Chapter 46:

The Cockpit

(English version of “Noli Me Tangere”)

To keep holy the afternoon of the Sabbath one generally goes to the cockpit in the Philippines, just as to the bull-fights in Spain.  Cockfighting, a passion introduced into the country and exploited for a century past, is one of the vices of the people, more widely spread than opium-smoking among the Chinese.  There the poor man goes to risk all that he has, desirous of getting rich without work. There the rich man goes to amuse himself, using the money that remains to him from his feasts and his masses of thanksgiving.  The fortune that he gambles is his own, the cock is raised with much more care perhaps than his son and successor in the cockpit, so we have nothing to say against it.  Since the government permits it and even in a way recommends it, by providing that the spectacle may take place only in the public plazas, on holidays (in order that all may see it and be encouraged by the example?), from the high mass until nightfall (eight hours), let us proceed thither to seek out some of our acquaintances.

The cockpit of San Diego does not differ from those to be found in other towns, except in some details.  It consists of three parts, the first of which, the entrance, is a large rectangle some twenty meters long by fourteen wide.  On one side is the gateway, generally tended by an old woman whose business it is to collect the sa pintu, or admission fee.  Of this contribution, which every one pays, the government receives a part, amounting to some hundreds of thousands of pesos a year.  It is said that with this money, with which vice pays its license, magnificent schoolhouses are erected, bridges and roads are constructed, prizes for encouraging agriculture and commerce are distributed: blessed be the vice that produces such good results! In this first enclosure are the vendors of buyos, cigars, sweetmeats, and foodstuffs.  There swarm the boys in company with their fathers or uncles, who carefully initiate them into the secrets of life.

This enclosure communicates with another of somewhat larger dimensions,—a kind of foyer where the public gathers while waiting for the combats.  There are the greater part of the fighting-cocks tied with cords which are fastened to the ground by means of a piece of bone or hard wood; there are assembled the gamblers, the devotees, those skilled in tying on the gaffs, there they make agreements, they deliberate, they beg for loans, they curse, they swear, they laugh boisterously.  That one fondles his chicken, rubbing his hand over its brilliant plumage, this one examines and counts the scales on its legs, they recount the exploits of the champions.


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