Samui Wining & Dining
PECKING ORDER
The world of cockfighting in Thailand.

Page 38-2

Cockfighting. The word ‘illegal’ will probably spring immediately to mind. Back alleys, illicit meetings and fights to the death. But in Thailand, though it’s not everyone’s idea of entertainment, it is legal. And here, unlike other Southeast Asian countries, no blades or weapons are attached to the legs of the birds. Sure there’s lots of kicking, ferocious pecking and cuts and wounds, but it’s not a fight to the death.

          

It’s a very popular sport in rural areas of Thailand, and has been for hundreds of years. Such is the popularity nowadays, that there are currently 75 government sanctioned cockfighting stadiums in Thailand. On Samui, they are very much local affairs, with fights scheduled in Chaweng and south of Nathon (near the Raja Ferry) on Saturdays, on Mondays at Saket Stadium and on Thursdays in the Lipa Noi area. It’s best to check with a travel agent if you wish to go. But before you set off you may be interested in knowing a little of the history of cockfighting.

          

Cockfighting has been a popular pastime in Thailand for centuries. In 1562, the young Prince Naresuan, then only seven years old, was taken captive by the Burmese, who at that time occupied Thailand. When he was taken to Burma he took with him his pet cockerel. During his nine years of imprisonment in Burma, he was treated well, exactly like a member of the Burmese royal family. He was taught music, literature, and sports. During this time he developed a deep love for the sport of cockfighting. He would often let his own cockerel fight against the Burmese prince’s bird. It is said that the Thai bird invariably won against his Burmese opponent. Today in the city of Ayutthaya, at Wat Suwandararam, you can see murals which depict the fights between the Burmese prince’s roosters and Prince Naresuan’s birds. The prince returned to Thailand, and as a king he still enjoyed the sport of cockfighting. It was a sport quickly taken up by the aristocrats of the day. Nowadays it is more the rural population of Thailand that enjoys the sport.

          

There are two types of purebred Thai fighting birds. The first is the type that Prince Naresuan took with him to Burma, the simply named ‘kai lueng hang khao’, which literally translates as ‘yellow chicken with a white tail’. This bird is still very popular today amongst breeders. The bird is a native of Phitasanulok in Northern Thailand. The second major breed of cock is a native of central Thailand, the ‘pradu hang dam’ or ‘brown body with black tail’.

          

Thai birds are known for their aggressiveness in the sport, with blistering jump kicks and a barrage of pecks to their opponents. Burmese cocks on the other hand are known for their strategic fighting. The most prized fighting bird these days in the world of cockfighting is a cross breed of Thai and Burmese, combining the best from both animals, the patience of the Burmese with the power of the Thai.

          

Fighting birds are specially bred and trained for increased stamina and strength. At six weeks old breeders select the chicks that already show promise of being good strong fighters. They are fed a special high-protein, low-fat diet which includes such foods as snakehead fish, tarantulas, vegetables, boiled eggs, and beans. All of this is to build up the strength of the bird. The birds are also made to walk long distances to build up muscle and stamina and sometimes they are even put on a swimming course. They may also be given steam baths with lemongrass to toughen up their skin. Fighting cocks live for about ten years but only two or three of those years are spent fighting.

          

Incidentally, fighting cocks now require their own identity cards in Thailand; this is a requirement that’s been in place ever since the outbreak of avian flu, in 2004. The identity cards certify the vaccination records of the birds.

          

Fights take place every weekend around the country. And it is estimated that today in Thailand the cockfighting industry has an audience of over 200,000 people each weekend. The cockfights themselves take place in round, sandy pits measuring about 20 feet across, with one and a half foot high padded walls. The only person allowed into the pit during the fight is the referee. As we’ve mentioned already, Thai cockfighting does not include spurs or blades, and the bouts do not last until death; usually they will last up to 15 minutes. The winner is declared by a number of scenarios, for example, the bird runs away and refuses to fight, or both eyes are shut and the bird won’t open them or it repeatedly sits down and does not get up. The trainer may also step in and stop the fight. Fairness is the name of the game in Thailand; before the fight begins the trainers will bring together the birds and select the fairest match, matching strength and size, so a much larger bird would never go against a smaller bird.

          

Though gambling is illegal in Thailand, at some venues, you will see open gambling. This is because organisers of some cockfights can ask for, and sometimes receive, an exemption from the gambling laws and bets are allowed at the fights. At big fights this could mean as much as 200,000 Baht for the organisers, which is a lot of money in rural Thailand. People keep track of their wagers in small notebooks, furiously scribbling down their wins and losses. There is a lot of excitement around the rings with people shouting, yelling out to the birds, to each other, laughing and commiserating with one another.

          

It has been said by some that the cockfight has come to symbolise the Thais’ love of a fair fight. That it is an integral part of rural life there can be no doubt. The popularity of the sport speaks for itself. Buddhist amulets are created and blessed in Thai temples with many depicting Buddha with cocks in fighting poses. That being said it is not everyone’s cup of tea!

          

 Natalie Hughes


 


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