Culture

Indonesia’s Forgotten History: A Gladiator Duel Between Man And Lion

Over half a century ago, Indonesia’s largest football stadium became a colosseum showcasing an equally ancient spectacle.

by Ikhwan Hastanto; translated by Jade Poa
24 October 2019, 1:42am

Illustration by Bobby Satya Ramadhan.

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.

In 1968, 100,000 citizens of a young nation poured into the Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta to witness a man vs. lion cage fight. On Oct. 17, Twitter account @potretlawas uploaded an archival British Pathe video of the event from Sept. 17, 1968.

The human gladiator, Bandot Lahardo, had been tasked with fighting the animal to the death with his bare hands. To the dismay of the 100,000 attendees, including then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Adam Malik, the female lion refused to fight Lahardo after 90 minutes.

In the video, Lahardo unsuccessfully attempts to provoke the lion. The lion manages to keep calm in front of a newly-independent nation hungry for medieval-style spectacles. When the lion backed down, Lahardo faced a bull, which injured his chest.

Check out Reuters’ description of the event, also published in 1968:

"100,000 people packed a football stadium in Djakarta on Sunday to watch Indonesia’s greatest gladiator Bandot Lahardo, fight a lion to the death bare-handed. Bandot has already killed a tiger and two bulls in East Java with his bare hands, and his appearance in the football stadium was expected to be a highlight in show business history. As it turned out, 100,000 people were disappointed, because the lion refused to fight.

Bandot, resplendent in a scarlet loincloth, patiently waited for the lion to attack, But the lion was even more patient. When Bandot advanced, the lion slunk away.

The crowd, which included foreign minister Adam Malik, booed and catcalled, but to no evil. Armed stadium officials decided to goad the lion into action. The lion replied with a tiny snarl through the bars, but it wouldn’t even face 39-year-old Bandot.

90 minutes ticked away but still the lion wouldn’t fight, so the contest was called off. Later, however, the crowd got the sight of blood when a more show business-conscious bull charged Bandot, slightly wounding him in the chest."

The @potretlawas account explained that Lahardo was a wrestler from West Java who operated a circus group. According to the Indonesian Film Center website, Lahardo also had a career as a film actor from 1958 to 1991.

Historically, man vs. animal fights have pleased crowds worldwide. In Australia, the first man vs. kangaroo fight took place on March 26, 1891. VICE has also chronicled the history of men fighting bears, which became a popular spectacle in Europe in the mid-19th century. In the United States, gator-fighting classes are a real thing.