Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Palenque : Mexican Cockfight

Peoples Tonight c/o Ed Andaya
CARREO by Rolando S. Luzong

Palenque : Mexican Cockfight

This article was sent to me by my American friend Russel Snow who did an extended research on the history of cockfighting for a book that he published in 2003.

Cockfighting in Mexico has a history as old as the country itself. From the time of the conquistadors until the present, the sport of raising and fighting cocks has always been a popular diversion with much of the populace.

Gamefowl were brought to Mexico by the Spanish who colonized the country. The first official record of cockfighting in Mexico occurred on February 11, 1713 and comes from a friar by the name of Jose Gil Rodriguez.

It seems that the governor of New Spain (Mexico) received a letter from the King of Spain, ordering himto hold a fiesta to celebrate the birth of the new
prince, Felipe Pedro Gabriel.

Friar Rodriguez writes, that on the second day of the fiesta, in addition to bullfights, “fights between ‘birds of the sun’ [gamecocks] were also enjoyed”.

From that time on cockfighting has been an integral part of the
Mexican fiesta.

The word palenque (pronounced pal-eng-kay) is an Indian word taken from the ruins of an ancient Mayan city and ball court, found in the jungles of Chiapas, in southern Mexico.

The word has since been adapted to refer to anywhere cockfights take place, be it an indoor cockpit or outdoors in an open area. Palenques vary from small derbies held on ranches and in courtyards to elaborate outdoor arenas featuring Mariachi bands and singers performing in between fights. Some of the most famous singers in Mexico regularly play at palenques.

Regardless of size, almost all palenques take place during a feria or fair. In Mexico, every city, town and village holds an annual fair.

These fairs are held to celebrate Patron Saints, to commemorate an important harvest such as mangos or coffee or simply as a yearly tradition. At all of these occasions, in addition to abundant food, music,
dancing and rides, there are invariably cockfights.
This, by the way, is only time cockfighting is legal in Mexico: during a feria. If roosters are fought at other times and the law finds out, you can be jailed and have your birds confiscated.

This does not happen very often, however. Throughout the year, there are ferias in almost every part of the country, drawing gallant galleros eager to compete against one another with their beloved fighting roosters.

The term gallero (pronounced guy-yeah-rro) is the Spanish word for gamecocker. In Mexico, and indeed in almost all Spanish-speaking countries,
when you call yourself as a gallero, everyone knows exactly what you are referring to. It is a term that is equal to caballero (horseman, gentleman) or torero (bullfighter).

In this country if you say mention are a gamecocker, most people would have no idea what you are talking about. To elaborate and say you raise and fight gamefowl, chances are you would encounter ridicule or possibly
even open hostility. It is quite different south of the border.

Cockfighting is considered a well-respected sport throughout most of Latin-America, and to be associated with it is considered honorable.

I have made many friends and acquaintances both in Mexico,Puerto Rico, and other Hispanic countries, because of my interest in roosters. I have traveled to places most Americans never get to see, simply following the
crow of the gamecock.

The way a palenque is conducted is indicative of the leisurely way Mexicans tend to enjoy their pastimes in general. For the Mexican people,
the entire ritual of the palenque, much as it is in a bullfight, is as important as the battles themselves.

The ritual begins even before the derby begins. Fashionably late at most times, Mexican cockers will wait until the last possible minute before arriving at
the palenque.

Weighing-in involves an intricate parlay at the scales and often lasts longer than the fight. Cockers will argue over a bird’s weight as if they were haggling for fruit in the local marketplace. After the weigh-in, comes the task of tying on the weapon, most often the 1” knife. After which the proud soltedor (handler) parades the bird around the ring in his arms or on a short tie cord, excepting bets, greeting friends, and showing the crowd his contender.

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