Ciul Mol – cock fights

„Do you know where can I find ‚ciul mol’ – cock fights?”- I was asking the same question for a hundred time walking from driver to driver and looking for a lift. Most of them didn’t know or didn’t want to give me a lift for a normal rate. After one hour of searching I finally found someone willing to help. A few minutes later I was sitting at the back of a motorbike and heading towards the suburbs of Phnom Pehn, the capital of Cambodia, the place where Cambodian organise cock fights.

History of cock fights

Cock-fighting has been known in South East Asia for a thousand years. On south wall of Bayon, the most beautiful temple of Angkor Wat, there are pictures of cock fights amongst sculptures showing rural life. Under the rule of ancient Khmers in the 10th century, farmers sought amusement by relaxing after a long day in the paddy fields by organising animal fights. Gambling and palm wine were integral components of the show. Till nowadays, in Cambodia there are different animal fights being organised e.g. like buffalo, some species of insects, and also fish fights.

Organisation

Nowadays cock-fights are organised on Sundays and public holidays, mainly in rural areas and city suburbs. One of those places is an arena built in the suburbs of Phnom Pehn. Every Sunday at noon you can hear a gong signalling the first fight of the day. When I got there, the preparation was still taking place. I seemed to be the only one foreigner at the site, having a feeling that there hadn’t been many before myself. People were very curious and asked me for which newspaper I worked.

Such shows are very often organised by local mafia but I didn’t feel that I took any risk being there. I checked the atmosphere first not to cross any social or cultural borders. In general people were friendly and wanted me to take pictures with their cocks, especially those who were the champions. Unfortunately taking photographs during fights is prohibited which made for some difficulties.

The show

The show started with the official weighing. The average cock weighed from 2.5 to 4 kilos. Official weighing categorised competitors into particular weight categories. Each owner came on the site with at least three birds. The price of the best fighters reached 300 American dollars. Such before the fight started, the cocks were specially prepared, they were washed and their chest were shaved which were supposed to allow to assess their wounds faster later on. The last part of the preparation was attaching a sharp artificial claw, the lethal weapon of every cock.

The sound of a gong started the fight. This day audience was full of around 300 people, shouting and bidding. The currency of Cambodia is ‚real’, here only American dollars present the value. Bidders used their fingers to show bookmakers how much they want to spend. The average time for a fight is 10 minutes. Owners seemed to be calm. A couple of months training made the cocks experienced fighters, they knew why they were over there. Birds jumped to attack immediately with the sound of the gong. Fights were extremely fast and I had problems at the beginning to judge which one was the champion and a winner. Rarely fights last long, most of them finish by a knock-out before the expected time.

Comparing the sizes of animals to the arena, birds looked tiny. Shouting of the Cambodians changing their bids at the last minute, made an insane atmosphere. The secret weapon – a sharp claw and animal instinct how to avoid lethal danger made the winner. Most cocks lose their fights being pecked by other birds.

Cock fight in society

A few days later I ordered a coffee in one of the local café in Phom Pehn and had a glimpse at the national newspaper ‚Cambodian Daily’. On the first page I found an article about the first cock fighting competition held nationally. Apparently cock fights are legal in Cambodia and even supported by government. The newspaper provided information that the Championship were going to be organised in Takeo, Putsar and for the first time in history they would be transmitted by television. The mayor of Putsar allowed national arenas to be used to hold the fights. Even the Prime Minister of Cambodia Seng Savorn helped to organised the media support for the championship. ‚I like watching cock-fighting, I feel relaxed and can forget about the politics’, the newspaper quoted him. The first award for the winner was Toyota Camry, the second – motor-bike, and the third – a thousand American dollars. Officially gambling is prohibited during the fights, unofficially there would be no sense to fight if this rule was to be obeyed.

Dilemmas

Apart from Cambodia, cock-fighting is a popular type of amusement in the whole Asia e.g. In Vietnam, Indonesia and on the Philippines. In this part of the world breaking animal rights is still a kind of an abstract thinking, bearing in mind that basic human rights are still being broken and a human life has sometimes a very little value. Such events abuse and exploit animals in favour of people’s joy. In natural conditions cocks don’t kill each other. On contrary cock fights only lead to establish the alpha-beta relation. It is natural process to attract females and to show power and domination. Undoubtedly such fights misuse rights of the nature but apparently they are a part of the culture. Unfortunately it will not change for a long time.

Wojtek Wójcik

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