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Cockfighting is a blood sport that’s been around for 6,000 years. No one is exactly certain where it began, but it spread over many European countries, most notably in England and France. It also reached the United States, with presidents like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln becoming admirers of the sport. Rumor has it that Lincoln even got the nickname “Honest Abe” for his fairness as a judge in cockfights.
Cockfighting also made its way around the Caribbean region, gaining popularity in territories such as Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the like. Despite being known all over the world, the legal status of cockfighting is highly controversial, varying from country to country. In this article, we’ll be diving into the legality of cockfighting events in the Dominican Republic.
Legal Status of Cock Fighting in the Dominican Republic
In the Dominican Republic, cockfighting is an old tradition and is considered a national sport. There is no law banning cockfighting.
Cockfight events are enjoyed by all social levels. While it’s mostly men who participate in matches, women and sometimes children can be seen watching too. In each town, there is at least one gallera or a fighting arena. While in bigger cities, larger coliseos are more common. Cockfight arenas have bleachers arranged in an amphitheater-style, with the fighting ring in the center. Some fighting arenas have a bar and some may even have a live band playing during downtime in between fights.
Although cockfighting has a long history and is a legal and popular sport in the Dominican Republic, a report by the Dominican Today published in 2018 states that cockfight events are “increasingly being rejected in society.”
Cockfighting Events in the Dominican Republic
Owners proudly bring their fighting cocks to the arena. The birds are first weighed and inspected, and then the matching of the roosters begins afterward. These measures are done to ensure an equal fight.
Each fight consists of timed innings. Before a fight begins, owners participating in the match take their roosters into the cockfighting ring and remove the cover placed over the eyes of the bird. When the Juez de Valla, the local term for a referee, gives the signal, the rooster is positioned about a foot away from the line drawn in the dirt and set free.
The roosters may advance slowly towards their opponent, or they may also circle their fellow fowl, looking for an unprotected and easy spot to attack. Feathers can fly and blood can spatter on the artificial grass inside the arena.
Spectators can bet money on a fighting rooster. There are no official bookmarkers in a fight; bets can be made with any person who will take it. Sometimes the betting takes place in advance of a fight, sometimes in the midst of a match. In the latter, spectators place their bets by calling out the color of the leg band of a cock.
The fight will go on until the set time is reached or if one of the two roosters gets killed or gives up. There are also situations when a match doesn’t end in the death of one of the roosters. Instead, it becomes a draw if the animals continue to attack each other even after the 15-minute limit. In the case of a draw, both roosters are kept alive to see another day.
At the end of a match, the referee hands over the money pot to the winner. If the losing cock dies, sometimes it is taken home to be eaten for dinner. A lot of times, however, the losing chickens are also roasted right in the arena itself, to be devoured by the spectators. While most of the crowd doesn’t mind eating the defeated chickens, there are also handlers who cannot stand to eat their own bird.
Raising Fighting Cocks
The fighting cock is a type of domestic fowl that is bred for strength and endurance. Different from typical farm chickens, fighting roosters are wild, tough-bodied, and are raised to be aggressive. These roosters will fight over food, territory, or mates. Additionally, the birds are also trained for heightened stamina.
It takes about 18 months for a rooster to reach maturity. Fighting birds are normally very large, plumed, and quite healthy. Dominican handlers feed their roosters the best grains, vitamins, and minerals that they can afford to increase swiftness, strength, and fierceness. Game roosters are highly pampered, often getting shampooed, massaged, and held. There are even instances where the birds live with their owners in their homes.
Preparation of a Fighting Cock
Prior to a fight, the natural spur of the rooster is cut off with a knife. Espuelas or spurs are attached to the legs of the rooster using colored bands. In the past, the spurs were made from bones but resin ones are preferred nowadays.
Owners highly value their spur collection; it’s said that when a Dominican male shows you his spur collection, it’s akin to showing you a picture of their children. Specially-skilled trainers are hired to affix the spurs to the birds.
The birds are also intentionally mutilated before a match. All feathers and plumage around the chest and belly of the roosters are removed, giving them less weight to carry and allowing them to be more agile. The combs and wattles of the roosters are removed as well.
Cultural Significance of Cock Fighting in the Dominican Republic
Cockfighting is deeply ingrained in the culture of the Dominicans. Important fights are broadcast on television and newspapers also have dedicated pages to cockfights. There are also sections in the newspaper dedicated to different trabas, the local name for game fowl breeding grounds. Lynne Guitar, an anthropologist who studies Dominican popular culture stated, “On Sundays, the women go to church, and the men go to the cockfight.”
Moreover, roosters have gained a special place in the nuances of Dominican cultural identity. Social commentator Gustav Jahoda claims that “In many cultures, notably hunting-gathering ones, animals are believed to have souls and to be in close partnership with humans.” He presents the idea that the ritualistic behavior of a cockfight represents the social dynamic that asserts a male’s place in Dominical society. Jahoda further continued that the cockfight and the rooster represent the spirit of the Dominican male.
Additionally, the rooster has come to represent all aspects of daily life in the Dominican Republic. Author Michele Wucker also notes how cockfighting has carved its place in the Dominican psyche, stating, “In the cockfight, man and beast, good and evil, ego and id, the creative power of aroused masculinity and the destructive power of loosened animality fuse in a bloody drama of hatred, cruelty, violence, and death. Emotions are displayed in a cathartic microcosm of human interaction, violence released through the flailing spurs, beaks, and feathers in the ring.”
Additionally, Wucker also said that the rooster represents “politics, home, territory, courtship, healing, sustenance, the passage of time, and brotherhood.”
Cockfighting has long been a part of Dominican history. The blood sport is not considered to be a form of animal cruelty; instead, it is a traditional practice, a business, and a hobby.
To know the legality of cockfighting in other parts of the world, have a look at this article.