Despite the early morning hours, our little bamboo hut in the pristine island of Malapascua in the Philippines was hot. I was tossing and turning in the bed, half-asleep and not really sure what woke me up in the first place. A few minutes passed when it occurred to me that it wasn’t the heat that was disturbing my sleep – it was the sounds coming from right outside the thin walls of our room! It took me another few seconds to gather my thoughts and figure out what it was . “Of course! It’s roosters!” I realised. “But why are they here, just outside of our hut?? And why do they have to make so much noise?!” – I asked myself in irritation.
By the time I woke up a few hours later I’d already forgotten the morning incident but the answers to my half-conscious questions came later that same day. As we sat down for the dinner in the hotel restaurant just outside of our hut, there was again a lot of noise and commotion coming from the neighbouring backyard. This time it was not only the birds making noise but much more of it was made by excited men shouting something in the local language.
After a short moment of a mental struggle between my hunger and my curiosity, I decided that the food can wait a moment. I took the camera and rushed to see what’s happening. As I was approaching the yard of the nearby house, the hazy memories from the morning came back to me but now they made perfect sense. I’d arrived just in time for a cockfight!
The area marked for the fight was only a dirt field but with all the excited preparation it was anything but a boring place. The cocks were creating a racket, men were discussing chances of each bird-contestant to win and betting on them, while the local kids were observing everything attentively.
The two chosen cocks were being prepared for the fight and – to my surprise – they were armed not only with their claws. One of the men was skilfully attaching an additional weapon to their legs – about 5cm-long metal spur with a blade (!!), tied to the leg in the area where the bird’s natural spur had been partially removed. As I later found out, it’s a common practice in the Philippines, making the fight even more spectacular (but also quick and bloody).
Just before the fight started the owners of the cocks made the birds face each other, holding them in their arms and letting them give the opponent a few quick pecks to arise more anger. I had earlier only seen cocks in larger groups with hens in a domestic environment, never during a fight, and it totally struck me how aggressive they were! I think it was in that moment I understood why these fights arise so much emotion among the men watching them…
The proper fight started just a few moments later. This time the cocks were let loose, circled by a tight crowd of the men shouting at them and betting with excitement. The birds immediately took a leap towards each other and stopped, staring firmly at each other with moving for a few seconds. It took me completely by surprise when one of them suddenly jumped forward with its claws – and blade – stretched. It happened so fast I barely managed to press the shutter, even though I already held my camera up, ready to click away. From that moment on, the fight was just chaos, with a steady increase in background noise and shouting. The birds were whirling, tossing and not letting each other go even for a split second.
It took about a minute until it became clear that one of them had gotten seriously wounded. Even though he still tried to fight he couldn’t get up, his white feathers turned red and with each move that followed it became more and more clear that this time he won’t win his owner any money. As per the rules, the referee picked the wounded cock up to check if he’s still able to stand and continue fighting and when it was clear that it’s beyond his capacity, the fight officially ended. It took all of 3 minutes… maybe less.
Few minutes after the fight finished, the defeated cock was being stripped of his feathers (I’m not sure if he died from the wounds of the fight or if he was killed afterwards) and it looked like it’s being prepared to be served on the owner’s table that same day… The winning bets were being paid and general excitement was slowly dropping.
As cruel as the cockfights are, they certainly draw a lot of emotions. And in places where the everyday life is tough as it sometimes is in the Philippines, they give the people a much needed relief from the stress of the daily life… not to mention additional money for the ones who win their bets.
Interesting facts about cock fights around the world: