Focus on Festivals | Cow Cart Festival in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

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Right now people can’t quite travel the way they did before, but it  won’t be like this forever. So to give some inspiration on places to visit when travel opens up again is this post from Willow Paul on the Cow Cart Festival in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. All photos in this post are copyright, Willow Paule.

Festival Gerobak Sapi or The Cow Cart Festival takes place yearly outside Yogyakarta. It’s a smorgasbord of colourful, wooden carts and big, droopy cows. If that doesn’t get you excited, you obviously have a warped sense of entertainment.

I’m a photographer and I’m always looking for new cultural events to document. The Cow Cart Festival did not disappoint. There were colourful, hand-decorated carts and droopy cows galore as well of lots of good people watching.

A look at a cow at the festival through one of carts.

My visit to to the cow cart festival

This festival epitomizes much of what I enjoy about Java, Indonesia. There are plenty of cultural experiences revolving around moon cycles and old wisdom. Javanese people are also consumed by the aesthetic beauty of things, and they practice curiosity as a national pastime. No event is ever poorly attended here on Java, the most densely populated island on earth, and this festival was no different.

The parking area was just one part of a vast, dusty field shared by motorcycles, cows and their carts. There was no one in charge of parking (a rarity in Java), and drivers pulled their motorcycles in every which way. Vendors selling snacks, balloons and plastic toys set up shop in the same area. Whole families sat in the parking area on their motorcycles, just passing time. Others would drive their families up and down the lines of oxcarts inspecting the entries. Walking is not that popular in Indonesia’s sweltering heat.

Parking at the Cow Cart Festival in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Parking at the Cow Cart Festival in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Parking at the Cow Cart Festival in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Cow Cart Festival in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Some families chose to ride their motorcycles up and down the rows of cows and carts.

Mostly men, and a few women and kids positioned the cow carts, and took care of the cows. All the cows wear metal cowbells producing a lovely jangle as they walk.

What About Those Cows?

Indonesians use Brahman cows to pull the carts, and they are fascinating. They’ve developed many adaptations to deal with hot weather, insects, parasites and diseases. They are also the same breed that is considered holy in India.

The Brahman cows are white, have droopy necks with pendulous skin flaps and a big hump above their shoulders. They have a penchant for licking their noses with their long tongues. And their large, watery eyes render them very sympathetic.

Cow Cart Festival in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Cow Cart Festival in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

The cows were used for labour more often in the past. I’ve been told that people still use them occasionally for hauling bricks and to plow and carry crops for farmers. And, occasionally, I do see long processions of cow carts slowly moving along the road. I am always curious where they are going. But the cows and their carts have definitely become less visible than they once were.

Watching the cow carts make their entrance at the Festival Gerobak Sapi is a treat. Their procession that originates at the drivers’ homes on the outskirts of Yogyakarta. The melodic clamour of cowbells fills the air. Upon arriving the owners set up the carts in rows so festival-goers can enjoy a closer look.

Here’s a brief video to a Cow Cart procession at the festival.

I am often moved by the aesthetic considerations that go into making day-to-day utilitarian objects in Indonesia, and how many things are handmade with painstaking processes. The carts’ colourful decorations are ample evidence of this aesthetic sense. The array of styles and decorations is dizzying.

One of my favourite things about photographing at festivals the world over is the people. They’re in a good mood and open to being photographed. The crowds here were no exception, and the intricately-decorated carts made great subjects too. But I think we can all agree that the cows were the real stars.

Cow Cart Festival in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Close up of some of the cart decorations.

Cow Cart Festival in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Want To Check Out The Festival?

The Festival Gerobak Sapi is annualand takes place in September over a weekend. You’ll find details on their Instagram page. The location of the festival seems to change, but it usually takes place outside Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

About the Author

Bio pic for blogger and photographer Willow Paule

Willow Paule is a documentary photographer and virtual assistant who loves to experience new cultures. She considers photography to get to know about people and communities. Check out her blog on intentional photography and nurturing your creative practice and follow her on Instagram and Facebook.



Have you been to Indonesia? Would you like to check out the Cow Cart Festival in Yogyakarta?

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