This is part 3 of a series on Cockfighting in the Dominican Republic. To read the entire story, start from the beginning at Cockfighting in the Dominican Republic.
SABANETA, Dominican Republic- The men were bolstered, bristled, fired up and ready to watch one barnyard fowl shred and tear life and limb from another. We were at a Cockfight in Sabaneta in the Dominican Republic, the cockfighting capital of the world.
An all male crowd stood around in groups and in circles, inspecting roosters, weighing roosters, holding roosters, and, most importantly, hedging bets on roosters. Little tickets with numbers written on them passed from hand to hand as the men yelled and fought with each other in search of self beneficent compromises. The scene was loud, the scene was crass — it was just what I was looking for.
“Are you sure you want to continue?”
“Are you sure you want to continue?” one of the young guys that I rode to the cockfight with asked in fast, poorly pronounced Dominican Spanish.
“Yes, of course,” I quickly replied, and walked quickly into the fray of unchecked masculinity.
I had seen this before, it was the prospecting stage of a cockfight.This is where the men make matches for their roosters and get a good look at the size, weight, and gauge the fighting ability of the fowl they will soon be betting large sums of money on.
This is how I imagined a cockfight in the Dominican Republic would be when Gritino invited me to accompany him a few days previous. He picked me up that morning and we rode out to his cockfighting training camp in the rural hills far outside of Sosua. I was initially a little confused as to why I was taken to this location, as I knew the cockfight was in a town called Sabaneta, but I did not ask any questions. Rather, I ate a ranchero breakfast and just relied on a strong faith in my decision making capacities. I was walking around the training camp taking photos of roosters when Gritino yelled out to me that we were leaving.
His cockfighting crew had now rendezvoused in the mountain hide away, and they were ready to ride to town together in force, as a single unit — a cockfighting team.
With a quick, “Go with them,” my large friend told me to get into a van that pulled up into the cockfight training camp.
“A donde van?” I asked, wondering where this van was going to take me to.
“To the cockfight,” the big man answered, as though I was more than a touch dense. He then put his large self back into the truck that we had rode out here in, and I got in the van.
Where else would we be going? To the cockfight. We were in the Dominican Republic, there was no need to fight roosters underground, in the back wood hills. I jumped into the van with the driver and five other younger Dominican men. We drove down from the mountains to the main coastal highway, and then proceeded east through Sosua, Cabarete, and on to Sabaneta for the Sunday Cockfight.
It was around 11AM when we arrived, and while the women were perhaps in the church of God, we went to the church of men: the cockfighting ring.
The weekly cockfight was a big event in this small Dominican town. Men from all over the area converge upon Sabaneta to put their roosters — their manhood — to the test, in the hope of taking home both money, glory, and a rise in elevation in the pecking order of north Dominican cockfighters.
The ritual of the cockfight begins long before the roosters enter the ring. The object is to have all the combatants be as evenly matched as possible. To these ends the entire community of men inspect each rooster for its merits of weight, fitness, and aggression. They drop the roosters down next to each other, and, while holding them by the tail feathers, allow them to peck each others faces in a preliminary battle. In this way, a rooster’s fighting attributes can be gauged by betters and owners, and a proper match can be determined.
Each rooster is weighed with a produce scale, and is thus “classed.” A ticket is written out for the owner and the rooster is placed into a cage in a special barrack that is guarded by two men. A matching ticket is then affixed to the outside of the cages which corresponds to each rooster inside. After a match is set, a rooster cannot be substituted for another. This would be cheating.
There were around 150 men under and around a small pavilion where this action was taking place. The cockfight arena — which was a circular caged in ring with bleachers arranged in amphitheater style — was still locked closed. Most everyone was under or near to the pavilion watching the preparation stages of the cockfights that would soon ensue. They were prospecting as to which way to hedge their bets on each fight. 99% of the men were yelling and screaming at each other.
Fighting for a fight
I found a young boy of around 8 years of age petting a rooster in a quiet corner of the pavilion. He was crouching down Asian style with his father, who was very demur and mild mannered for a Dominican man. I asked his father if he had a name for the rooster he was about to fight, and he laughed at my ridiculous question: fighting cocks are for fighting, not for befriending. But he smiled kindly towards me. I petted his rooster on the head:
Its feathers would soon be slashed from its body, its blood would soon splatter the crowd, its eyes poke out, its lungs punctured. It would soon be annihilated.
