Lady at a cock fight

WARNING: This post contains images of animal violence and blood some may find disturbing. 

Day one in Leon was a blank page. A day for city exploring or a mystery activity. On the night I arrived, the obvious choice was laid out: some friends were going on a tour to the once-a-week local cock fight. NicAsi tour company easily connects tourists with the local Sunday cock fighting culture by providing transport, introductions, and a little insight into what is apparently a favorite Nicaraguan pastime. The next afternoon, with gambling money stuffed in my bra, I hopped in the back of our sweet ride and headed for the fight.

Our chariot.

Our tour group disembarked and began the afternoon with a baby shot of truly terrible cheap-ass rum. As the tour includes an open bar, everyone then moved on to Toña beer, which is the beer of choice in Nicaragua. After a first night in Leon filled with too many mojitos, I stuck with mineral water instead. Or I thought I did. I refilled my water bottle from the normal looking jug, but what I thought was bottled water was actually tap water. Whoops… since, I have learned that much of Nicaraguan tap water (at least in the places I visited) is from springs and considered safe to drink. Who knew?

Learning the finer points of the “best” crap cheap rum. Still made by Flor de Caña, so it must be ok, right? Ick!

Feeling mischievous eating an arroz con pollo pasty. Delish.

A true local haunt, the Gallera takes place every Sunday on family farm grounds fifteen minutes outside of Leon. The owners open up this private space on their farm to friends, then take a 10% commission on all winnings. A small wooden ring with seating provided the main venue. Before the fights started, men played a roulette-like game, watched soccer, or just stood around shooting the shit. This is a small-time community arena. Apparently there are much bigger cock fights elsewhere and if a gallo does particularly well here his owner will bump him up to the big leagues. We were an obvious group of gringos, but I felt welcomed. Everyone I spoke to was friendly, in a good mood, and happy to chat.

The contenders. Photo courtesy of Nick Cooper.

The arena. Photo courtesy of Nick Cooper.

A little something to pass the time before the real action begins. Photo courtesy of Juliet Jones.

I flitted around chatting with local men, learning a little about cock fighting from them and how to select a fuerte gallo to bet on. Men continued to arrive in a slow but steady stream, more often than not bringing a rooster cradled in their arms. They were affectionate with their roosters; our guide said that roosters are the closest thing in Nicaragua to a pet and are greatly valued and cared for. Dogs are protectors, cats are pest control, roosters are loved. One man I was talking to insisted on bringing his gallo out of its cage and plopped it in my arms for a photo.

Think I’ve got myself a winner!

One of the proud papas. Photo courtesy of Juliet Jones.

There are very detailed mechanics and procedures for a cock fight, but in this casual neighborhood environment they are all self-managed. Gallos are weighed to ensure a fair fight, like weight classes in boxing. Owners then agree on matching up, select a peer referee, and determine betting odds. Each owner must put up whatever total amount they decide to bet, but they do not have to put it up all by themselves. This is where everyone else comes in. Members of the crowd are then able to join the betting by huddling around the owners and kicking in money.

Into the weighing cone. Photo courtesy of Juliet Jones.

Photo courtesy of Nick Cooper.

Once the details are out of the way, gallos are prepared for the fight. They are armed with sharp hooked razors attached to their leg. These are indeed weapons, but meant only to maim, not kill, as these gallos do no actually fight until the death. The winner is determined once the looser runs away or lays on the ground in submission.

Suiting up. Photo courtesy of Juliet Jones.

Ready to fight. Photo courtesy of Juliet Jones.

Next step: get the gallos in the ring and riled up. A harnessed gallo hung from a post just off the ring and was waved in front of the competitors to ignite their fighting spirit. I likened his role to a “fluffer”. My friend Julie, who is a clothing designer, got inspired to make chicken-shaped handbags. Sounds pretty super hip to me.

The harnessed “fluffer” rooster, used to excite the gallos during their warm up.

Getting ready in the ring. Photo courtesy of Juliet Jones.
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The fluffer in action.

