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Khmer people hold bull race at Dol-ta festival

Bull racing is the most popular sport of the Khmer people in the southern province of An Giang. Those whose bulls win the annual championship are respected as a person who brings fame to their villages.

The 14th Bay Nui bull race festival will be held in Vinh Trung commune, Tinh Bien district on October 3 during the Dol-ta festival of the Khmer people.

Forty five pairs of bulls from districts of Chau Thanh, Thoai Son, Chau Phu and Tinh Bien will join the competition this year. Previously, only thirty eight couples are allowed to compete.

Dol-ta is the second-largest festival of the Khmer people, behind the Chol-Chnam-Thmay festival.

Mr Chau Chi, known as “Bay Nui bull race king” in Nui To commune, Tri Ton district, won five prizes in the past: one first, two second and two third awards.

Unlike a horse or car race where all the competitors start at the same time, a Bay Nui bull race features two pairs of bulls competing directly with each other to see which pair is the fastest when it drags a rake through the field.

The course itself is nothing more than a 100-150m-long wet field surrounded by boundaries to prevent the bulls from escaping and the audience from getting in.

According to the locals, a bull that possesses indigenous breed with good height, firm hoof tendons, small hooves and good fitness is the most suitable to become a racer. Finding such a bull is a difficult process and many have spent months, if not years, wandering through many villages and mountains just to find one.

Once the trainer does find one, the work is not yet over. The bull has to be trained to become familiar with a racecourse atmosphere and a driver. Chau Chiu is one of the most experienced drivers and has earned the name, "King of the Bay Nui racing bulls."

A native of Nui To commune in Tri Ton, he has trained five pairs of racing bulls that have finished well in past races.

One finished first, two second and two in third. According to Chiu, the bulls must enjoy a spacious and clean environment free from mosquitoes.

Their food includes betel leaves, water mixed with bran and thin congee at night. Sometimes the bull owners care for the animals better than they do for themselves. Just before the race, for example, Chiu allows his bulls to sip soda with chicken eggs.

To succeed, the bull must have an experienced, brave and well trained-bull driver, who knows how to pace the animal so that it does not wear itself out.

Drivers need to use rakes, yokes, levers and rods to lead race bulls. Rakes are made from the best-quality wood. Yokes are made of jackfruit wood to avoid wounding bull’s neck. Rods are stuck with a nail in order to control the pace of the bulls.

The race has its roots in the local Khmer community’s centuries-old agriculture, when bulls would plough the fields during the rainy season. With time, the race became a traditional event to see who had the best bulls. Buddhist monks served as the organisers of the event and prepared the prizes for the winners.

Since 1992, the An Giang provincial government has turned it into an official festival with clear regulations to make sure it reflects a fair competition. With assistance from the provincial government, the bull races have attracted larger audiences.

Nhan Dan - (23/09/2005)

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