Wednesday, September 3, 2003


Tradition fails
to validate cruelty
of cockfighting


A Hawaii filmmaker's documentary about cockfighting is being shown in Oklahoma, where a ban on the vile sport is in dispute.


Saturday, Sept. 6, 2003

>> Stephanie Castillo showed her documentary film about cockfighting at a cockfight derby in Louisiana. This editorial said incorrectly that it was shown in Oklahoma.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at

HAWAII's Stephanie Castillo said three months ago that she did not intend her documentary film about the traditional aspect of cockfighting to be used as ammunition by the game fowl industry, but there she was recently on the front lines of one of the blood sport's last American bastions -- Oklahoma. The tradition of cockfighting is a fascinating subject, but the brutality of the sport requires that it be relegated to history.

Castillo showed her eight-hour movie, "Cockfighters: The Interviews," at an Oklahoma cockfighting derby that is shown in the film. The documentary contains few scenes of cockfighting itself, instead focusing on what Castillo found most fascinating -- the bloodlines and pedigrees that interest breeders. Indeed, gamecocks over the centuries have been delicately bred, and their pedigrees often have extended to dozens of generations.

The filmmaker, a former Star-Bulletin reporter, says she was motivated by her grandfather's involvement in cockfighting, making it part of her family's culture. Cockfighting is cited as a national tradition on the Philippines' American embassy Web site. But the Philippines are among the more recent nations to adopt the sport as part of its heritage. Countries with a much longer tradition of cockfighting now prohibit it.

It is uncertain where the sport began, but it had entered India, the Middle East, Greece and Rome by the first millennium B.C. A mosaic of two cocks in combat was unearthed from the 79 A.D. Italian volcanic destruction of Pompeii. The language has been infiltrated with references to the sport, from "cocky" and "well-heeled" (with sharp, steel gaffs) to the places where orchestras and airplane pilots sit.

Cockfighting was popular throughout Europe by the 16th century, when it probably was brought to the Philippines by colonizers from Spain. It came to America about the same time with English and Irish settlers. Many of this country's founders, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, are said to have been cockers, and lore has it that "Honest Abe" Lincoln obtained his moniker for his fairness as a cockfighting judge.

Times change. The growing sensitivity to animal cruelty prompted a movement to outlaw cockfighting in the 1860s. The savagery of the sport, enhanced by gaffs -- used to prevent matches from being prolonged beyond fans' patience -- and injection of steroids or other stimulants has led to its ban in all but two states -- New Mexico and Louisiana. Oklahoma approved an initiative last year declaring cockfighting a felony, but breeders have gained court orders suspending enforcement in about 30 of the state's 77 counties.

The controversy may have created a lucrative market for Castillo's documentary in Oklahoma that she would be foolish to ignore. Using the film to advance the notion that there is something about cockfighting that is distinctively Filipino or of redeeming cultural value would be fallacious.



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