Sunday, October 11, 2009

I Was Invited to a Cockfight

After 15 years in Polynesia, I was invited to a secret professional cock fight. I attended only to photograph it so that others would be able to see what takes place here, and, though illegal, is tolerated by the police. (So is the killing of sea turtles).

On arrival I found myself in a large dim building where birds were standing, neatly spaced, their feathers clipped, as if they were all in uniform. Beyond the group of people where the man is walking, is the cockpit itself.

A Young Bird

I began walking around, and soon met the person who had invited me to come. I took a photo of his bird, which, to my surprise was scarcely mature. Its feathers had been removed, and, like all the others, it had been put in the sun to burn and harden its tender white skin.

My aquaintance told me he had been fighting cocks for 35 years, that he had a hundred of them at his house, including hens and chicks, all in cages, and that he was always at the cockpit. Fighting cocks to death was how he made his living.

A Handicapped Fighter

This worried looking little bird, his tail drooping, has only one spur, yet will be put in a fight, handicapped.

Looking Around

Behind the Cockpit

Birds Were Everywhere

As I walked around I found birds everywhere. In the cages lining the walls were countless more birds. They were never freed, they were fed unnatural food, only--it came in a sack--and I was told that they were given medication instead of activity to make their muscles grow.


Each bird stands in its place because it is tied to the floor by a short string knotted around its leg above its spur. These birds are used to being attached, but all showed signs of nervousness in this unnatural and noisy situation.

Proud Cock-owners

I walked around looking at all the birds, admiring the most striking, complimenting their owners, and taking photos of some of them. In this way everyone saw me smiling and admiring everyone and his bird--I hoped that as a result, they would feel more comfortable about me photographing a fight too.

I was very aware of being the only white person, almost the only woman, and the only one there taking pictures. It was a secret and illegal fight, and I was afraid that someone would challenge me.

A Fight Begins

The fight begins in a confrontational pose. Note how little leaping the birds do, and how they scarcely raise their wings.

This is just the very beginning of a fight that lasted about twenty minutes, and soon after this there was almost no leaping; the birds were surprisingly lacking in physical stamina compared with my own; the fight was actually boring compared with those I had seen in my garden and in the wild. (Of course I gently separate my own birds when they fight, sending each back into his own territory.

Here, and this is the point: the birds have nowhere to hide and no way to escape. As the men yell and jeer, they have no choice but to fight to the death.

In the Cockpit

Seated at the front with my professional host, I had an excellent view. He soon told me that in this case, a small bird had been matched with a larger one, which was often done by the Chinese. I didn't understand why, only that Polynesians were careful to match the birds in size and weight precisely.

Each bird was measured, and its height and weight recorded, prior to the fights, and it was given a number, which was stuck on its tail. I had assumed that this was so that the fights would be 'fair.'

My acquaintance was Polynesian, from one of the wild islands, and he continually made the distinction between what the two races of cockfighting specialists did.

Close-up of the Birds

The blood on the birds' feet is not from body wounds, but from the injuries they are inflicting on each other. These birds kick so lightning fast and hard with their sharp spurs that they inflict a very nasty injury. It feels like someone has hammered a nail into you, as I have experienced several times when trying to catch a bird while he was fighting.

The injury is deep and painful and causes a large bruise around it. Therefore, it is hard to imagine the damage and pain suffered by these birds being repeatedly kicked in the head and body. The head, eyes, neck, breast and joints are targeted.

The Injuries Begin

Close-up of the birds. One of their eyes is already blinded.

The Leaps Become Fewer

They Weaken

On it Goes

At this point, both birds still have one eye, though they suffer many holes in their bodies and heads.

Its All for Money

The amount of money visible in the man's hand is equivalent to about 250 American dollars. Money was visible in many of the hands around the cockpit. My contact told me that the Polynesians bet smaller amounts, just to amuse themselves, but the Chinese were very serious players and bet large amounts of money on one fight. The figure he mentioned was equivalent to about 1500 dollars US.

The Little One Is Blinded

By now the smaller bird is blinded but still biting his opponent.

Near the End

Near the end of the fight, the smaller bird had both eyes punctured and was blind. The video shows this in that I managed to catch a moment in which he kept turning around and around. Then the other bird would hit him again, and he would respond by hitting back and biting his opponent by feel.

Sometimes when he was out of contact with the other bird, he ran along the bloody wall, feeling his way to find an escape, but there was no escape. Soon the other bird caught up with him and kicked his head again. For awhile the two were right under where I was sitting, and he was so covered with blood that no features were visible on his head at all; his eyes were both destroyed and had disappeared.

The other bird was also badly injured and covered with blood, and was fighting with one punctured eye. They spent much time leaning against each other. This part went on and on.

In nature the losing bird quickly escapes into cover. There is always cover to hide in in the jungle where they evolved.

I dared not take photos of the bloody ending because I was afraid of being confronted about it.

In the end, the blinded, bloody bird ran away, around and around the wall, until his owner came and took him. I asked my acquaintance what would happen to the little thing, and he said that the bird would just be thrown away--cast blind into the wild to starve to death.

Back Home

Back at home, I snapped a few photos of a brief squabble between two friendly cocks over a hen they both liked, for an illustration of the difference. The series is blogged below. Though the photos were taken in daylight, they are more blurred than those taken at the cockfight, where the light was very poor.

This indicates that these naturally living birds are in much finer shape than the so-called super-cocks, bred and raised for fighting, yet who never get any excercise, nor natural food.

Notice that the birds are always leaping and whirling, whereas the ones at the cockfight spent much of their time exhausted and leaning against each other after only a few low leaps.

The series also illustrates the natural beauty of the birds, who actually are descended from fighting cocks, crossed with junglefowl. In removing the birds' decorative feathers, the men expose the birds to injury, and take away their beauty.


It Begins

Natural fights are squabbles which are rarely serious. (For more information see the post below on Junglefowl.