Philippines for the Intrepid Traveler
S A B O N G
C o c k f i g h t i n g
It is the brutal and bloody "sport" of two gamecocks pitted against each other, predicated on one killing the other. Literally, a fight to the finish. To the unaccustomed, a gruesome and disgusting sight. But to the passionately addicted, testosterone-fueled and adrenaline-raging sabong aficionados, it is a fierce, bloody, and slashingly entertaining fight-to-the-death that repeats itself 20 to 30 times in a single day of cockfighting.
Behind this gruesome sport is an all consuming male-oriented pastime fueled by a passion that transcends into a common man's grail -- a quasi-religion.
It has been called a "national sport" – a designation that easily draws divisive argument. But, it is a "national pastime" – a sphere of activity where class lines blur, a game enjoyed with equal fervor by both the rich and the masa. Parity, however, is more imagined than real. The moneyed aficionados are usually involved with expensive brood cocks of pedigree lineage bred for "fastest kill" and trained for big money derby events, with a variety of breed-names as descriptive as: lemon, radio, white kelso, Madigan Grey, McClean, roundhead, claret, or sweater. In contrast, much of the rural-provincial folk are involved with training and conditioning their low-pedigreed mestizo cocks, usually for hack fights. For the rich, it is the "sport of kings" – of nerve and verve, macho and ego, and the tens-of-thousands of pesos or even millions won or lost with a shrug. And for the masa, a sport of dreamers, pitting their lowly-rural-bred against a burgis cock, betting their meager wages and rainy-day savings, high on a belief that on any day, with the luck of a parry-dodge-and-slash. . . and a prayer. . . his game cock can win.
The derby, once referred to as the "pintakasi," is the cockfighting event for the serious aficionado and deep-pockets. The cocks are paired according to weight. Each team enters with a team-name and a fixed "pot money" amount (ex: P10,000 for each of 10 teams makes a 100,000 total pot) that becomes the prize-money for the team with the most wins. A 3-cock derby may last deep into the night or past the midnight hours; a 7- or 9-cock derby may last for days.
for the Departed
Carambola is the occasional sabong sideshow - an entertainingly wild and zany labo-labo event that pits six to sixteen or more cocks at one time, simultaneously slashing-and-parrying until one cock remains standing. The winning owner claims all the dead cocks plus the prize pot money.
In the cockpit (ruweda), the owners and cocks are assigned sides: MERON – for the one with the larger pot-money bet or favored game cock, the sign lit-up denoting llamado or favored status, and WALA, under an unlit sign, signifying dejado or long shot. The cocks are allowed a short time and distance to walk, for the betting spectators to observe stance, strut and gameness. Then the "casador" announces the opposing bets and when needed solicits amounts from the ringside bettors to equalize the bets. Then he shouts: Larga na! And spectator betting starts. The "kristos," betting managers sacrilegiously named for their Christ-like crucified stance, arms stretched out beckoning the spectators, taking bets, their hands and fingers wild in the sign language of bets and odds. The noise builds up to a din of deafening decibels. As the betting goes on, each cock is also allowed to peck on the other's head (kulitan), each to anger the other and maintain a level of aggressiveness.
Then the protective sheaths or wrapping on the tari blades are removed and wiped clean with alcohol-impregnated cotton or cloth to remove any possible poison. Then the cocks are released. Sometimes, they linger, circle, peck on the ground, watchful, waiting, and measuring their opponent. More often, they charged into each other, winging up into the air to a determined confrontation of death. Then, in a blur and flurry of beating wings, parrying moves, and the midair exchanges of lethal slashes of blade. Sometimes, it goes on for a minute or longer. The din crescendos into deafening decibels. Every deadly slash, every graceful parry elicits a cheer, moan, grunt or groan. Sometimes, victory is claimed on the initial parry and slash, the deed of killing is accomplished in a mere five seconds, as one cock lies, trembling and shaking to his death. Then, as suddenly, the noise deflates into a buzz. The "sentensyador" (referee) picks up the cocks. The victorious cock pecks twice on the vanquished, and when the pecks are not returned, one cock is raised victorious.
Rarely, both the cocks die, and a "tabla" (tie) is called. Another uncommon occurrence is when both are disabled by wounds, neither one able to inflict a lethal slash, and after nine minutes, a tie or tabla is called.
the owners, the loss is pecuniary, unemotional – there is no bonding
between cock and owner. These are, after all, mere sacrificial animals,
whose main purpose is to win, and to win as many before the inevitable
death. An occasional cock may be saved from the eventual death, retired
as "ganador" to sire a bloodline of genetic killers. To the
rich, death is accepted with a shrug, and "on to the next fight." To
the masa, it is the all too familiar exercise of pondering the lost wages,
the "so close" and "what ifs," at the same time
hoping his other gamecock will turn his fortunes around. The vanquished
cock is claimed by the winning side, "sambot,"
destined to a pot of celebratory chicken concoction, usually tinola,
to serve as side dish to accompany the alcohol fueled recalling of the
day's cockpit adventure and the inevitable re-telling of favorite sabong stories.
by Godofredo U. Stuart Jr.
|Last update: November 2013|
|Photos © Godofredo Stuart|
|OTHER IMAGE SOURCE: / Imahen:Kristo.jpg / Sidney Snoeck / 5.13.2008 / WikFilipino|
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