Pelea De Gallos (Chicken Fight)

Today one of our friends, Andrubal, said that me and Hellen should go with him to Jardin Caribeno (a big bar with a chicken fighting arena by the beach at the edge of town) because one of his chickens was going to fight (a traditional Panamanian activity). We knew it would be disgusting but we thought it was a good opportunity to see something Panamanian and escape the tourists, and we had nothing else to do, so we went there on our bikes, not really knowing what to expect.

A group of about 10 little boys came to watch Andrubal preparing his chicken, and one of them held it for him while he did what he had to do. First he injected it twice with something that I can’t remember the name of, but it looked like water in a little plastic container and he got it out with a syringe. He said it cost him $1.50 from the pharmacy and they also sell a version for humans, and its purpose is to thicken the blood (so the chicken doesn’t bleed in the fight). This was only stage 1 and I was already freaking out and not wanting to watch what was going on.

Next, Andrubal was checking the feet of the chicken and filing some bits down etc:


Then I noticed him opening a little case with loads of pointy things in it. He looked at all of them carefully and then picked out 2 and put the case away. This is what I mean:


Yep, you guessed it… These things are to attach to the chicken’s feet!! I wasn’t sure how they’d be stuck on, but I soon found out. First, he taped on a small metal thing with a circular space in it (for the giant claw thing to fit into). After that, with his friends help and a lighter, he melted some candle wax onto the bottom of the giant claw thing, and then slotted it into the small metal thing that was already taped onto the chicken’s foot, and held it there for a few seconds so the wax stuck it on. The chicken must have been very confused! This the other competitor’s chicken with the giant claw stuck on:


While all this was going on, more people were arriving (not that many, only about 25 people). One thing I noticed was that there were NO women, only men. This is a topic for another post but it really seems that here, the men have more fun and mess around way more in their lives than the women, who have to stay at home with babies etc.

Anyway, as the preparations were taking place, I saw that people were giving money to Andrubal’s friend, if they wanted to bet on his chicken, or to the other guy’s friend to bet on his chicken. Most people were betting between $10 and $30, and the guy taking the money wasn’t writing down who placed what or anything, so I was thinking surely sometimes there would be fights at the end when someone claimed to have bet $20 when the guy thought they only bet $10 etc, but who knows. I asked them how it works (how much you win), and they said it’s always double what you put down, so I put down $5 for Andrubal’s chicken.

There was some seating around the fighting area but when it was about to start everyone crowded round really close to it , standing up rather than using the seating. I still don’t really understand how/why the chickens got angry and wanted to fight, but they started fighting almost as soon as they were thrown into the arena thing. All the men were shouting and banging the sides of the arena etc, probably because they’d all bet money so it was important who won. I found it funny that these normally “cool” men were shouting at chickens, who clearly couldn’t understand human language:


It was never really clear which chicken was winning, and to be honest I found it hard to recognise which one was which. I stopped watching after 5 minutes anyway. After about 15 minutes (they decided on a number of minutes before it started), both men carried their chickens away and apparently Andrubal’s one won, so I went over to get my $10. This is me, my winnings and Andrubal:


Thankfully neither of the chickens were dead, but they had a few cuts and didn’t seem too happy. I still don’t understand how they knew which chicken won. Andrubal said his chicken was going to fight again against a new chicken, because the winner does a second fight every time. I was hungry so went across the road to a little restaurant where I got a giant plate of rice, lentils, salad and patacones for $4, so I missed the second fight, but I went back and Andrubal said he won again, so he was very happy. There were no disputes with the betting man, and everyone cycled home, the chickens being carried in the bike baskets.

According to my friends who I asked later in the day, it is actually illegal to fight animals here, but (as with a lot of things) the police don’t do anything to stop it.

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