Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight – An Ethnographic Analysis

1. Introduction

The ethnography under review is "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" by Clifford Geertz. The author and his wife, Hildred, did their fieldwork in the Balinese village of Hulu Ganda during the early 1950s. The Geertzes were the first western anthropologists to study the Balinese cockfight, and their work remains one of the most detailed and insightful accounts of this unique cultural phenomenon.

The cockfight is a central institution in Balinese life, and Geertz uses it as a window into understanding Balinese culture more broadly. The book is structured around three themes: religion and ritual, government and corruption, and the village as a super-organism. In what follows, I will discuss each of these themes in turn.

2. Themes and analysis

2.1 Religion and ritual

The Balinese cockfight is not just a sporting event; it is also a religious ritual. Geertz shows how the cockfight is deeply intertwined with Balinese Hinduism. Every aspect of the cockfight – from the way the birds are bred and trained, to the way the fights are conducted, to the gambling that takes place – has religious significance.

The cockfight is also a social occasion, and Geertz discusses how it provides an opportunity for villagers to socialize and bond with one another. He argues that the cockfight is an important part of Balinese village life because it helps to maintain social cohesion.

2. 2 Government and corruption

The Balinese government has long been involved in the cockfight, and Geertz documents how government officials use the cockfight to line their own pockets. He shows how government officials rig fights, accept bribes from gamblers, and pocket public funds meant for cockfighting festivals. Geertz paints a picture of a corrupt government that is deeply entrenched in the everyday lives of villagers.

2. 3 The village as a super-organism

Geertz argues that the village can be viewed as a "super-organism" – an entity that functions as a single unit. He observes how villagers cooperate with one another in all aspects of life, from farming to child-rearing to cockfighting. He argues that this cooperation is essential for village life to function smoothly. Geertz’s work provides a fascinating insight into how Balinese village life is organized.
self-sufficiency, social cohesion, corruption, bribery, gambling, cockfight

3. Conclusion

Geertz’s "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" is a classic ethnography that provides insights into Balinese culture and society. The book is structured around three themes: religion and ritual, government and corruption, and the village as a super-organism. In each of these areas, Geertz’s work is detailed and insightful.


The author's purpose in writing this essay is to provide an ethnographic account of cockfighting in Bali.

The author feels that cockfighting is a significant part of Balinese culture and provides an interesting perspective on gambling and Balinese values more generally.

The author thinks that the most important aspect of cockfighting is its reflection of Balinese culture.

People gamble on cockfights because they find them exciting and because they offer the opportunity to win money.

Cockfighting reflects Balinese culture in its focus on gambling and its use of animals as symbols of status and power.

Geertz was interested in how different cultures understand and organize their worlds, and his work sought to provide insights into the ways that people from other cultures think about and experience life.