Yesterday we saw our first official cockfight in Puerto Rico.
A while ago we had seen an announcement for a torneo de botas de pollo and our friend Papo said he loved cockfights and that we should all go. He said this was a sort of mild version of a cockfight because they put ”boots” on their spurs making the fights a little less lethal. This piqued my interest because I sort of already had some opinions about cockfighting without ever seeing it so I wanted to know how close my assumptions were to reality. Having Papo as friend has really opened up a whole different world of Puerto Rico that I’m not sure we would see otherwise.
Cockfighting or pelea de gallo really is THE sport of Puerto Rico. It is also considered a ”gentleman’s game” (de caballeros) though there was no problem with women or even children being there (still it was about 30 to 1 male/female). While things are changing a little, judging from the popularity of this event, it is unlikely that this tradition will be leaving the island any time soon.
When we entered the cancha area there was a cacophony of roosters crowing and pounding sounds as people cheered and rooted for their gallo of choice. We noticed two rings. One that was a little larger than the other. There were a lot of roosters but in between, they still had time to play dice.
According to Papo, in a botas fight like these, the time limit for fighting is only 3 minutes unlike in a fight with espuelas (spurs) which lasts about 12 minutes or until one of the roosters dies. They keep track of the hits that each of the roosters take in order to determine the winner.
It was almost like watching a miniature boxing match. When they bring out the roosters they have them “meet” and their neck feathers get all ruffled up. Then they start the clock and they fight non- stop. Not in one match did a rooster back off from the others or run away. Even the roosters in the cages on the ground looked like they were ready to fight. But they were also strangely docile when a human would pick them up. I suppose any bird that started fighting at a human would not last long in this environment.
Having chickens and roosters ourselves I can tell you that roosters do fight and it’s not a hard concept to see where this tradition came from (though our rooster nearly always runs from the other in order to avoid the fight). In the country in times before internet and television it would be something to do. It brings a bit of excitement. There’s people, there’s food, there’s drink, there’s entertainment, there’s gambling.
I enjoyed looking at all the chickens. There was really one breed of rooster that was preferred over the others. Papo wasn’t sure what it was called. Some of them had single combs, some had rose or buttercup combs but the majority were a reddish color with beautiful orange and green feathering.
I really don’t like seeing animals suffer and “forced” to fight like this, but I can sort of understand it (I don’t think I will ever truly). In Mexico I also went to a bullfight and I felt that that was far more cruel because of the human involvement in invoking pain on those huge bulls. I also know that most roosters are killed (discarded) when they are just baby chicks because they are unwanted in egg production. So in a sense, this “sport” gives them a little longer of a life and possibly a little better care than they would receive otherwise.
I don’t think I would pick up cockfighting as a personal hobby of mine and I certainly felt a little out of place. But I found it extremely interesting from a cultural point of view and I am glad I had the opportunity to see it if only to understand it a little more.