Photos from Nicholas Welsh. Picture posts from around the place.
Last Fight of the Day:
“Cockfighting” Paulo declared. We parked the car opposite a lot filled with scooters and walked down the dirt track in between cinder block buildings late on Easter Sunday afternoon. “Will anyone mind if I take photos?” “No” he replies “It’s free”.
All forms of animal fighting are despised in my country but in Timor-Leste it is a much enjoyed spectator sport where men exchange US dollars as they gamble on which bird, which coq will kill the other.
As we move towards the crowd I feel nervous like I’m doing something I shouldn’t, that I’m breaking a rule and will be scolded at any moment. It doesn’t come. The mood is light and I get noticed but it’s more a curious look to see a Malai (foreigner).
I’m surprised to see the first bird almost expecting them to be hidden. Do I expect the Timorese to be working to my belief system? The bird is upside down being carried by its feet. My mind races, no one cares that it has been killed. I realise there are roosters everywhere many being held close to the chests of their owners, smiling and chatting with the other men around.
We move under the corrugated tin structure, it is so busy we push through the crowd. The afternoon sun dims and in the middle a raised platform with a wooden rail and two rows of wooden benches running down both the long side of the ‘ring’. I didn’t even ask what the official title of the arena was called. ‘The ring of death’ and the birds? Gladiators? Sent to their death in the Colosseum.
All the seats were filled and a group of men in the corner were busy gambling on a game of dice in between the fights.
Someone close to the ring spotted and ushered me up three stairs through the chicken wire gate in to what I can only assume was the VIP area, ring side seats. It was translated that it was the last fight of the day.
The two men entered the arena. I was spotted. One of the men saw me ring side camera pointing directly at his prized fighter. He shouted and motioned for me not to photograph him. I figured the moment had come. Who would want an image showing themselves engaging in the violent, brutal and illegal world of cockfighting? He was merely playing up to the crowd. The foreigner with an uneasy look on his face would just be an easy target to show off to the crowd. He was like a champion boxer at the weigh in. All bravado.
The two men crouched down only a metre away from each other allowing the birds to posture and flair their feathers. Still being held the birds aggressively jabbed at one another. Then I noticed on the back of the right leg of the rooster was a cardboard cigarette paper packet sticking into the air. A cardboard sheath courtesy of Tally-Ho papers hiding the deadly weapon. The men lifted their fighters and he removed the cardboard revealing a small blade, silver and shining against the grim setting.
It lasted mere seconds, a furious flapping of wings and cheering from the crowd. One bird gaining the advantage by staying above the other. The roster stopped moving and they lifted the victor off his slain competitor.
The owner, the man who toyed with me before the fight had won and was again enjoying his time in the limelight lifting his victorious fighter above his head before moving on to collect and settle on bets.
In little over 10 minutes it was all over. The crowd began to leave with some carrying their birds and counting money, laughing after a good day others with dead poultry hang on a fence to collect on the way out or attached to the handle bars of their scooters as they drove away.
I never expected to see a cockfight.
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