Should I Have Gone to a Cock Fight?

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Day 67: Leon, Nicaragua

I have an opinion about everything and most often I think (know) I am right. Yet as I write this post about going to a cock fight I have no position.

For once my mind isn’t made up as I find this issue so complex so let’s start at the beginning:

Earlier in the day I went to a great art museum with two other travelers and we talked about later seeing a baseball game because it’s such a popular sport in Nicaragua – a left over from the days of US instillment.

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I had to check out a potential host family for my Spanish school so we parted ways with plans to meet in an hour.

When I arrived at the hostel plans had changed. Baseball season was over and they were going to a cock fight, which was departing imminently.

There was room for me and without hesitation I agreed to join them – I say without hesitation, not because I was without qualms but because I literally hadn’t thought about it; I just said yes.

Should Tourists Go to a Cockfight

As we took the taxi outside the city I started to feel queasy. I wasn’t sure how this fit in with my own fundamental beliefs and I was leaning toward this being a cruel act that I should not condone by becoming a spectator.

I’ve spouted an aggressive position on how we treat animals we eat; how could I justify watching animals fight for mere amusement?

What’s more conflicting is that I can’t say it was out of morbid curiosity as I saw a cock fight in the Philippines ten years prior.

I remember what it was like. I should know better, right?

But in the taxi my aggressive opinion remained silent and I decided to focus less on judging and more on understanding.

The organizer of our arrival was NicAsi Tours, a tour group in Leon that believes in showing the real Leon.

They also have tours on the history of the revolution and cooking traditional food – both topics of which I could not find elsewhere.

They want tourists to experience more than volcano surfing and waterfalls and to provide the opportunity to participate in the everyday Leon – as shocking as it may be.

While NicAsi will be featured in the next Lonely Planet, the most controversial tour will be omitted in favour of political correctness.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that some men attend the weekly cockfights in Leon to socialize on Sundays – their only day off.

Cockfights in Nicaragua

At the cock fights in the Philippines the roosters would fight to the death and it often was really gory but it was different in Leon. In fact we didn’t see one animal die. There are three guiding rules:

1) Fights are 15 minutes long, after which it’s considered a draw and no one wins.
2) A rooster loses if it “goes down” or surrenders because of death, injury or fatigue.
3) A rooster loses if it “chickens out” when the fight begins.

If the animal dies it is subsequently eaten; this is not a community that can afford food to go to waste.

All the matches I watched ended because of #2 – the animal was tired/injured and either would not fight or its owner didn’t think it could fight.

Fights often paused to inspect the birds to determine if they would/could continue. The birds are treated much better than I had expected, or had seen in my last experience.

Harrie explained that the owners see the roosters as their pets and they are considered above farm animals.

Often given better food, vitamins and walked frequently to improve their physique, the owners seem to genuinely have affection for them.

While waiting for their respective fight they carried them gingerly, stroking their feathers.

Why Do Cockfights Still Exist?

You do feel some distance watching the birds fight. Roosters aren’t cute. They aren’t our pets and so we feel a bit removed when they fight.

If it had been dogs I would have been physically ill. That said, it was difficult to see the blood particularly as their white feathers turned red with blood.

Even with the distance it’s hard to forget we’re watching animals fight and people are wager on the outcome.

After the second of many fights we retreated to a seated area. I realized the tour wasn’t really about the roosters but understanding how people lived.

There was no attempt to justify the fights but to explain and understand. Whether tourists go or not, this is happening.

It may not be right but it exists.

In the end, I still don’t know if I should have gone. I make not like it, but I do now understand it a little more.

Join the Conversation

  1. A complex issue. I understand that it is part of the real experience. My question is, if it is part of the tourism circuit and tourists go to see the cock fights is this then an encouragement for the activity to continue and possibily even grow? Particularly if the tourism dollar ultimately results in generating more income.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      @sam I hadn’t even thought of that aspect. This was pretty low key with only a few of us although Harrie did mentioned that there are big rings where bets on roosters can go as high as $7500.

  2. Complex situation. Morally, I would never engage in animal fights but I understand that they happen and I don’t crusade to end them. From a cultural education perspective, I understand why you went. I probably would have gone, too, and I think there’s a larger metaphor for Nicaraguan life reflected in this activity.

