Monday, 21 December 2009

Inilog, Biya and Christo.

Farewell Philippines and hello Japan, but before we go, thanks for the memories. Oh, and the culture shock too. Herewith a brief guide to cock fighting.

1: Ok if animal welfare is your thing then look away because things here are going to get ugly. We're starting off with cock fighting. Nope, that is not two men you dislike settling their differences over a match of fisticuffs. No siree, this here is one of the national obsessions. First up, you're gonna need a cock. Ignore the obvious pun, it gets tiresome. Next up you will need to put your your erm, rooster, on a diet of vitamins and top grade feed and then exercise him regularly. That will include sparring sessions, with a leather glove and then later, with your other cockerels if you have any. This routine will go on for about a year. You will then take your fattened bird to the cock ring pit one Sunday and pit him against another. Your cockerel will be a thing of great beauty by the time it makes it into the ring; it's plumage proud and pristine. And to be fair this bird will be like a cherished pet to you. After all, you have fed it, exercised it, invested in it and groomed it for a year or so. But then again, it might just win the battle you are about to pitch it into. And if it wins, then you're gonna have a whole lot of cash in your pocket. And if it loses, well then the winner takes all. Including your dead bird which will go on the grill quicker than you can say "Bon appetite."

2: So we're in the ring now. Next up you'll need to strap a curved blade onto the left leg of your cockerel. The blade is about two inches (or 50mm if you prefer) long, and it will be sharp enough to carve to a chicken. Literally. Once you get your bird into the ring you and the other breeder will hold your roosters at chest height and get them to go at each other for a bit. Rile them up. Make 'em angry. And vicious. This is done to create a bit of blood lust and crowd will go wild. They'll be betting like crazy. And the roosters will spit feathers. The anticipation of the fight will grow with every feather that comes away on each peck. All the while the Christo (so called because of the way he stands with his arms outstretched in either direction whilst he registers the bets) will be taking wagers from every direction. And the amazing thing is that none of these bets will be written down, they will all be remembered. Every bet, every denomination, every punter's face lest he try and shuffle out the back door if things are going badly. The bets will be placed on either Inilog or Biya. For reference, Biya is the favourite (easy to remember: Beer is Best) and attracts odds of 1:1. Inilog pays a bit better, but not that much better.

3: After the bets are in it is time for a fight. It is a bit like watching The Highlander really. You know that "There can be only one," and you also know that there will be a whole lot of blades and blood. It is brutal. It is cruel. Throw some money in and it is addictive too. The best seats in the stadium are reserved for high rollers. Sometimes they will wager a million piso or more. That's more than GBP10 000.00. Admittedly that is not an every match occurrence by any means. But it can happen. It is big business.

4: But back to the business in the ring. The average match will last about two or three minutes. Sometimes they are quicker, sometimes longer. It is usually not long at all before one of the birds gets the upper hand though. There is a referee present (Coyme's Decision is Final reads the sign, I thought it would be more appropriate to change the "Coyme" to "Death's" myself) and when it looks like the end is nigh for one of the birds the ref will lift both birds up and get them to attack each other again. Invariably the losing bird will be slowly pecked to a bloodied mess before making its way to the kitchen. At the end of the match a final and discrete stab to the heart will be administered to the losing bird with the blade attached to it's leg. We watched the cock fighting in Dumaguete. In the three hours or so were there there must have been about thirty matches or so. We arrived late and left early. According to one local we spoke to, each Sunday there will about 100 matches in that one arena, and every town has one. That is a whole lot of chicken.

5: It is pretty strange witnessing all this at first. The adrenaline the air, the Christo taking bets, the money being exchanged and the gore of the fights. And then there is the fate of the roosters. The term "Nice guys finish last" takes on a whole new meaning. If they are lucky they may die quickly. If they are unlucky they might win and then die from their wounds later, or be blinded in the fight, or indeed even live to fight another day. One cab driver told us he had a rooster that had won four fights, he was grooming it for it's fifth. As for the losing trainer, he accepts his fate dutifully. There is no acrimony or animosity. The cadaver of the losing chicken goes to the winning trainer. Outside on the street the smell of a barbecue wafts gently into the arena. Did we bet? Of course. How much? So little that no one wanted to take our bets, hey, we're travelling. Is it addictive? Kind of yes. But personally the cruelty factor overrides it all for me. I like chickens. Mostly with chilli and a bit of lime, but preferably without the excess adrenaline.

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