I met Noel at his home just after lunch, he is the host father of Geoff (a Peace Corps Volunteer also assigned on Guimaras) and like many Filipino men, Noel raises roosters to participate in one of the most popular national pastimes, cock fighting. He invited Geoff and I to attend today’s fight and we eagerly agreed, not to support animal cruelty, but to witness a cultural event. As Noel diligently reviewed his stock, selecting which of his roosters to send into battle, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the movie Gladiator, these roosters were warriors and today one would enter the thunder dome.
In the Philippines, cock fights can range from small-scale sparing sessions in a neighbor’s backyard, to large tournaments in mega arenas with tens-of thousands of pesos on the line. Today’s fight was what Filipinos referred to as a ‘boxing match’, meaning that the roosters would not be wearing razor-blades on their legs; which lends to quicker, more gruesome fights. Noel selected a lean rooster, put him in a woven grass bag and we were off to the fight. We traveled to a neighboring barangay, and as we approached the rink I noticed the other men and their roosters, admittedly Noel’s bird looked a little out of its league.
Once all the contestants arrived, fights were negotiated by sizing up potential opponents and gauging which roosters seemed to have the most animosity towards one another.
The first fight was arranged and the owners began the ritualistic process of bathing their roosters, which I was told is vital to keeping their body temperature down during the fights, which typically last over an hour. Part of the bathing process involves spitting water on the rooster and in its mouth. Meanwhile, the crowd gathered and bets were placed.
The cocks were brought to the rink, introduced in dramatic fashion, and the fights began. Similar to a boxing match between people, the cocks seemed to rotate between quick jabs and long periods of locking heads. A fight is only declared over when one of the roosters admits defeat, either laying down in submission or running away.
The crowds cheered as the roosters danced around each other, rearing up and striking. They fought with such tactfulness and method, it evoked the feeling that these cocks had been in training and that you were witnessing a grudge match between long time rivals, one of the fights was ‘Pacquiao’ vs. ‘Sugar Ray’.
After several hours of fights and several glasses of coconut wine (Tuba) I called it a day and hiked home. And, while I don’t support cock fighting, I recognize its relevance in Filipino culture as a pastime activity, similar to Bull Fighting in Spain or to Dog Racing in Florida.