  3. Stephanie says:

    Hmm, kind of a toughie. I would say it’s comparable to watching a bull fight in Spain. It’s violent and harsh on the animals, but it IS a part of the culture and history of a place.

    I’m going to go with personal decision on this one. I personally probably wouldn’t want to watch, but it it gives you a better cultural understanding of where you are then I don’t really see a moral problem with it.

    That is assuming it’s a legit cultural phenomenon and not put on for tourists sake- because that IS unethical in my view.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      @stephanie

      Interesting comparison to the bull fights as I would likely attend one in Spain but agreed a fight for tourists sake is completely unethical.

  4. Mikeachim says:

    Sam’s response mirrors my first thought: that it’s being given validity by being on a tour route, and maybe even a financial boost. And being part of that tour, well, that’s your decision. There’s no good or bad – it’s about individual reactions.

    If I’d been there? I’d have gone and seen it too. Because it’s important to see the reality – the way the owners treat their birds…as well as exploring your own reaction to the fight.

    I’m on the side of understanding first, condemnation when all the facts are in. And condemnation always has condescension in there somewhere – the “don’t these people know better?” element. As an Englishman, I’d have to confront my country’s historical passion for bloodsports and factor that into any judgement I might want to make.

    As you say – it’s a reality. And taking a moral stance would have stopped you seeing that reality…

    Tricky. But you did what I would have done, so I’m with you on this – while perhaps equally conflicted-feeling.

  5. Mikeachim says:

    And there’s the issue of authenticity here, definitely – it’s rendered excusable because it’s a reality, but if it’s staged and unrepresentative, it’s inexcusable. That’s a can of worms, for sure.

  6. It seems like this fight was clearly not staged for the benefit of tourists but is, as you write, a fact of life in Nicaragua. To me that says you were merely observing a cultural experience, not encouraging an unethical sport. It is another matter, as other comments have stated, if the sport actually grows as a result of NicAsi’s tours…it’s a fine line they’re walking. But as cockfighting is already so ingrained in the culture, somehow I doubt that their occasional groups will have much impact.

    On another note, your photos are great!

  7. Whatever, when in Rome…might as well see what it’s all about.
    If you’d taken your own rooster then there might be a problem.

  8. The Jetpacker says:

    I don’t get how the owners can have genuine affection for their “pets”… then offer them up in a fight with a possible outcome being a grisly death. I wouldn’t put my dog in a fight because I love my dog.

    I guess I’d prefer to live in ignorance. I couldn’t have watched the fight. In fact, if I ever visit a slaughterhouse in my life, I’ll probably become a vegetarian.

  9. Samantha King says:

    Great comments that I do agree with. But I just can’t help to keep thinking about how many millions of chickens are raised and then killed for just one purpose, and one purpose only – human consumption. (Well maybe two, money).

    At least these cocks seemed to have a bit of a better life, get eaten anyways, and I am sure there isn’t much to do around Leon in terms of entertainment. Perhaps it is better than alternative entertainment (crime, drugs, reckless drinking, ect).

    Plus, I do remember the cock fight in the Phils Ayngelina, and I agree it was quite awful thing to watch. Ew. I had abolished that memory to the corner of my brain, thanks for the reminder – lol.

  10. devastatin_dave says:

    Don’t really care if it’s ethical or not. But I just wanted to say that that second photo came out really well. Mine just look dark and blurry 🙁

  11. Even things I don’t enjoy going to, I love having gone. But for this one, I am happy you went instead of me. Oh my gosh Nicas are so obsessed with baseball! It was just timing that led you to the cockfight. I was actually very interested to read that they eat the birds who die in battle after the fights. That seems so obvious now for so many reasons, but still interesting!

  12. Yes, you should have gone. Unless you are there to change their values, embrace their culture. You might not agree, but at least you can understand the draw of this event for the locals. Of course, everyone has a limit!

  13. ann wellwood says:

    Hi Ayngelina
    The purpose of your trip is to experience different cultures in very different countries.You may not enjoy this aspect of that country, but it is all part of the whole package!Enjoy your journey…

  14. 1) Was the cockfight sponsored by Pepsi?
    2) Filipino cock fighting becomes a blood bath especially when there are blades attached to the back of the rooster’s feet (more often than not – to ensure that it is indeed a match to the death). I don’t find that fair at all and would not encourage folks to support it.
    3) I have no opinion in Nicaraguan cock fighting. To your point, it is happening, and you’ve experienced the culture. I don’t see an issue here in what is humane – I’m sure the nature that our food is slaughtered is just as bad (ref: haunting Peta videos)
    4) #1 rule in cock fight club… you don’t talk about the cock fight club….