Meanwhile, my friend Gritino was throwing his weight around trying to size up a good match for his rooster. He yelled in his booming voice at the other men, they tried to yell back, but could not nearly match the vocal power of the big man. He was pushing something, there seemed to be some underlying strategy at work, from the way these men were yelling at each other, I could tell that something was controversial. I watched curiously as my previously mild mannered friend was yelling wild at his potential competitors. He was pushing something, but I could not clearly tell what it was.
Most of the other cockfighters had found matches for their combatants, but Gritino was still fighting for his. The other men seemed intimidated by the big man, they did not want to fight his rooster, it seems as if he had the reputation as a very skilled cockfigther.
Gritino was mostly yelling at a smaller, stout man. They both had roosters in their arms. From time to time they would toss them to the ground and let them peck at each others faces for moment or two. I observed that these two roosters were put into two bags and were weighted against each other on a medieval type of balancing scale. The scale’s cross beam angled nearly straight across, the weights were about even. But the small man was hesitant — he did not seem to want to fight Gritino.
This is the stable where the roosters are kept prior to a match. Each rooster is numbered so each rooster fights its chosen foe.
I watched the men as they fought it out, I took note to observe the power dynamics of the scene before me. I watched which men seemed to win their arguments, which cock was paired with which, who seemed to have gotten the match up they wanted, and who was feeling tense at the end of the arrangement. In a flash, the small man waved up his hand in defeat: he would fight the big man.
I stood in the background, though very much taken in by the scene that was playing itself out all around me. I watched the circles of men deal, plot strategies, and count out large amounts of money. The show was about to begin.
These men are armed
I looked down and saw a pistol stuffed into the band of a pair of sweat pants. It was a 9mm, and the man carrying it looked as if he used it from time to time. He was not much into concealing his weapon. I realized then that these men — who were yelling and screaming at each other — were armed. The emotional height of this scene seemed to have already climbed to a point of all out explosive catharsis, and the fight had not even began. I became aware that this had the potential to get out of control.
But there was very little alcohol being consumed. In fact, none of the Dominican cockfighters were drinking. Even though beer was being sold along with pop and peanuts at an adjoining beverage stand, the only people drinking were those who seemed to have nothing to do with the cockfight.
Cockfighting in the Dominican Republic seemed far too serious, far too wild, and with far too much at stake to be drunk for. When I observed a cockfight in Honduras, I noticed that the men were drinking, the men were rowdy, they were probably armed as well, but the degree of seriousness was not nearly as severe as this scene in the Dominican Republic. Cockfighting seemed to be not only a sport here, but a livelihood. These men were professionals in every way.
Preparation of a fighting rooster
The rooster’s natural spur is cut off with a knife prior to a fight so that an elongated, artificial spur can be attached in the same location.
Watch a video of how the spurs are attached
The roosters were also intentionally mutilated prior to their appearance in the ring. Their gizzards and combs had previously been surgically removed, the spurs of both feet cut off to allow for the placement of a more deadly artificial one, and the roosters were shaved bare along their underbellies and over their legs. These roosters are the unwitting athletes of their species, and all athletes tend to look like mutants — these primed for the ring roosters were no different.
A specially skilled trainer is hired to affix the spurs to a rooster. These men are specially chosen by the community of cockfighters, and have one of the most important roles at the event. These men can literally win or lose a match, and their skill is not treated lightly. There were two of these trainers at the cockfight in Sabaneta, and they would prepare the opposing roosters for each match.
Trainer attaching spurs to a rooster. In the Dominican Republic, each rooster gets a plastic spur attached to the rear of each foot with wax and athletic tape.
In the Dominican Republic, each spur that is attached to the back of a rooster’s claw is made from plastic. In Honduras, they were made of metal and were sharp. Here, the spur seems meant more to impale, rather than shred.
Watch a video of how the spurs are attached
On to the main event
The men handled the roosters as any farmer would: they handled the roosters as a person who know where their food comes from. Chickens are food here, not pets, nor companions, and the thought that they have inherent rights beyond being eaten seems to be an absent, strange, and foreign ideology. Roosters are food, these men grew up tearing their heads off, preparing, and eating them. It is perhaps difficult to feel compassion for that which you eat. Besides the young boy who sat in the corner of the pavilion cuddling with his father’s rooster, I observed zero indication that any moral objection ever existed here to cockfighting:
If a human can slaughter a rooster, why can’t a rooster slaughter a rooster? Either way, all roosters — those who die in the ring and those who are killed on a farm — in this country have the same destiny: the dinner plate.
The cockfight was about to begin.
Read the next part of this series at: The Dominican Republic Cockfight
Read the entire series at: Cockfighting in the Domincan Republic