Carnaval 2016 ~ Cultural Differences

The Monday of Carnaval is traditionally the day of the Peleas de Gallos.  This is something that we forgot about until our after dinner stroll.  We (I’m using the Royal “We” here) have never witnessed one of these events however; SU took in a few minutes late last year during another event held in one of the cantinas.  This was mostly because our amiga Panameña was selling food and we wanted to support her endeavor so he went for take out. It just so happened that her endeavor took place at a cock fight…where she was also fighting her two birds for the first time.   Although this post is not graphic in nature, I know that most people will be morally opposed to such practices.  So…if you’re not interested in hearing about our small experience, close this page now and move along.  I won’t be offended and  I’ll be happy to see you tomorrow.


A poster from the vet's office where we took Boomer for x-rays. It advertised the many supplements (that are apparently quite expensive) as well as the different types of birds.

A poster from the vet’s office where we took Bandit for x-rays. It advertised the many supplements (that are apparently quite expensive) as well as the different types of birds.  At the top it says; “Continuing to make winners!”

The big event takes place in one of the oldest catinas in Panama and our town in behind the Catholic Church.  To look at the lovely older woman who runs it you’d scratch your head and wonder why.  Ours is not to wonder why however; it is not our culture.  Curiosity got the better of us when we saw a couple of faces we recognized, although, confession time, ours were the only white ones for the few minutes we were in there.

Raising birds for fighting has taken place for thousands of years.  The competitors are specifically bred fowl, trained for stamina and strength. Roosters are naturally aggressive toward all males of the same species.  And many of the men around town (and some women) are proud of their birds, training and caring for them much like a human boxer or MMA champ. In the birds that we saw parts of the stomach and rear end were plucked free of feathers, making for a somewhat strange sight when they are hovering above you on the line and got a good view of under the bird.  They also had their combs trimmed.

This guy was pretty aggressive. Luckily they tie the birds to the line so they can't peck your eyes out.

This guy was pretty aggressive. Luckily they tie the birds to the line so they can’t peck your eyes out.

This guy was just hanging about.

This guy was just hanging about.

This guy was pretty chill also. One had to be careful how close you got to them less you get pooped on.

This guy was pretty chill also. One had to be careful how close you got to them less you got pooped on.

The only weapons permitted in Panama for fighting cocks are spurs made of turtle shell or the natural spurs. The length of the spurs depends on the fighting arena diameter. This is a traditional standard of Panama but other countries may use herring bone or metal spurs. The spurs mount on the bird using brogues, a cupped metal base. Wax or rooster tape is used to attach the spur to the foot.  I watched a fellow attaching a tortoise-shell spur to his friend’s rooster using wax, it was taking three men to complete the task.  They did this by first putting the wax into a metal brogue and then heating it up with a lighter.   The brogue was then attached at the spot where the natural spur had been cut off.   The brogue also had tape attached to it to wrap around the rooster’s leg.

I’ve since talked to our friend, she and her husband have a few fighting cocks.  If you were to go visit her home you’d see roosters perched in various places about the yard, even in the trees.  I’ve learned that the fighting rounds are 15 minutes total in our community.  SU said that the two fights that he’s watched so far had little blood.  The winner of the match was the rooster who was the liveliest at the end after the owners picked them up and let them flap.

The roosters are matched based on weight and and size. To train the birds they are often fitted with little guantes, like boxing gloves.  Some of the birds really like to fight but there are others who like to “spar” trying to wear the other bird out.  I heard a lot of whistling and shouting from the bystanders and the owners or “Galleros/as” trying to get the birds going.

Some of the onlookers.

Some of the onlookers.  I think the back stand section is for the more timid.

In Panama portable or permanent arenas with bleachers surround the ring for onlookers .   I saw obvious enthusiasm and noted that several women were very engaged in the action. I also asked our friend about the betting.  I’m not clear about how the onlookers bet but she told me between the Galleros/as a bet is set based on an offer.  For example a Gallero/a would bet $30.00 and the other Gallero/a would meet the bet with the winner taking the pot immediately after the match. There was a cashier off to the side for other betters and a few security guards on patrol to make sure the Seco and cerveza filled event didn’t get out of control.

