Of Cocks and Men

I was perusing the book Land of the Morning: The Philippines and Its People1 and was immediately attracted to the vintage photo illustrations: The women with long skirts with tapis or colorful overskirts and the men with shirts worn over their trousers. Most often, the men carried on their arms a rooster.
 Filipino men are often depicted holding a rooster (Source: "Album, Islas Filipinas, 1683-1888," by Juan Maria Cariño and Sonia Pinto Ner. Manila: Ars Mundi. Philippines, (2004))

Filipino men are often depicted holding a rooster (Source: "Album, Islas Filipinas, 1683-1888," by Juan Maria Cariño and Sonia Pinto Ner. Manila: Ars Mundi. Philippines, (2004))

Even in photos of town conflagrations or fires, I noted that instead of carrying a child or a precious object, the men first carried their fighting cocks in flight.

 Sabungan (cockfighting)  (Source:   "Album, Islas Filipinas, 1683-1888," by Juan Maria Cariño and Sonia Pinto Ner. Manila: Ars Mundi. Ph  ilippines, (2004))

Sabungan (cockfighting) (Source: "Album, Islas Filipinas, 1683-1888," by Juan Maria Cariño and Sonia Pinto Ner. Manila: Ars Mundi. Philippines, (2004))

What is this about cocks?

Before the advent of TVs, IPods, IPhones, Smart Phones, what do you think the Filipino people did for leisure or game sports?

Baseball. Yes, baseball was introduced by the U.S. Army during the Philippine Commonwealth and reintroduced after World War II with a vengeance by the American GI’s at the Manila Arena. So was basketball.

While much of America congregates at a ballpark, golf link, racetrack, or around a poker table, prewar Filipinos—men in particular—are drawn to cockpits, for gladiatorial cockfights.

It is the ubiquitous sabung. The deep psychological identification of the Filipino menfolk with their “cocks” is totally unmistakable.

Pardon my French, but the double entendre here is deliberate. It works the same way in “champion,” “man of parts,” “political candidate,” “bachelor,” “dandy,” “lady-killer,” or “tough guy.”

Yes, I heard the same tired jokes, strained puns, and uninventive obscenities like the gumigiring tandang, or a roguish rooster who can only do the outward form (giri) but is sorely wanting in fighting spirit when it counts. A pompous man whose behavior presumes much above his station is compared to a puny tailless cock that struts about as if he has a large spectacular one.

A desperate man who makes a last irrational effort to extricate himself from an impossible situation is likened to a dying cock that makes one final lunge at his tormentor in order to drag him along with him as he expires.

A stingy fellow who promises much but gives little is compared to a cock held in the tail as it leaps at another without in fact engaging in a fight.

A marriageable young swain still shy with the opposite sex is called

“a fighting cock caged for the first time.”

The intimacy of men with their “cocks” can be described as dreamy, soft self-absorption. Sooner rather than later, court trials, political contests, inheritance disputes or street arguments boil down to cockfight comparisons. The Tagalog proverb: “Ang binatang taring, buwal man ay tayo rin,” declares that the young rooster may be defeated but he is still standing.

Filipino cock aficionados spend an enormous time with their favorites, grooming them, feeding them, discussing them, trying them out against each other, or just generally gazing at them.


A pompous man whose behavior presumes much above his station is compared to a puny tailless cock that struts about as if he has a large spectacular one.

Here’s a sabungero description by Clifford Geertz, a ethnologists/anthropologist:

“Whenever you see sabungeros squatting silly in the shed or along the road in their hips down, shoulders forward, knees up fashion, half or more of them will have a rooster in his hands, holding it between his thighs and bouncing it gently up and down, to strengthen its legs, ruffling its feathers with abstract sensuality, pushing it out against a neighbor’s rooster, to arouse its spirit, withdrawing it towards his loins to calm again.” 2

Resources:

1. D. Henkel, P.Benitez-Johannot, J. Bautista and L. Dangzalan. Land of the Morning: The Philippines and Its People. Metro Manila, Ayala: Asian Civilization Museum, 2010.

2. Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures. 1973. New York: Basic Books, Inc. p 419.


 Penelope V. Flores

Penelope V. Flores

Penelope V. Flores is Professor of Education Emeritus at San Francisco State University.


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