[Guest post by Félix Tamayo in Norzagaray, Bulacan, Philippines] During a recent trip to the Philippines, I had a rare opportunity to witness one of the country’s oldest and more popular gaming rituals: a cock fighting tournament.
Arenas dedicated to cockfighting can be found all over the country. The one I visited is located in Angat, Bulacan. The Angat Cockpit Arena is a semi-open timber construction with a sandy square arena with wooden bleachers where people stand to watch. There were about 200 men that very hot afternoon and only a couple of women — and people were allowed to smoke. The noise of the crowd as people shouted their bets was remarkable.
The first sketchworthy scene I saw upon arriving was a group of men playing a game known as sa pula sa puti around a board. The players were betting the color of the box on which the ball would be placed. The excitement around the game spoke for itself. I think Filipinos love betting.
Later, I was allowed into the room where the roosters were being prepared for the fight.
The Manari, often a trusted person of the bird’s owner, determines the length and shape of the blades that will be attached to the rooster’s legs. Each rooster must be fitted with at least eight knives. This task must be carried out carefully and it is key to a successful combat.
Before the tournament started, the cocks’ fighting spirit was stimulated by bringing them together for a practice round of feint attacks. This allowed the audience to form an opinion about the roosters and decide which ones they would be betting for.
Then the referee took the leather wrappers off the rooster’s blades to examine them and sanitize them with alcohol. Once he was certain that people had placed their bets, he gave the sign for the fight to start.
That afternoon there were twenty fights and each fight lasted about two or three minutes. What took longer was the time for betting. During the fight, the audience remained in silence and when the fight finished, losers threw their money (bank notes) to the bookmaker. He is known as Kristo, because the way he outstretches his arms resembles Christ’s body language.
The wounds of the victorious cock had to be sutured up by the cock doctor right away. Meanwhile, the owner collected his share of the bets and received a trophy: The carcass of the defeated rooster.
A few days before I witnessed the cock fighting tournament I had the opportunity to make sketches of the roosters at one their breeding grounds.
Sketching among the crowds watching sabong, as locals call this ancestral event, was quite a challenge. When I began to draw on my notebook, I felt the unusual situation as locals in that locality are not used to seeing foreigners in the cockpit area, observing and drawing them at the same time. Although I suffered a bit from initial jokes, later the comments were words of appreciation and I think in the end I finally became part of the spectacle that afternoon. It wouldn’t have been possible without the help of a local breeder who invited me to the event and some employees who offered and facilitated my entrance to areas of the coliseum that were not allowed to the public.