What the cockfight says it says in a vocabulary of sentiment the 
thrill of risk, the despair of loss, the pleasure of triumph. Yet what it
says is not merely that risk is exciting, loss depressing, or triumph
gratifying, but that it is of these emotions, thus exampled, that society
is built and individuals put together.
— Clifford Geertz

Few people could imagine that the origin of the sport of “pecks and spurs”, manifestation and cultural tradition of Latin American countries, including Colombia, dates back 3.000 years.

In the parts of the world where it is still practised, legally or illegally, cockfighting has claimed to being the world’s oldest continual sport. Artistic depictions of rooster combatants are scattered throughout the ancient world, such as in a first century A.D. mosaic adorning a house in Pompeii. The ancient Greek city of Pergamum established a cockfighting amphitheatre to teach valour to future generations of soldiers.

In Ancient Greece, cockfights were considered as very important in the life of the citizen. The reference made by the Greek general Themistocles to the bravery of the roosters in fighting is well known, in the address he addressed to the Athenians on the eve of the battle of Salamis, telling them that while these birds fought to the death, only for the pleasure of to win, they had to fight for their country and their freedom.


From China to India, from Egypt to the Roman Empire, from France to Spain and from Iberian lands to Latin America. A tradition that has crossed the five continents and that is even present in literature, as in the pages filled with magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez masterpiece “One Hundred Years of Solitude” or his other acclaimed novel “No One Writes to the Colonel”, the book that most depicts the importance of cockfighting in this social environment.

The Colonel with his prized rooster waiting for the upcoming cockfight season and pinning all of his hopes on a victory to lift his family out of poverty becomes a symbol of hope.

For some, cockfighting is a cultural expression and a traditional sport. For others, they are a sign of cruelty and cruelty to animals. Despite the air of illegality and clandestinity that surrounds the galleras, the truth is that in Colombia this is a legal practice validated by the Constitutional Court in 2010 as a cultural manifestation, which has more followers than could be imagined.


I photographed the culture, the lifestyle, the barrios and the people involved in the cockfights. The story was shot in the Villanueva, La Guajira. A small town on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, and specifically in the barrio of El Cafetal: the most popular of the Town and cradle of vallenato music, coffee and until recent times at the centre of a strong dispute between guerrilleros and paramilitars.

Cockfights play a very important role here. It is a social and cultural weekly event that never fails to get the Galleras, these small rustic arenas, overcrowded. The cock becomes a symbol of virility, a hero and a reason of hope for many Cafetaleros. Cock-fighting is used as a means for economic gain and an improvement in one’s standing in the community.

People live with their cocks, feed them and treat as pets. Kids grow up with cocks and grow up with gallera’s stories (often mix reality with fairy tales). A gallero never wants to have to make dinner from one of his own roosters, but when he does, the meat is the best to be had. After all, a fighting cock has been pampered all its life, fed the best food and exercised daily.

As an art form, the cockfight focuses on an aspect of life, aggression, and projects it into a theatre where it can be more clearly expressed and understood. Instead of resorting primarily to violence among themselves as a way of answering a base human impulse, the participants translate their urges into a drama of appearances, where they cannot harm the observers or participants in reality. The players are eloquent in this language: eye contact, shouts and gestures. At the end of the game, they pay or loose promptly.


In the gallera the Guajiros often show off his notorious temper, as the fights go on the atmosphere rises to burning levels, but one of the most important form of agreement of the region will prevent the situation from degenerating: la Palabra de Gallero.

The cockfighter's word of honour, palabra de gallero, guaranteeing players' bets, is not to be breached under any circumstances. Palabra de gallero means you can make a verbal wager with a person across the ring whom you have never met, establish odds, and trust his word. In the cockfighting arena, any breach of the code of honour is serious enough to ban the violator from the arena forever. If not worse.

Cockfighting is no longer an exclusive place for the elderly. Today young people not older than 25 years old usually attend to earn easy money but also to take a couple of drinks and get out of the routine. Or simply to enjoy the adrenaline that is lived in the gallera.

In Villanueva the cockfight is a community event. Every Villanuevero knows at which gallera and when the sport will be taking place. It’s not the fight which is of most interest, but the build-up and the people watching.

These roosters, specifically bred to increase their strength and stamina, are gamecocks which have been trained for at least two years. It is here, during the pre-fight rituals and the almost superstitious rituals of preparation that one can appreciate to a certain extent the history of the sport.

The Gamecocks are weighed and placed in categories, each owner and his team get a table or a bench upon which to prepare, fastening with wax carefully crafted spurs made from tortoise-shell to the heel of their fighter. It is here that gamblers can view each animal and choose who to back and for how much.

As one fight comes to an end, the shouting climaxes in blue murder. Fistfuls of crumpled bills are held aloft in victory. The bird’s owner shows off his winning beast to the crowd as if the win is his own doubling – if indeed it were possible – his machista standing.

click to view the complete set of images in the archive