Futu Manu

Nestled behind the recently constructed Timor Plaza, the small nations only shopping mall, lays a concrete and iron structure providing shelter to a square of dusty red soil. Framed by perspex to prevent the action from spilling out onto the punters, the cockfighting stadium is the largest in the small country of Timor-Leste. 

Each day men (and only men, save for some young girls who sell corn and barbecued satay sticks as part of their family business) gather en masse to watch fixated as roosters battle to the end. Wads of cash exchange hands. Blood is spilt. Crowds roar.

While blood sports have long been frowned upon in Western countries, and indeed, much of the East; cockfighting, or Futu Manu as it is known in the local Tetum, is celebrated both as a national sport and intrinsic to the culture of the country. In fact, Futu Manu is perceived as so central to the culture that a depiction of a fighting cock appears on the 10 centavos coin.

The stadium pictured in Dili is the largest of its type in the nation, however, fights are regularly held in less elaborate rings around the nations market places on most afternoons. 

Most foreigners who bare spectacle to these events are typically repulsed. Taking pleasure in seeing the death of an animal is something that is seen as repugnant in their home countries and that sentiment is something that local spectators are conscious of.

As a photographer spectators treated my presence with a mixed range of emotions. At times I was snarled at, smiled at encouragingly, followed curiously, given prime position to spectate, and then advised to move on for my own safety. Through an orgy of alcohol and bloodlust there seemed to be a conflict between sharing with a curious tourist a cultural element which has continued as long as living memory, and avoiding what could be an animal rights activist who wanted to expose an archaic tradition. These images were made over no more than 40 minutes on three rolls of film. By this stage, I deemed it too unsafe. 

Owners stand in line to compete with their fighting cocks.

Fortunes are won and lost. 

Razor sharp spurs are attached to the roosters feet. 

Sometimes a life can be snuffed out in an instant. A well placed razor spur by a more fortunate or talented rooster can result in a near instant fatal blow. There is, of course, the possibility that an animal will suffer numerous smaller cuts and will be left to bleed out. 

Some of the fallen roosters are mourned and brought home by distraught owners. Most are typically eaten. 

While aware of the ethical dilemmas presented by the tradition, I found myself often questioning the difference between the death of a fighting cock and a chicken killed for meat. In the context of a rural Timorese village the outcome and suffering for the animal is similar. Is it the motivation? Is it the context? 

Ultimately I left vexed and a bit frustrated at the realisation that I was surrounded by a bunch of drunk men metaphorically and literally measuring their cocks. 

A defeated fighting cocks' foot removed with sheathed spur still attached. 

Interestingly it must be noted the roosters are treated much more like a close family pet than a farm animal. Owners often exercise them to strengthen leg muscles, feed them higher quality food, and some even bathe them. 

It's not just so the animals can fight better, often an emotional attachment is developed. Many advocacy organisations privately express frustrations that rather than finance their children's education, health, and development outcomes, money is poured into cockfighting. 

Depicted in this image, a maimed fighting cock receives stitches after losing a fight. 

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