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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.