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Of the around thousand different cockfighting stadiums that can be found in the Philippines, I attended the one found in the small town of Mambajao, on the island of Camiguin, in the northern region of Mindanao. I was traveling through this area of the Philippines, coming from Siargao island, when I came across another of the typical things of the country, a typhoon. So without much to do due to the bad weather, some friends and I decided to go to the cockpit to discover what this so popular «sport» was about.
A few days before, I had met some men who trained their roosters in the garden and they were the ones who explained when the next fight would be. They were all together with their children and neighbors training the roosters that would fight in the cockpit.
Contrary to what is believed, it was not the Spanish colonists who brought this tradition to the Philippines, it was already practiced long before they arrived. There are records of, for example, expeditions from 1512 that confirm it. In Tagaloh (official language of the Philippines) the cockfighting is called Sabong and the legal ones are held weekly. At the same time the so-called tupada or tigbakay are illegal battles. The photo shows one of the legal battles taking place in the city of Mambajao.
In the photo you can see the kind of prizes for the winners, the winner will take home a Suzuki motorcycle, the second a plasma TV and the third a refrigerator. The next ones will receive a consolation prize valued something under 20€. The entrance to the event is usually very cheap, around 1€.
People train their roosters for months to prepare them for the fight. There are people who say that battles are so popular in the country because they align very well with the typical Filipino mentality of pride and courage but at the same time their success is associated with the money involved in betting.
Gambling is a crucial part of these events and without it the event would not make sense to many. The truth is that watching them gamble is something very interesting since they all scream at the same time while some managers remember the bets from memory. Everything is based on trust since there is nothing written down, that is why it is said that there are more honest people in a cockpit than in the church. Those who bet are called Kristo, since as seen in the photo they do it by raising their hands to attract attention.
The «sport» is almost exclusive territory for men and I think I don’t think we saw any local women. However, I attended accompanied by two girl friends who obviously had no problem, moreover we were all more than welcome and invited to drink with the rest of the people.
Before entering the battle the roosters are armed with blades (like the ones in the picture) to ensure that the fight is lethal for at least one of the combatants. The blades are very sharp and long, around 7cm. There are two kinds of knives used in Philippine cockfighting: single-edged blades (used in derbies) and double-edged blades; lengths of knives also vary. All knives are attached on the left leg of the bird, but depending on agreement between owners, blades can be attached to the right or even on both legs.
The fights are surprisingly fast since they often last no more than half a minute. The truth is that it is a bit of a tough scene to witness because of the brutality of the fight and the number of roosters that die in a single afternoon. Sometimes both roosters fall dead to the ground, thus making a tie. In most cases, however, one of them dies from the blades of the other.
Many times the winner is injured and a surgeon next to the battlefield operates to close the wounds. In theory, after a time the rooster will be able to fight again. For instance I found this quite ironic in my opinion to operate the cocks to prepare them to fight again where it will have a high probability of dying.
The battle of roosters is undoubtedly one of the most popular activities in the country and that transcends all kinds of social classes. Personally I found it very interesting and I had the opportunity to share the afternoon with local people who were delighted to explain us the operation of the «sport» and their lives in general. It is in this type of social events in which, in my opinion, you can get to know the people of the country very well, it is a shame that in this case it is around something so cruel. It seems on the other hand that these activities will not end soon since it is one of the few countries in the world where it is still legal.