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.
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.
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.
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.