larger British breeds. Balinese porkers are generally kept in pens inside the family compound, though when small they may be simply tethered to a secure point. They are looked after by the women of the household who feed them a diet of rice hulls mixed with water, supplemented with banana stems.
The graceful, faun-like native cattle of Bali are a domesticated, scaled down version of the wild banteng- (Bosjavanicus). They are husbanded by men who can often be seen in the evenings lovingly sluicing down their beasts with water from an irrigation canal. Although Hinduism is a fundamental part of Balinese religion, many people will eat beef, though not if they are priests or otherwise engaged in religious duties. Those who do eat beef may, however, shampoo themselves afterwards, the head being considered the most sacred part of the body. Milk is not a problem one way or another.
Betting on fighting cocks, and indeed all other forms of gambling, are illegal in Indonesia, but cockfighting (tajen) has very deep and ancient roots in Balinese culture, and contests continue to be held regularly on the island, albeit discreetly out of sight of the authorities. Fighting cocks, like all domesticated poultry, are descended from the wild jungle fowl (Gallus gallus) which is native to the region. They are greatly esteemed by their owners who feed them on a special diet of top quality maize. Equipped with razor—sharp steel spurs some 10 centimetres long, the fighting cock is a lethal adversary in the ring and often both contestants are mortally wounded, in which case the victor is he who expires last. Intense betting surrounds the fight. The stakes are high and bets must be settled immediately—a man can literally lose his shirt. The cockfight, because it involves the spilling of blood, has a symbolic aspect to it, being seen as a propitiation to malevolent spirit influences (bhuta or kala). Because of this ritual element, the Indonesian government allows cock fights to be held on ceremonial occasions provided no betting takes place.
The most successful animal species in Bali are rats, the majority of whom lead quiet, unassuming lives in the forests and other wild areas. The native house or roof rat (Rattusrattus) and the rice field rat (Rattusargentiventer) do, however, constitute a serious problem. Traditionally, at the end of a harvest, the Balinese will dig up all the rat nests they can find in the rice fields and club as many rats to death as possible. Two of their number, however, are allowed to survive and are released back into the rice field in the hope of gaining forgiveness from the spirits of their less fortunate brethren whose bodies are then cremated. Despite these measures, it was felt, not so long ago, that for every rat bludgeoned to death, four more would spring up on the spot where it died because the Chief Mouse was piqued at not having received sufficient sacrifices. A special ceremony was therefore held at Besakih, the ‘mother temple’ of all Bali, to appease this disaffected rodent deity. Afterwards, rat poison was distributed to rice farmers by government agencies, but the results were only a qualified success.
One creature the visitor to Bali is unlikely to miss is the cockroach, which will typically be encountered lurking in the cornerof a damp bathroom, waving itsantennae in a slightly menacing manner. The most common species on theisland are Periplanetaaustralasiaeand P. americana, which despite theirtaxonomic designations were probably first transported to the region from Africa. Cockroaches are very hard to eradicate because they are extremely sensitive to changes in their environment. Finely-tuned sensory organs in their antennae are able to detect minute changes in air pressure, temperature and moisture, while equally sensitive receptors in their legs can pick up the slightest vibration. Although cockroaches can fly, their preferred mode of locomotion is to scuttle, which they are able to do with great facility and speed.