In the Dominican Republic a “Gallera” is a round arena, usually carpeted, with tribunes and chairs overlooking, where cockfights take place.
A smell of blood, sweat and alcohol, permeates the place.
The “sport”of cockfighting is mainly a manly one.
The women you meet in a “Gallera”, aside from the occasional wife or daughter, are mostly prostitutes (“Cueros”), usually working along with the “Gallera”bar owner on a commission for the bottles sold. They entertain their clients between fights and then, after the last “pelea” (fight), they might go off with someone to a cheap hotel nearby to either celebrate a victory or soothe the pain of a loss.
The cocks are first weighted and matched in fighting pairs, then stowed in plastic, numbered cubicles, where they can be observed prior to the fight for everyone to detect their strength, their defects, their combativeness and place bets accordingly.
Before they fight, the cocks are “armed” with deadly spurs enabling them to stab their adversary more efficiently. The preparation of a fighting cock can take up to several hours. First the natural spurs are cut and shaped with a knife so that the plastic replacement spur can be glued over it, then stripes of a special sticky tapes are wrapped all around the spur in a similar way you would do with a boxer hands before slipping his boxing gloves on.
Also, before the fight, often for several weeks, the cocks go under a regimen of all sorts of vitamins and energizing potions. In addition the lower part of their bodies is accurately shaved and repeatedly sprayed with chewing tobacco (“andullo”) impregnated saliva by their trainers.
An aspect of the relationship between the trainers/cock owners and their animals that I must admit escapes my personal comprehension is how can someone care so much, invest so much money (in vitamins, special food, etc) in their animal only to throw it into an arena to fight to their death?.
The fights are very noisy and quite bloody. People scream, to the top of their voices to change their bets and to encourage or insults to the fighting cocks.
Spectators in the front rows, closer to the arena, sometimes protect their clothes with the pages of old newspapers from the too common sprays and spurts of blood from the wounded cocks.
Money quickly changes hands as bets are doubled and tripled as the fight progresses. The cocks have a pre-set time limit to kill their adversary or else they can win (just like in boxing) with “points”, unless it’s a draw.
Weekly and monthly wages are doubled or lost in matter of minutes.
Utter desperation and exhilarating joy are common sentiments to be encountered at these cockfights.
The cock often becomes the living (or dead) symbol of either good luck or endless misery.
Some poor lady often collects the dead cocks, washes the blood off, peels them and sells them for their meat. The meat of a cock that died in a fight is very tough so it is usually cooked for many hours ,then shredded and mixed to herring filets to improve the taste. Obviously this culinary concoction is said to have marvelous aphrodisiac properties and strengthen a man’s sexual potency.
© Giovanni Savino Photography