Once everyone is ready to go, the gallos are placed opposite each other with a board in between. The ref lifted the board and the fight began.

Photo courtesy of Nick Cooper.

Gallos confront each other. The beak seemed to be a more effective weapon than the leg razor. Pecks to the neck result in bleeding quickly. This shows up especially well on white-feathered birds. I don’t know why I didn’t expect it, but the sight of blood spatter on the dirt floor of the arena surprised me.

A standoff. Photo courtesy of Juliet Jones.

Gallos square off, then flap, peck, scratch, and dance. The owners remain in the ring with the gallos and the ref, goading on their contended if the action ever slowed. The crowd cheered obscenities, enthralled.

The fight in action.

Spectators. Photo courtesy of Juliet Jones.

Photo courtesy of Juliet Jones.

The involved crowd. Photo courtesy of Juliet Jones.

If one gallo has not submitted within a few minutes, a break is taken for owners to clean, rest, and rouse their rooster. Afterwards, back into the ring they go, repeating until a victor has emerged or a draw is called if the fight goes on for fifteen minutes.

In between sets, the serious men of the ring. Photo courtesy of Juliet Jones.

Sucking blood from the injured gallo during a break. Photo courtesy of Juliet Jones.

The fight resumes with a final attack. Photo courtesy of Juliet Jones.

Winner or loser? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Photo courtesy of Juliet Jones.

Paying up. Photo courtesy of Juliet Jones.

I usually turned away before the bitter end of the fight. (After all, there was also soccer happening and snacks to be eaten.) Eventually, both bloodied around the neck and under the wings, one gallo always submitted. After, everyone gathered around the owners to collect their winnings or contribute to the pot. While supposedly these fights are not fatal, the damage to both gallos is bloody and gruesome. What happens to the losers? Are they actually nursed back to health or turned into soup?

Child holding a winner. Photo courtesy of Juliet Jones.

Overall, it was a fascinating peek into a Nicaraguan cultural phenomenon. However, upon posting the photo of me holding the rooster on Facebook, I heard a small uproar from a few friends who objected to me participating in such an event on the basis of animal cruelty. Totally a valid argument and I can understand them being upset. However, from a cultural perspective, it is the third most popular sport in Nicaragua. I found connecting with the people at the event, not the actual fight part, to be an incredible opportunity. Talking with the locals in their off-time was a treat and a glimpse into their real lives.

I know people may not be happy when I say this as it is not politically correct, but animal rights is not a passion for me. I greatly respect others’ strong views on this issue, but personally I eat meat, don’t have pets, and going to a cock fight does not get my blood boiling. I would NEVER hurt an animal directly, but I view visiting this cock fight less as supporting cruelty and more as trying to understand an aspect of my fellow human beings’ culture. I felt like this was one of the most real interactions I had with Nicaraguans the whole time I was in the country. I enjoyed the experience as a whole and given the same situation I would go again. To all the animal lovers out there, I hope we can still be friends.

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3 thoughts on “Lady at a cock fight

  1. This post rules the roost. So glad you documented all the rules and pecking orders! Totally agree with your take on the cultural value/perspective. I was conflicted about going but so glad I did for the experience and chance to photograph such a colorful event. Plus, I got to meet you! The gamble paid off! You are first in line for my Gallo Bolsas 😉

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  2. In the same manner and with same reasons, I went to a bull fight in Spain, and watched part of fox hunting in UK. Not pretty, and not something I need to do again, but also not something I especially need to judge. Learning about the culture- way more important.

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  3. The reason they suck the blood from the neck of the rooster during the break is so they can keep it from drowning in it's own blood — so they can send the bird back into the ring to fight again. There is a reason it is a Class C felony in WA just to attend a cockfight as a spectator (5 years and $10,000). They just broke up a dog-fighting ring in WA — they were fighting the dogs to the death. Could you watch that in ANY culture? Is it different because they are roosters and not dogs? Just can't agree with you on this one, Erin.

    Cathy

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