Death’s doorway opened in 3 minutes and 13 seconds.
Harsh blue light from two fist-sized coils of compact fluorescent bulbs illuminated the fighting pit, its dirt floor framed with a green cement ring and rickety wooden bleachers 4 benches high.
The odor of violence hovered over the pit as men with sweat-stained foreheads stood, sat and screamed at the roosters fighting below.
This was my first time at a Colombian cockfight and an experience I wasn’t sure I could stomach. Earlier in the day, while wandering around Mompox, Colombia, a colonial town in north-central Colombia, my brothers and I noticed wicker cages (shaped like giant thimbles) inside a dilapidated building.
I asked a mustachioed man with dark skin and a polo shirt standing outside the building what time the fight began (8pm) and if there was an entrance fee (it was free). My brothers and I decided to come by later that night to watch the spectacle.
We spent the afternoon exploring the city with its grunge-coated pastel walls and thick clouds of dust. Due to its strategic location on an island in the Magdalena River, Mompox served as the center of Spanish trade in the Americas for hundreds of years. Fantastic caches of plundered and mined gold filtered through the city before beginning its eventual journey to the Spanish treasury in mainland Europe.
Over time a community of artisans developed in the city that continue to create “filigree” (or filigrano, in Spanish) jewelry, a style that transforms gold or silver into wispy, lace-like pendants, bracelets, earrings and more.
Purchasing jewelry was one of the reasons for our visit to this out of the way town; the other was to wander its once proud streets.
Guidebooks describe the city as Cartagena before all the tourists arrived. Mompox’s (pronounced Mompos’) historic homes, churches and workshops date back to the early 1500s and even the building that housed the city’s Inquisitors remains.
Inquisitors? During Spanish rule, Colombia’s thriving religious police tortured and terrorized society in pursuit of eradicating witches and sinners. Their offices were officially shuttered in 1821, shortly after Colombia achieved independence.
In Mompox, as I was taking a photo of a buildings ornate – cross and Star of David – adorned window bars, a passerby told me the building was once the Inquisition office. I can only imagine the horrors that took place behind its doors.
Night had arrived and it was time to venture to the cockfight. The Spanish word for rooster is gallo (pronounced guy-o) and when we walked into the fighting venue, its walls were tiled with ottoman-sized cages of crowing roosters. Overhead more roosters were perched on the buildings rafters, often tied by an ankle to metal poles spanning the corrugated steel and thatch a-frame roof.
I’d never noticed it before during my travels, but all of the roosters’ lower bodies were plucked bare – smooth as a baby’s bum – while a riot of red and brown and orange plumage covered their upper frames.
It was too early for the fights to begin so we sat at a table at the end of the room drinking Aguilla light beer and surveyed the scene: mostly men drinking beer and aguardiente – a clear, Colombian anise liquor that tastes like Sambuca – while waiting for the fights to start.
Maybe 45 minutes or an hour later, people began walking toward the ring – and the weigh-ins’ began. Just like in professional boxing, the roosters were placed on a scale and paraded for inspection. Money’s on the line at these fights and the only intelligence to be had is knowledge gleaned from first hand experience and observation.
After 15 or 20 minutes and the weigh-in complete, spectators climbed onto the wobbly bleachers surrounding the ring while the cockmasters – aka trainers of fighting roosters – prepared their gallos to fight. Wax was melted onto the back of the rooster’s legs followed by attaching a 3-inch raptor claw looking razor blade. The trainers then wrapped gauze around the rooster’s leg to protect and secure the blade for the fight.
The judge judging a match between two animals destined to murder each other made sure everything was kosher and the crowd finished migrating to the stands.
Standing in the center of the ring, the judge reinspected the roosters. He wasn’t satisfied with how the razor was attached to a rooster’s leg and during the inspection was pricked by the blade. Enraged, he hurled insults into the rooster’s trainer’s face as the trainer quickly rewound the gauze to the judge’s approval.
The judge then set a digital clock on the ground and another clock on the edge of the ring. One of the clocks seemed to measuring points.
At last the roosters were ready to battle. The owners took their roosters to the center of the ring and the animals’ butted heads. You could see the tension mounting – their body’s taught as they struggled to break free of their trainer’s hands and fight.
And it began. The roosters careened ahead. Pecking at each others faces, necks, bodies. Jumping up in the air and bicycle kicking each other with their bladed legs. In a moment one was pinned to the ground. In another it was back up hurling its deadly razor legs at its opponent.
The crowd was shouting. Men had money in their hands, yelling to get the attention of the bet collector, goading their cock to win.
The owners swooped into the ring to separate their roosters and inspect them for wounds. No visible blood yet. The animals were getting tired but their rage remained rabid.
The animals were back at it. Kicks, pecks, dive bombs, head crushing jabs and stabs – all the moves humans would make to fight for survival.
The fight, however vulgar, was human nature at its finest. And worst. Pure, unadulterated passion, anger, emotion surged through the crowd as they watched the battling animals.
A life unfiltered.
And the violence continued until a rooster lie defeated, splatters of blood on its body and on the ground underneath its ailing frame. The winning rooster, still pecking and slicing at its defeated opponent, was pulled away.
It took 3 minutes and 13 seconds for death’s doorway to open and only seconds for the defeated rooster to be whisked into darkness.
– As always click on the below photo to view the slideshow.
2 Responses to “Life and Death at a Colombian Cockfight”
Photography is so insightful..! All credit to the photographer and the subject.
Great story.daryl and I witnessed a cock fight in Bali , Indonesia that was very similar. The cock that belonged to our taxie driver, who was an off duty policeman was fighting that day. We all had to stop our private tour to attend.i don’t remember if it won, but I found it cruel. I asked if these fights were legal in this country. He said no but the cops look the other way. Their cock is in a way a sense of pride for the family, and sometimes a money maker during hard times.