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Journey of the Barong Tagalog, Addendum Part 5: Cockfighting in 19th Century Art

Cockfighting reportedly has a 6,000-year history in the Philippines. In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan’s chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta, documented modern cockfighting when he first witnessed it in 1521 in the kingdom of Taytay, Palawan. Jose Rizal dedicated an entire chapter of his 1887 novel Noli Me Tangere to cockfighting culture.

Prior to the introduction of American sports to the country in the 20th century, cockfighting was the top sport. Today, it still remains legal, popular and a billion-dollar industry with approximately 2,500 dedicated stadiums across the country where about 30 million roosters fight and die every year.

In the 19th century, cockfighting culture was so ubiquitous that it appeared in a lot of visual art. Men holding, training and fighting roosters was a very common sight in those times. The sport was so widespread that it transcended class. Often one would see rich, poor and everyone in between watching and participating in cockfights. Cockfights were usually held on Sundays and holidays to ensure high attendance, so many of the spectators and participants were dressed up in their best Barong Tagalog, pants and hats.

“Sabungan” (cockfighting) from the book Album, Islas Filipinas, 1683-1888. The men's barongs are striped and embroidered

“Sabungan” (cockfighting) from the book Album, Islas Filipinas, 1683-1888 by Juan Maria Cariño and Sonia Pinto Ner (2004). The men here are likely middle to upper class because their barongs are striped and embroidered all over, they wear pants made of good material and European hats.

“Yndios adesirando los gallos de pelea; Yndios comiendo”. Painting by Jose Honorato Lozano circa 1857. The men on the left wear white barongs

“Yndios adesirando los gallos de pelea; Yndios comiendo”. Painting by Jose Honorato Lozano circa 1857. The men on the left wear white barongs, patterned pants and either putongs (head wraps) or hats while they fight their roosters.

“Interior de la Gallera” painted by Jose Honorato Lozano circa 1847. Everyone is dressed up in either striped or solid Barong Tagalog and European hats.

“Interior de la Gallera” painted by Jose Honorato Lozano circa 1847. The inside of a crowded cockfighting arena (or cockpit) is depicted. Everyone is dressed up in either striped or solid Barong Tagalog and European hats.