All around the island thousands of fighting roosters, or gamecocks, are brandishing new sets of feathers and are being prepared for the start of the cockfighting season.

Since June fowl have been undergoing the process of molting where they lose and replace their feathers. Molting is very painful for the birds and the molting season is a time of rest for gamecocks. With molting season coming to an end cockfighters are tending to their birds in anticipation for the regular cockfighting season.

“I’m very excited, some of my birds are still molting, but enough of them are ready to begin sparring. I can’t wait.” said 46-year-old cockfighting hobbyist Joe Palomo.

Many cockfighters like Palomo are full of enthusiasm and anxiety but a number of problems that affect cockfighting on Guam continue to rest in the back of their minds. Pr

oblems such as a lack of legal venues, increased federal government regulations, pressure from animal rights activists, and wrong impressions of the traditional sport continue to burden cockfighting enthusiasts.

“Guam needs more venues that are run legally and run right,” says 30-year old military veteran Sean Sanchez. According to the Guam Code Annotated, cockfighting venues, or cockpits, must be permitted by the Guam Cockpit Association and can only be held on Sundays, holidays, and church holidays. Cockpits are allowed at all village fiestas with net earnings to go to the host village’s Municipal Planning Council.

Aside from the permitted cockpits found most commonly at village fiestas, the only other legal cockpit is the Dededo Game Club. The lack of venues doesn’t deter non-permitted cockfights from occurring as there are numerous cockfights, big and small, that occur during the regular season.

Although these cockfights operate without legal permits, there is no enforcement to stop them. There is also no official governing body within the cockfighting community and Palomo says there’s no need for one.

“The cockfights themselves have a system of internal regulation. Fighters, their agents, those who oversee the fights, and spectators themselves know how an event should be run. Most cockfights are run professionally and with a degree of quality control,” says Palomo.

Another issue that cockfighters have faced in recent years is regulations from the federal government. Cockfighting is illegal in the United States, with the exceptions of the territories Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and here on Guam.

In 2007, the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act passed through the U.S. Congress and was signed into law. The AFPEA imposed federal fines and prison terms relating to the sponsoring, exhibition, purchase or selling, transportation, or participation in any animal fighting ventures.

Although cockfighting remains legal at the local level, with the AFPEA written into law and with pressure from animal rights groups such as the Humane Society of the United States, transportation of live gamefowl, cockfighting weapons and instruments, certain supplements and medicines, and even special feeds for gamefowl have been banned from being transported into Guam. This ban has angered many cockfighters and some see it as just a small step in the federal government’s attempts to stop cockfighting in its territories.

“The federal government is trying to control us more and more. Who knows? Some day they may try to tax the money that’s involved in cockfighting. The worst that they could do is close down our yards and pits, arrest us, or kill our birds,” says Palomo.

Further action by the HSUS to stop cockfighting on Guam has been taken recently. HSUS and local organization Guam Animals In Need are lobbying local legislators in recent weeks to create stricter penalties in regards to animal abuse on Guam.

One of the most personal issues for cockfighters is that cockfighters and the sport of cockfighting are misunderstood and seen in a bad light.

“We are a misunderstood people,” says University of Guam student and cockfighter Derrick Bascon.

Issues such as the lack of a representative organization for the cockfighting community and other legal venues, the condemnation of cockfighting as a blood sport , gambling and the large sums of money that surround the cockfighting scene, and news stories of money from cockfights funding criminal activity have led to the wrongful impression of cockfighting.

“People often get the wrong impression about us. Sure there are cockfighters who are in it just for the money and that money can lead to bad things, but most cockfighters do what they do because it’s something they love. It’s their passion, it’s their way of life,” says Palomo.

It’s safe to say that cockfighting on Guam will never stop, no matter what the government or anyone else says or does. It’s a part of our history and our way of life. The day a cultural cornerstone like cockfighting is forced to stop is the day when the system that is for the people and by the people goes against the people.

Cockfighters will continue to train their gamecocks, sharpen their knives, and find ways to continue to breed quality birds despite the problems that face cockfighting.

“I’ll never stop, others will never stop, it’s something we enjoy and it’s important to us. You can’t stop people from doing the things that they love” says Palomo.

 

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