This is Pacu Jawi!

Exploring Indonesia is my obsession.
I keep going back to Indo because I love the people who are so friendly
and welcoming, for the huge variety of photographic opportunities and of course the amazing experiences and surprises that always present themselves!

One of my favourite action events is PACU JAWI (pronounced paCHOO jawi). I love PJ for the excitement, colours, sights and sounds.
Pacu Jawi is a traditional Cow Race held in the highlands of West Sumatra;
the event celebrates the end of the rice harvest and is both a celebration and entertainment for the local community.
It’s also an opportunity for owners to show off their cows to attending traders. The best cows are not only sturdy and strong but run straight and fast, attributes which attract a higher price.
A winning cow may double its selling price and become a source of pride and is a symbol of prestige for its owner.

2014 > Bite the Tail Canon 1DX, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM@173mm, 1/640, f/8, ISO 800

2014 > Bite the Tail
Canon 1DX, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM@173mm, 1/640, f/8, ISO 800

The Pacu Jawi event is truly unique. The Jockey stands barefooted on the modified plough holding on to the tails of the tethered cows. He bites the tail of the cow to goad and speed it on!

2014> Pacu Jawi Photographers
Canon 1DX, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM@140mm, 1/1000, f/8, ISO 1250

Photographers flock from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia to shoot this end of harvest season event.
Photographing the traditional Mud Cow race can be risky business though, could it even be termed extreme photography? I think so! If unlucky, the photographer may become part of the spectacular action!

2014> Wayward Cows
Canon 1DX, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM@190mm, 1/640, f/8, ISO 640

Photographers shoot from around the edges of the paddy field but there are no fences or boundaries so the cows sometimes veer off the rice paddy and plow through anyone standing around! Yes, it pays to stay alert.

2014> Photographer Pod Apple iPhone 5 > A well contained pod of photographers at the finish line.

2014> Photographer Pod
Apple iPhone 5 > A well contained pod of photographers at the finish line.

Many photographers are content to shoot from the edges of the field, others are determined to get photos of the cow teams approaching HEAD-ON. The first time I shot Pacu Jawi I decided .. when in Rome .. and joined a group at the finish line to shoot the approaching cows. It was extremely unnerving to say the least, particularly when crouched down using a long focal lens and the beasts approach like the huge hulking masses that they are - straight at me, But...  I did get used to it!

As the cow team arrives, the photographer must stand their ground .. that’s right, no matter the instinct / desire to run away, one must not. The cows must swerve away from YOU, the photographer. Naturally the cows don’t want to collide with you any more than you want them to!!

A problem does arise though when there's more than one group of photographers at the finish line, as there often is. This can obviously confuse the cows … which direction to go? Well … Straight through of course! ...  and the photographers become bowling pins!

At one point my friend’s lens hood was clipped as a team hurtled past - she lost her balance and took a little tumble. It was a close enough call for us to leave the finish line and take to the banks of the rice paddy for a break.

2014 > Photographers Down
Canon 1DX, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM@165mm, 1/800, f/8, ISO 640

Shortly after we left, the people we’d been standing with got bowled over. The photographer groups weren’t coordinating direction with each other! Luckily no one was seriously injured.

2015> Canon 1DX, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM@90mm, 1/800, f/5.6, ISO 250
An experienced Pacu-Jawi shooter, Robertus took this tumble in his stride.

The last time I went to PACU JAWI, my group decided to shoot from the banks although we still had to be alert because the cows do climb up the banks at times, no one really wants a cow in their lap!

2015> Canon 1DX, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM@78mm, 1/200, f/5.6, ISO 250

Some of the photographers who chose to shoot at the finish line didn’t go unscathed and two were bowled over.
The cows ran on either side of them so the photographers became caught in the string which ties the two cows together.  Robertus was smiling but the fellow on the right was quite shaken up, I saw him much later and he was still trembling!

#PacuJawi2015 > Our Group