Ricardo Ontillera Sanchez, a CRESIDA student, recently completed his PhD Viva based on his study of cockfighting in the Canary Islands. Originally from Spain, Ricardo is the last of several PhD students who have been working on the multi-disciplinary AHRC-funded research project ‘Cultural and Scientific Perceptions of Human-Chicken Interaction’. His thesis, titled ‘Of casteadores, gallos y galleras: the cockfight world in the Canary Islands’, explores the world of cockfighting in the Canary Islands, where over three consecutive years (2016-2018) a wide range of issues were researched. Given its legal status, the cockfight in the Canary Islands is not a prohibited event held in secret locations, where those who attend may be prosecuted, as is the case in the UK and most European countries. Therefore, the study was not restricted to the fights themselves, but it was also an exploration of the encompassing world of cockfighting, including breeding, training, and socialising, that brought about those public fights and performances.
To achieve this, Ricardo adopted an ethnographic perspective in which participant observation and interviewing were essential methodological tools. By presenting detailed ethnographic accounts of this world, his thesis shows the importance of understanding the rearing of gamecocks to fully grasp the meaning given to the fights by Canarian breeders and aficionados. With the help of narrative fragments and quotations from his interviews, he also offers an ethnographic description of cockfights according to eight different aspects of the event. Essentially, aficionados go to watch and admire the drama of the contest, the fighting birds’ performance. In the Spanish archipelago, breeders can compete both in single-date championships (campeonatos) and weekly leagues (contratas). These two methods of organisation represent one of the singularities of the cockfights in the Canary Islands, where the relatively low importance of betting, in comparison with other regions, represents another peculiarity of the event. Lastly, by introducing several quotations from the fieldwork in which breeders and aficionados give their views on roosters, his thesis demonstrates how breeders perceive fighting birds as animals of a unique nature.