Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Twisted Vagabondage Tale From The Philippines I

The roosters swaggered around like Mick and Keith, with dangerously sharp spurs attached to their legs. While these apocalyptic poultry sussed each other out with alpha-male malice, the excitement began to build. My two new Norwegian backpacker friends snapped photos and placed a sizeable bet, to the tune of your average Filipino office worker’s annual salary, on the seemingly more aggressive bird.

Without placing a bet, I also rooted for Mick.

The bare-chested Filipino casador (bookie), circling the makeshift coliseum of wood and wire, seemed astounded by the Norsemen’s wager. Somehow, he managed to look like Charles Bronson and Manny Pacquiao at the same time.

The casador passed the bet money along to an associate boss, who resembled a sunburned Filipino Rob Snyder, formerly of Saturday Night Live but now going native. Maybe that’s what all the excitement was about, whether it was really him.

And then the sambong (cockfight) commenced. In a flurry of bird and blood like KFC versus Popeye’s, the fighting cocks strutted around with autofocus eyes, while enterprising locals sold cashews and cold drinks: “No Cock, no Cock, only Fanta Orange!”

An old man offered me his folding chair, so I could more easily view the medieval-jesterish melée. Soon, the arena was littered with colorful feathers, as well as bits of cloaca and coxcomb. Now, that I had experienced my very first cockfight, I vowed to also make it my last.

Here we were all the way out on remote Bantayan Island, in the Visayan Chain off the coast of Cebu, watching a sport that's mostly illegal in America. Even though cockfighting is the world’s oldest blood sport, with Persian origins going back more than 6,000 years, it's now the Philippines’ national pastime. Though often considered a result of Spanish colonization, sambong was already prevalent when Antonio Pigafetta stumbled upon the practice during Magellan’s 1521 voyage around the world. Still, the term “gamecock” 1st appeared in George Wilson’s The Commendation of Cocks and Cock Fighting in 1602.

So, why here, where everyone sensitively avoids using the middle finger when peace-signing the waiter for two more beers and taxi drivers blasting Celine Dion's Titanic theme turn it down when driving past a church? Well, let's answer that question in the next installment of this somewhat-cocky tale.

John M. Edwards is a writer and photojournalist. He has traveled five continents with experiences ranging from surviving a ferry sinking off Siam to getting caught in a military coup in Fiji. His writing has appeared in CNN Traveller, Entertainment Weekly,, Condé Nast Traveler, Islands, Matador, World Hum, BootsnAll, and other publications. He received five NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) Awards, two TANEC (Transitions Abroad Narrative Essay Contest) Awards, and three Solas (sponsored by Travelers’ Tales). He edits the Rotten Vacations anthology.


  1. Definitely something outside my experience, John!

  2. Maybe it is not nice to see an experience as this one but undoubtedly it is something exciting and simultaneously snub for many but interesting beside counting the history of since it was the origin of this sport of it fights of roosters.
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