As an animal lover I don’t particularly care for witnessing this part of my neighbour’s life.  I certainly wouldn’t set into it for an evening’s entertainment or date night.  But it is part of the culture, especially Campesino culture.  And I don’t see it changing any time soon given the many years it’s been around…in the campo.


About indacampo

You'll find me at blogging about Panama...and other things.
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13 Responses to Carnaval 2016 ~ Cultural Differences

  1. Pedasi Pundit says:

    More humane, if you can use that term, than the fights I saw many years ago in the Philippines There they attach metal, razor sharp spurs and fight to the death.

    • indacampo says:

      Yes, Googling “Cock Fights”does not a pretty picture make when it comes to the “games” in some countries.

  2. cicero3332 says:

    An enlightening report. Thanks.

  3. pklainer says:

    I feel much the same way you do about cock fights: I don’t like it, but recognize it as an important part of the culture. Back in the late 1960’s the fights used to be more bloody and to the death, with razor blades or metal spurs similar to what your other reader wrote about the Philippines. Women in rural Panama also used to fight with razor blades, usually over a man. That doesn’t seem to happen any more either.

    • indacampo says:

      Occasionally the news on television will report fights among women. Most are just rolling around and slapping on the front lawn while a man watches and someone takes a video.

      There seems to be some organization now when it comes to the paleas de gallos. That’s not to say that there couldn’t be some bloodier matches but, I think among the Galleros/as of honour the razor blades and metal spurs are not acceptable.

      ¡Buen viaje en la mañana!

  4. Donna Janke says:

    Carnaval coincided with the last few days of our month-long stay in Pedasi. We watched many of the festivities. I am so glad we missed the cock fight and didn’t even know about it. It adds a whole new dimension to all the rooster crowing we heard during our stay!

    • indacampo says:

      Some of the foreigners that have lived her a while don’t know about the Monday of Carnaval. It’s not something that is advertised as part of the festivities. Summer or Dry Season is the time when most fights occur although there is a weekly event in Las Tablas at a permanent venue.

      Everyone I’ve spoken with has agreed that Carnaval was much quieter this year. This is likely due to the limited amount of hours for the culecos. Although judging from the amount of garbage everyone who participated in the event had a good time.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. 😀

  5. Interesting post. Although a cockfight wouldn’t be something I’d go out of my way to see,like you it’s always fascinating to learn about the local traditions. We’ve debated about going to a bullfight here in Portugal this summer (the bull is not killed and the matador is judged on his horse riding skills in the ring) and I imagine we’ll go when the opportunity presents itself. We’ll see! Anita

    • indacampo says:

      I’m sure that many of the places you’ve visited had a fight going on somewhere. As I mentioned I was surprised at how many countries still allow them.

      I’m with you one the bullfighting. I’d much rather see the human demonstrate a mastery of skills than to see an animal bloodied and broken. I don’t even want to see the bull riding events here. They are very unregulated and the animals are severely stressed.

      Thanks again Anita for sharing and commenting. Karen Ann

  6. It is interesting (and sometimes disturbing) how animals are used for human entertainment in various countries. When I was in Bali, beautiful fighting roosters (with feathers dyed in interesting colors) were raised for religious ceremonial fights, even though officially cock fights have been banned. Much less bloody, there are goat and turtle races in the Caribbean – imagine a turtle with a leash and the “owner” is trying to make it walk a straight line using a stick, to prod the turtle into moving a tad bit faster than the competition!

    • indacampo says:

      Yes, the first time I saw (or even thought about for that matter) anything about cock fights was in the Dominican Republic. We were up in the hills and a somewhat tame demonstration was given in a huge arena. It was in a mostly agrarian community near the cane fields that was somewhat remote. When we were visiting Port Douglas, Australia there was weekly Cane Toad races at one of the local establishments. Don’t think I’d want to mess with them.

      Last night we brought our neighbour’s kitten in to our catio because another larger cat was attacking her outside our front window. Neither are sterilized and this morning hubby and I had a talk with the owner of the kitten about getting it fixed and/or keeping it inside, for the third time. This guy speaks English and is seemingly educated but he doesn’t get it. She wants to be out “playing”with the other animals. Meanwhile we worry about a coyote wandering down the street and getting her. There’s no fixing stupid…

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