Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cockfighting

It was one of the things that we'd missed on the first trip to the Philippines and I'd wanted to do, so this time around I made no mistake and went out to see some cockfighting. Call me sick and twisted for going (most of the Koreans do) but cockfighting is a huge "sport" here in the Philippines and I wouldn't be a very good traveller if I missed out on an easy chance for some more cultural exploration. Maybe I am seriously lacking in stimulation these days or am just twisted but I actually found it rather interesting and ended staying for almost 4 hours, watching a total of I think 27 fights.
If I had to guess I'd say that my interest actually stem from 1. the fact that it is controversial, 2. I can still remember reading about cockfighting in the US deep south in the book "Roots", and 3. I have just finished reading "Iberia" (dad, it's not that bad once you get to know Michener and his style, I'm sad I have no more of his books to read.) and it talked a lot about bullfighting in Spain. I suspect that in many ways they are the same and so I was trying to see the "art" of bullfighting in Spain through the cockfighting pits of Iloilo. Clearly I'm nuts, but it kind of worked.....
I was actually really lucky in the whole affair because it turns out that there is a cockfighting stadium within walking distance of the school and it's one of the largest in the country. I was the only westerner there (of course) and it didn't take too long for me to get confused as to what was going on. Sure, the obvious stuff was obvious like the part with the roosters but the culture behind it all was still a mystery. So I sat and watched and waited. It didn't take too long until a local guy (as you can imagine it's almost all men there) sat beside me and proceeded to explain many aspects of the sport over the course of the following 2 hours. I think in part he stayed on talking to me because he was betting and winning (unlike the previous day) and considered me some sort of lucky charm, haha.
It turns out that while generally cockfighting is done on Sunday afternoons (and this was a Sunday), I was actually sitting in on the semi-finals of a nationwide 10-stag competition (derby). I saw 27 fights in 4 hours and there were 86 total scheduled for that day alone! 10-stag means that you have to have at least 10 different roosters to enter into the competition and stags are young birds. These ones were 10-11 months old, while the real fighting cocks are usually 3-4 years old. I was told that competitions like this are done to ensure the breeding lines are vicious and strong enough to bother maintaining. It has all hit the big-time now with massive breeding farms, special breeding lines and feed, and millions of dollars in prize money to be won. Gotta make sure you're breeding the right birds...
Before each fight the handlers come to the cockpit with their bird and a warm-up one. The warm-up bird is held by another handler and is used to rile up the other bird so that it gets in the proper mood. A few pecks back and forth, and then it's time to unwrap the wicked-looking razor attached to the left leg/foot and let the 2 contestants go at it. There is a 10 minute time limit to each fight. Apparently the older cocks are tougher and can go that long. The ones I saw lasted anywhere from 15 to 90 seconds with most being over in about 30. That's pretty fast. Of course the loser is going to die, though not necessarily on the spot. The winner often dies too from it's wounds, especially with these younger ones. In the event that both birds are too injured to continue fighting, they are continually dropped in front of each other by the "referee" (like in any boxing match to restart the fight) until one bird no longer shows that it can fight back. Even if neither can move, if one can still show aggression and a willingness to try to attack, it wins. Ties do happen on occasion too. After a quick sweep up of the feathers and blood, it's time to bring out the next cocks for warm up.
The gambling in the few minutes before the fight begins is intense. All I can say is that it sort of reminded me of watching Thai-boxing in Bangkok, with all the people on the cement upper bleachers furiously gambling away and being so loud cheering on their fighters. Same idea, but here cockfighting exists I think for the sole purpose of giving people an excuse to gamble. The guys with ringside seats are simply betting a lot more. In fact, there is a mandatory minimum fee that the entrants have to gamble on each of their birds which is set at the beginning of each competition.
While basketball and boxing are the most popular sports in the country, the popularity of cockfighting lies in the fact that anyone can do it. I've mentioned before that you can see roosters tied up in many people's yards all over the country. If there are major cockfighting competitions, there are also informal matches every Sunday as well with neighbours pitting their birds against each other with a variety of bets and handicaps thrown in to make it interesting or fair.
Anyway, I learned something, it had atmosphere, it had character, I was satisfied.
Ammon

1 Comments:

At 1:42 PM , Blogger Ben said...

HeY Amo!!

WoAH MAN!! LOL Cock fighting. I remember reading Roots too (A bloody long book to read)and I totally have a different view, mind set and idea to how everything works. I wish I could have been as twisted as you and gone along for a cock bird fight battle. I like that kind of stuff...but then again..I'm not handling watching animals get hurt very well at the moment...remember that time in Mongolia when we watched the Sheep get completely taken apart into nothing and I was basically passing out...yeah well we had to do some sheep sheering in the outback not too long ago and I felt ill then too...I dont know maybe its just sheep. I still love gutting fish!! I've got to do some more fishing soon. I did catch 2 fish but I wasnt allowed to kill those ones. heehee! Anyways its great to know you are still writing the blog...do you still have a journal?
Keep in touch you crazy dude!
Love and miss you!
xoxo

 

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