  15. I love that you went to a cock fight. As you say, it is happening and is part of their culture. It is not necessarily for us to judge, but to understand.

    What I find most interesting is that Pepsi deems the events worthy of having their logo in the ring. Fascinating.

  16. rebeccius says:

    Personally I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer here. I don’t think you are obligated to partake in activities you aren’t comfortable with (ethically or otherwise) just for the sake of a “cultural” experience. BUT, there certainly isn’t anything “wrong” with doing it either 🙂

    And so I think I disagree with the idea that if you aren’t prepared to fully embrace another culture’s values (traditions, activities etc.) that you shouldn’t even be traveling. I think you can respect differences, without embracing them – i.e. you can disagree with what someone else is doing, without wanting to “change” them (if that makes any sense).

  17. Hope they don’t believe in karma!

  18. Migration Mark says:

    I attended a few cockfights in Manila while I was there, going with a few local friends. It was extremely interesting to see men cheering and really getting into the sport in a cultural fashion. I share your same opinion, whether you agree or disagree, its happening and is a big part of some cultures. To me, if it’s that important, no matter how bad it is, you can still learn from it.

  19. Wow. What an interesting tale in regards to ethics. I do have to agree with Stephanie in regards to this being exactly like bull fighting. At least they go in and save their roosters if they are fatigued – we can’t exactly say that for the bull.

    I’m not sure I would have gone. I definitely would have thought about it too long and missed the ride out there. Major kudos for pushing your boundaries though.

  20. Michael Hodson says:

    I felt similarly about going to see a bull fight in Colombia. But I also think that experiencing the culture from other country’s, even if it is an activity that one would commonly support, is OK in my book.

  21. We all have to make our own decisions when it comes to something like this. Personally, I’m not interested in fighting of any sort, animals or humans. Therefore, I would probably decline. That being said, I did go to the bullfights here in Korea earlier this year. There’s no blood or killing involved. They were okay, but I probably wouldn’t go again.

  22. Only when we truly understand something, do we have the right to judge it.

    I’ve never been one to shy away from “real” life. It’s good to know and understand what is going on around us even when it is morally questionable. Quite often when we gain a true understanding of something we have opposed in ignorance, we can be left in a state of confusion as our intellect, logic and reason becomes conflicted with our own morality. Often we find that acts of what we call “evil”, aren’t necessarily so black and white after all.

    Great post 🙂

  23. I think it’s almost a reflex to stand/sit in judgment of other cultures’ traditions and beliefs. Often, it’s not that simple, that there are situational ethics at play in every aspect of one’s life. Take the habits of the Naciremas…their behavior is more than bizarre…at first glance….until you realize who they really are when you spell their name backwards…..

  24. We humans are a complicated lot and easily sit in judgement of others. Would I like to see a fight? no. But I have read recently that in fact many of the cocks are in fact well looked after for the better part of two years which is their average lifespan. Compare that do the chicken industry where most birds never see the light of day, they have no where to move, cages are full of excrement…We are not so morally indignant about that issue. I think in this case it’s a cultural issue and we need to understand why these fights have the appeal that they do.

  25. I never watched a serious cock fighting myself, and from the story you wrote above, I share your opinion. However when I was in Spain and was exposed to information/demonstration about the bull fight, that I can’t justify. I will not want to watch a bull fight, but I will still probably watch the cock fight because I’m curious. (To me, the bull fight is more like “bull torture”.)

  26. Really late reading of this post . . . but I wouldn’t have gone to the cock fight. It just sounds cruel to watch animals bloodying each other so men can make bets and be entertained by it. Still, it’s good of you to be honest in writing about it and your inner conflict regarding it.

  27. Matt | ExpertVagabond says:

    I never realized you went to one of these too. Although it seems they were much nicer to the birds where you went…

    Half-dead birds were put back into the ring at the fights I attended. It was a bit messed up!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I saw something similar in the Philippines but in Leon they really protect the birds and somehow it made it more tolerable for me.

  28. Elisha MacKay says:

    I recently attended my first (and last) cockfight in Granada, Nicaragua and can totally relate to your post and experience with cockfighting.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Elisha

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