Some define it as a representation of war or the extension of human aggression,
complete with its own theatrical components and metaphorical language, while
others classify it as vile, sacrificial, archaic and disgusting. Some stand
behind the cloak of culture, customs and history to defend its existence and
continued practice, while others deem it barbaric, regressive, inhuman and
No, this is not boxing or mixed martial arts, its cockfighting.
The blood sport, which consists of two bred and highly trained roosters pitted
against each other in a fight to the death, is a controversial topic. There is
no denying the popularity of cockfighting within some strata of Dominican
society. Breeders in the DR have become experts in breeding contest-ready game,
and they spare no expense in preparing their fowl for competition. In some cases
the cocks are treated better than family members, receiving specially prepared
meals, vitamins, massages and baths in preparation for what could be very
Outsiders to the cockfighting "culture" seem either baffled or disgusted by the
sport, while insiders accentuate, not the bloodiness of it all, but the beauty
and the drama that accompanies the fights. Either way, as part of a defined
pastime in the DR it is important to understand the factors behind the
popularity of cockfighting in this country, why certain measures are taken to
maintain its status as a sport, and to determine whether in fact cockfighting is
as popular as publicized.
History of cockfighting
Cockfighting can be traced back to before the time of Christ with some scholars
indicating that the sport had its start in India more that 4,600 years ago. The
rooster had long been considered an admirable fowl before its entrance into the
fighting arena. The ancient Syrians, for example, worshiped the rooster as a
deity. In addition, the ancient Greeks and Romans associated the bird with the
gods Apollo, Mercury and Mars.
Approximately 3,000 years ago cockfighting was popular with the Hebrews and
Canaanites, and raising gamecocks was considered a skill with a lucrative end.
For Egyptians cockfighting was a favored pastime and during the height of Greek
civilization, a Greek general, Themistocles, held a cockfight the night before
battle to inspire his men through the metaphor of the cockfight.
Persian traders loved to gamble by pitting their fighting birds against each
other, and the popularity of the sport even stretched to the Roman Empire.
Julius Caesar, the first citizen of Rome to become an aficionado of the sport,
brought cockfighting to Rome.
It took a while for the sport to spread, but by the 16th century it was popular
in many European countries, especially in England and France. During the reign
of King Henry VIII, cockfighting became a national sport. Schools were even
founded to teach students the fine points of cockfighting. At its very height of
popularity, the sport was popular among the church members with churchyards
being used as cockfighting arenas. However, by the 17th century the sport
declined in popularity in England and later on Queen Victoria banned
cockfighting with a royal decree.
The sport was also very popular in the United States during the 18th and 19th
centuries. Presidents like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson
and Abraham Lincoln were admirers of the sport and rumor has it that President
Lincoln got his nickname "Honest Abe" for his fairness as a judge in cockfights.
Overall, it was socially acceptable and encouraged to have gamecocks. The U.S.
would eventually become a center for cockfighting activities and events, and the
fighting-cock almost became the national emblem of the United States, losing by
just one vote to the American eagle. However, by the beginning of the Civil War
the sport had lost much of its attraction and appeal.
Today, cockfighting is a popular sport in many places around the world including
Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Colombia, France, Mexico, Italy, the Philippines,
Peru, Puerto Rico, the Canary Islands, Guam, India and Pakistan.
History of cockfights in the DR
Not much information exists on how and why cockfighting got to the DR, although
some believe that it was brought over by the Spanish, maintaining its popularity
during French and Haitian colonial rule. Very little exists in terms of text
associated with the sport of cockfighting, with mentions restricted to liner
notes and obscure references in certain texts. However, the importance of cocks
is highlighted in Dominican history through political references, most notably
through the "bolos patas blancas" and "bolos patas prietas" parties, in
references to the factions of Horacio Vasquez's ‘bolo’ political movement of the
1910s. The rooster also has a significant place in Dominican history as it was
and still is the symbol of the Partido Reforsmista Social Cristiano (PRSC). The
PRSC morphed from the Trujillo-run Partido Dominicano to the PRSC after the
dictator’s longtime right-hand man, intellectual Joaquin Balaguer took over the
reins of the country in 1966 and governed, officially and extra-officially,
until his death in 2000.
During this time, the symbol of the rooster gained a special place in the
nuances of Dominican cultural identity and came to represent the virtues of the
Dominican political spirit, further enamoring the public to this fowl. But
social commentators like Gustav Jahoda claim that, "in many cultures, notably
hunting-gathering ones, animals are believed to have souls and to be in close
partnership with humans," taking the argument a step further and presenting
the idea that the ritualistic behavior of the cockfight represents the social
dynamic which asserts a male's place in Dominican society. The reason men look
to animals to describe themselves is because, according to Jahoda, there is an
inherent connection between humans and animals, and thus understanding the
affection between man and fowl is more plausible.
In looking at a cockfight, and its prominence as a national sport, one notices
how a Dominican male views himself through the lens of the animal. "Like
politics on Hispaniola, the cockfight is a male ritual," writes Jahoda. The
cockfight, and in turn the rooster, represent the spirit of the Dominican male,
and this is why one can argue that cockfighting has carved a special place
within the Dominican psyche. According to popular author Michel Wucker,
"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."
The rooster has come to represent all aspects of daily life in the Dominican
Republic, according to Wucker. "The rooster represents politics, home,
territory, courtship, healing, sustenance, the passage of time, and brotherhood."