cowcart in Yogyakarta Indonesia

That’s a good-looking cow

A Visit to the Cattle Cart Festival Outside Yogyakarta, Indonesia

All of the color and noise and sensory overload of Indonesia

I went to the ‘Festival Gerobak Sapi’ or Cattle Cart Festival outside Yogyakarta a few years back. It’s one of the coolest cultural festivals in Yogyakarta, I think. The festival epitomized much of what I enjoy about the country. First, the parking situation was just a field where motorcycles pulled in every which way. Some people left their kids strapped on, perhaps not sure they would stay. Others would drive their families up and down the lines of oxcarts to look. Walking is not that popular in Indonesia.

motorcycle parking and balloons

kid on motorbike no helmet

Yogyakarta Cow Cart Festival

The parking situation

family on motorbike looks at carts festival

Mostly men and a few women and kids positioned the cattle carts and took care of their cattle. After confirming what I thought I saw at the festival with Indonesian friends afterward, I found out Indonesians use bulls and cows to work on the carts. And, most of the males are not steers as far as I can tell because they haven’t been castrated. All the cattle wear metal cowbells around their necks, which have a beautiful jingle as they walk.

cultural festivals in Yogyakarta

A cattle cart driver (kid) is beckoned into place

man tends to cow at festival in Yogyakarta

Man repositions cowcart at festival

Cow and Indonesian flag

friends help a boy reach something on a cart

Those are some unique cattle, man

You’ll notice that Indonesia’s cattle are really unique. They are white and have droopy necks with hanging skin flaps and a big hump above their shoulders. They have long tongues and a penchant for licking their noses. Moreover, there is something sympathetic about their large, watery eyes.

cultural festivals in Yogyakarta

cowcart festival and celebration

cultural festivals in Yogyakarta

I asked around and cattle carts seem to have become less visible than in the past. One of my friends said they weren’t used in his town anymore. However, other friends said they are still being used in some places, and not just to make appearances at festivals. The cattle plow for farmers, haul crops and bricks.

geometrics at cowcart festival

Very Indonesia

cultural festivals in Yogyakarta

onlookers check out cows in Indonesia

festival-goers enjoy the sites

cow through cowvcart

cultural festivals in Yogyakarta

cultural festivals in Yogyakarta

Although I didn’t personally get to, watching the cattle carts come to the ‘Festival Gerobak Sapi’ has got to be legit. They ride in a procession from their homes on the outskirts of Yogyakarta, and the melody of cowbells fills the air. Once the cattle carts and their contents make it to the festival, the cart owners set up the carts in rows, so festival-goers can come check them out. They also have races.

(Cattle cart procession)

Revisiting these photographs from outside Indonesia, I am struck by the colorful and creative carts. The owners put a lot of time into making them beautiful. I had trouble narrowing down photographs to share since there were such a wide array of styles.

intricate decoration on cart in Yogya

Impressively decorated, eh?

painting on cowcart

A detail from one of the cattle carts

cultural festival in Yogyakarta

carved part of cowcart

umbrella and blue sky

painted side of cowcart

more decorations from yogya cow festival

One of my favorite things about photographing at festivals in any part of the world is that people are primed to be on display and not offended if you take their photo. I think I was feeling a bit tired that day because I didn’t engage with as many people as I normally would, but despite this, there were still people in many of my photos. But, the cattle were the real stars anyway.

man drives cowcart

Man drinks coffee inside cowcart yogyakarta

line of cowcarts at dusk

clouds and decorated cowcart

cultural festivals in Yogyakarta

Classy bovine

cow and cart


Other articles in the Photo Adventures series:

How Mildred Gil Parada chisels a stone’s hidden message

3 Breathtaking Places You’ll Want to Visit On Jeju Island