Fowl play in Payakumbuh, West Sumatra

Rokiah Mahmud

Ranah Minang in Payakumbuh is a destination known not only for its eco-tourism and its Minang culinary specialties. It is also famed for preserving their unique culture, customs and tradition inherited from generation to generation.

The destination has become a meeting place and an arena for locals and outsiders during the annual Pacu Itiak or Duck Race festival in Ranah Kumbuh.

The Brunei delegation that participated in a recent familiarisation trip to West Sumatra was shown how the race is organised and conducted. During our visit there, we were accompanied by Head of Dekranasda of Payakumbuh Henny Riza and his staff member Elfirza Zaharman ‘Cece’.

The word Itiak derives from a Minang language and the race is only conducted in Payakumbuh and around Limapuluh Town in West Sumatra. What is special about the Pacu Itiak race is its world recognition, considered a unique tradition preserved by the local Sumatrans.

The local sport involves ducks flying as high as 800 metres or two kilometres. We were amazed to see how ducks are trained to fly and race. They fly steadily and seem to understand they have to compete.

A participant in the Pacu Itiak in Payakumbuh, West Sumatra; and ducks during the race. PHOTO: ROKIAH MAHMUD

The first duck over the finish line will be awarded with cash.

Officers from the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia (KBRI) in Brunei Darussalam, who were also part of our delegation, invited the media and travel agents to participate in the Pacu Itiak race.

They said that Pacu Itiak became a local sport a hundred years ago.

Dar El-Ehsan representative Pengiran Zunaidah binti Pengiran Haji Zainin, a member of the delegation, said it was her first time witnessing the race in Payakumbuh. The travel agent representative also led a duck in the race and was joyful after it was announced the winner.

Meanwhile, officer from KBRI Rifana said that farmers in Aur Kuning dwelling in Payakumbuh initially chased out the ducks that had ruined their crops.

According to oral tradition, whenever the ducks were chased out, they flew very low towards paddy cultivation areas.

Since then it has become a sports entertainment for the farmers along with residents.

Not everyone can be part of the race. Traditionally, only a ‘Sanak Nantigo’ can organise the race.

One week before the race, the ducks will be trained and pushed up as high as possible to easily fly.

The ducks are then trained to race to the finish line with the guidance of guardians.

The Pacu Itiak is divided into four categories: 800-metre; 1,000-metre; 1,200-metre and 1,600-metre that is also referred to as pacuan bako (free category).

For 800- and 1,000-metre categories, ducks must fly 10 to 20 metres high to the finish line. Meanwhile, in the 1,200 and 1,600 metre categories, a duck will be considered the winner if it can fly as long and steadily as possible with no indicated finish line.

Ducks must fly in a guided straight line.

Certain criteria must be met to participate: the duck must be six months old, beaks and feet must be of the same colour with its wings; short neck; straight wings; odd number of teeth; and the small scales on their feet. A duck meeting all the requirements is worth around BND100.

According to our tourist guide Sono, the race also strengthens ties among the Ranah Minang community.

The Pacu Itiak also attracts tourists to witness the unique sport activities and indirectly generate socio-economic development of West Sumatra.