My Collegian column this week.
Roosters here are known as gamecocks in the Philippines. Sundays can be celebrated in so many ways by so many common Filipinos living in faraway towns. It is the day off for most house helpers and they usually enjoy their free time at town plazas. It is the day for the faithful to go and hear mass. It is also the best day for a “sabungero” to exercise his gamecocks. For the locals, the smell of fighting cocks, the sight of tricycles parked in already crowded streets, the sound of people shouting for bets … all tells the same thing: There’s got to be a derby going on.
Cockfighting or “sabong” is considered an old sport in which two gamecocks battle each other in a fight to the death. Yes, it is illegal in the U.S. Back home, a weekend is no fun for the town folk without seeing a cock leaping high, flapping its wings and stabbing another in the air.
I know all about it. My father called it “Sunday school”. He used to skip out of the house, dash to the town’s cockfighting arena and spend the whole Sunday afternoon there. If my dad had to pick a graduate degree, he would most likely choose something that deals with studying a rooster’s flight. We used to have highbred fighting cocks at home. Our vast land in my hometown offered the best place to nurture chicks, to nurse them when they were sick and feed them with vitamins so they would grow strong legs, wings and thighs ready for combat. It is a very expensive hobby, indeed. The goal: Combative roosters to acquire the necessary killer instinct.
One time, I had to fetch my father from the cockpit. If it hadn’t been because my mom asked me to fetch dad, I would have never dared enter such place. It was noisiest place I had ever been in. Yells of “for the white, for the red” echoed. Screams from spectators placing their bets on their favorite gamecocks were deafening. Bills flew from one had to the other, then someone said ‘shoot’. I stood amidst bettors, looking about rather confused.
A shocking scene for a first timer like me, but not really violent. Two fighting cocks flew a few feet off the ground with a sharp, pointed artificial spur attached to one of their legs to rip and tear at each other. They clashed mid-air while the audience roared excitedly. As one of the cocks weakened to a point that it could not bite, smiles of victory started to break through the grinning faces of some. On my father’s face, however, there was sadness, a sign of misfortune, of loss.
Most the people in my hometown have fighting cocks raised in their homes, usually tied with a string on one leg and staked in the open field. When there is time, one would visit other houses and look for other roosters to match one’s own. It is the way to practice the flight and, eventually, stabbing techniques.
In my almost three years of stay in Brookings, I have never seen a rooster. Not even a hen with chicks running around. Most Americans may see cockfighting as animal cruelty, but not in other parts of the world. This sport can be found in some other countries as well, not just in the Philippines. Soon, I will be bringing some of my American friends to my country and let them witness how cockfighting works.
The one thing that I would never forget is that the owner of the winning cock gets to bring home the losing cock. It is some sort of an extra winning aside from the money, of course. It did not take me long to realize why mom would not include chicken on her Sunday’s shopping list and why we always had fried chicken on the table: All thanks to dad and his combative roosters for the free food.