Perspective on Cockfighting in East Timor

Cockfighting — an ancient pasttime that has largely fallen out of favor in the West — has remained a cultural event among various societies around the world.

A recent story in Ozy reminded me of my encounter with fowl face-offs in Bali (see my photo above), although this one dealt with futu manu, as it’s called in East Timor.

For Timorese, cockfighting is an ancient cultural practice, says Gabriela Pinto, a spokeswoman with the Timor-Leste embassy in the U.S. It’s said to go back centuries, although no one knows for sure when it began. What we do know is that cockfighting has some even bloodier roots, at least according to Hicks. He argues that the sport evolved from a not-so-distant Timorese practice of beheading rivals, an activity Portuguese colonizers quickly stamped out by 1912. In the local Tetum language, the word asuwa’in refers to a victorious cock and someone who has beheaded an enemy. Hicks explains that the shedding of masculine blood — by roosters or headless enemies — is linked to fertility. In other words, the cockfights act as a quasi cultural stand-in for the man-to-man fights of yesteryear, even if this is “strictly an anthropological interpretation.”

Anthropologist David Hicks notes that owners of fighting birds will carry around their contestants, nuzzling and kissing them, which is considered a “very macho thing.”

Yet the spectacle has been waning in popularity in Timor-Leste, as younger generations seek other entertainment and less blood sport.

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