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BattleCock: Cockfighting in the Philippines

YO! Youth Outlook, video, Story + Photos : Ryan Furtado Posted: Jan 02, 2005

I love analogies, don't you? Why don't we try one together? America is to baseball as the Philippines is to _________.

Okay, time's up. If you've ever set foot in the Philippines the answer should be quite apparent: Cockfighting.

Watch a slide show of the event.

I know what you're thinking: a group of seedy men standing in a semicircle yelling loudly and waving handfuls of pesos around a dusty dirt pit as two underfed chickens peck each other's eyes out. This scenario is pretty far from the truth - well, maybe not that far.

Cockfighting, or "sabong" as the locals call it, is the national pastime in the Philippines. It is one of the most ancient spectator sports, originating more than 5,000 years ago in Persia. Today, the activity is still overwhelmingly popular throughout the Philippines. It is as much a part of the culture as is eating lumpia, speaking Tagalog or playing pusoy dos.

In a culture were there is a distinct divide between social classes, cockfighting and the gambling that is inherent to the sport is a tradition that transcends the numerous social and economic barriers in the Philippines. It is far from an elitist activity. Even remote regions with as little as a few thousand people still have an official arena for large scale cockfighting derbies that usually take place on Sundays. Arenas in metropolitan areas like Manila or Cebu can accommodate several thousand spectators. One can see the poorest fisherman and the wealthiest politician stand side by side as their passion for cockfighting and gambling breaches all divides - every man's money (women seldom participate) is equal after the wagers have been placed.

Almost every household owns at least one cock raised for fighting. My uncle explained, "No matter how poor you are, even if you can only save one peso a day, you put that money into raising a rooster for cockfighting."

It isn't hard to guess that most westerners are appalled at the levels of violence and animal cruelty that go hand in hand with the sport of cockfighting. Before a match, a three-inch curved razor called a "tare" is attached to the rooster's foot allowing the bird's attacks to slice through feathers, rend flesh, and eventually kill its opponent. After a rooster is prepared for battle, the beautifully feathered combatant enters the ring to the roars of the crowd. The seemingly incomprehensible groans, yells and grunts that grow to an ear-piercing level is actually a fervent round betting, where gamblers place their pesos on the rooster most likely to butcher its adversary. Just as in horse racing, each competitor is given odds based on records of the fighting rooster, its owner and its trainer.

"Before a match, a 3-inch curved razor called a "tare" is attached to the rooster's foot allowing the bird's attacks to slice through feathers, rend flesh, and eventually kill its opponent."

Moments before the match starts, each handler grips their rooster and holds it face to face with its foe. Gazing into the eyes of its enemy, each rooster works itself into a feather-erecting killing frenzy. As each handler releases their grip, the roosters are overcome with bloodlust and attack with startling ferocity. In a flurry of feathers, blood and razorblades, the roosters viciously attempt to kill each other, just as they have been trained. Matches usually last around three minutes or less because after one of the roosters has been wounded, death follows soon after.

At this point, you're probably saying to yourself, "how cruel, how inhumane, I'm calling P.E.T.A!" Yes, many a rooster are born and bred and eventually killed in a world of bloody combat for human entertainment. Yet for the time they are alive, these carefully bred animals are treated to a lavish lifestyle before they face mortal combat.

A rooster bred for cockfighting or "battle cock" is pampered more than a West Hollywood trophy wife. The United States is one of the largest suppliers of game fowls for the cockfighting industry. Many U.S. breeds such as Miner Blues, White Hackles and Roundheads are imported to the Philippines for their superior genetic characteristics. During the approximately 18 months it takes for a rooster to mature, it is fed the richest grains, vitamins (many are given Centrum Silver, a vitamin supplement marketed towards senior citizens) and minerals to ensure its speed, strength and ferocity in the arena. The roosters are shampooed, massaged and coddled in every way. They are revered as majestic animals and treasured by their owners. A fully-trained battle cock can be sold for more than $450 U.S. dollars, which equals a small fortune in the Philippines. Even if a rooster is killed in battle, its owner may be upset - but he's still got a fresh chicken dinner for his family that very evening.

So while attending my first cockfight, I ended up betting and betting badly. I just couldn't pick a winner, and as each of my favored roosters fell to the dirt, twitching as the last bits of life left their bodies, I said good-bye to another $20. As I left the arena, I can't say I was surprised that I got taken for all my cash, 'cause after all, what do I really know about cockfighting anyway?

email Ryan at bettiestalker@hotmail.com

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