It’s dusk on a Wednesday afternoon in Dili, East Timor – an island nation some 600 kilometres off the coast of Australia. An hour ago, rain was pouring from the heavyset clouds, all but, flooding the streets, but that was an hour ago and the humidity has now reached 97 percent. It’s hot and sweaty… The Dili streets are crammed with humanity, cars and motor scooters weaving amongst the unruly traffic. People are doing last minute shopping for dinner but many are rushing off to the island country’s national sport.
Men and their sons are scrambling along the pot-holed streets of suburban Culuhun, 10 minutes from the centre of Dili with their prized roosters on strings rushing to East Timor’s favorite past time ‘Cock Fighting’ – a sport that seems as old as the country itself.
It’s an unfortunate sport, and one of the last true blood sports that would have raised the hairs on the back of the likes of Ernest Hemingway’s neck.
In his days, living in Cuba, ‘Papa’ was an advocate of ‘Cock fighting’… he loved the fighting of the cocks, the gambling, the blood, the yelling and drinking.
He once wrote: “There is no need to tell them that the one reason you live there is because you can raise your own fighting cocks, train them on the place, and fight them anywhere you can match them and that this is all legal.”
Hemingway would have loved the cock fighting in Dili… he would have thrived on the ‘agro’
On any week day in various locations around Dili, hundreds of people – men and boys - gather to gamble on this national obsession.
A match may take anything from a few seconds to several minutes... the 3 inch razor sharp blades tied to the cock’s legs ensure fights are decisive and death assured… there is only ever one winner and the loser is dispatched unceremoniously to the dinner table.
But even the hardest man would have to admit it’s a sad sport.
You only have to look at the faces of the young boys and the worry settling on their small faces as their pets enter the ring… chances are they’ll be taking them home… for dinner.
Or, if they are lucky their bird might win a few fights but death for these proud fighting birds is inevitable…
But as Hemingway said: "People say it's cruel, but what the hell does a fighting cock like to do?"
Ted McDonnell returned to journalism and photojournalism after a 10 year break. He is based out of Melbourne Australia. He is also a leading Australian media advisor. Ted does work for NGOs and the occasional editorial assignment.