Manilamen and Mandarins – Filipinos in 1860s China, Part 2: Paco Cockfighter Dalogdog

Paco Cockfighter Dalogdog

“Paco was larger than other Manilamen – more Fletcher’s size – with light brown skin, hazel eyes, dark brown curly hair, and teeth lightly stained reddish-black by buyo, betel nut. He wore black cotton trousers and a black barong camisa belted with a red sash, from which hung a long, sinuously serpentine kris in a hardwood sheath.” He was Cebuano, and at Shanghai recruited for the Foreign Rifles many Manilamen from the Spanish brig Tiempo.

Tagalog with fighting cock in 1860
(Wikimedia Commons)

One of Paco Dalogdog’s earliest memories was of the sweet scents of cinnamon, sandalwood and banana oil, and sharp odors of garlic, clove and black pepper, in the tienda de sari-sari of his father’s employer, a store of general merchandise, in the Parian ghetto of Cebu City. Paco was born in 1832 in Consolacion, a village of bamboo huts on the island of Cebu.

“My father go around island, take imported linen, silk, and tea, trade for abaca, sugar cane, and rice. Mestizo de Sangley broker in Cebu City hold until can get good price in Manila.”

The mestizo was a clandestine agent for a large Chinese trading firm, a cabecilla, that exported Philippine produce, cotton and tobacco, and imported Chinese porcelain, textiles, and curios – paper umbrellas were especially popular. Paco went with his father to the mestizo’s tienda on Calle Colon to load up trade goods on credit and take them up and down the length of the island from Bogo to Samboan in a large wagon drawn by a pair of native ponies.

Staying often in Cebu City, Paco became accustomed to the town and as he grew older acquired a taste for its lusty savor. He there saw his first proper cockfight, in a real gallera, a cockpit, and discovered that the sabong, the cockfight, was in his blood.

Paco fought the roosters around his home and, when they were all killed, he studied the fighting cocks of others and bought talisain, speckled bulik, and red-black-white lásak varieties to train for the arena. Many times, Paco trudged home dangling a plucked chicken by its feet and, no matter that it was a bird he had loved and cared for as others love and care for small children, it went into a stewpot. Paco lost money, and his father rebuked him for neglecting their clients.

“Tell father pocket maybe empty, but always have passion. With time, and much patience, I learn to judge winning birds – by weight, feel of muscle and scale on leg, spread of wing, and fire in eye. Then win so much money, I hire assistant for my father, and spend all my time in arena.”

Paco bought the license of the Gallera de Campeón cockpit for $14,000 pesos and took over its operation. He won his long, sinuously serpentine kris in a bet and wore it at the arena, calling it his enforcer. On Sundays after mass, went Paco’s tale, the customers pay a half-real to the old woman at the gate and crowd into the entrance, buy buyo, cigars and snacks, argue loudly and passionately about the cocks on display as they file past, and take seats in the rueda around the arena if they are rich, else in the high tiers.

Paco’s Gallera de Campeón cockpit in 1850s
(based on Wikimedia Commons drawing)

The clamor of betting approaches chaos – fingers claw in pockets for the last coins, the family carabao or the next crop of rice or cane is pawned – until the birds are brought through the bamboo fence into the arena. The cocks are held up to each other and peck until furious, the sheaths are removed from the gleaming steel, and the birds are released in the center of the arena. They fly at each other again and again, feathers bristling and blades flashing, covering the ground with blood and feathers until one collapses or flees. A shout goes up for the winner, followed by the chink of coin, and the broken-hearted owner of the losing bird collects its carcass.

For a while, Paco made a great deal of money, much of which he gave to his family. The small Sangley [Chinese] gangs in Parian were satisfied with his protection payments and broke up any tupada, illegal cockfights, in Paco’s territory. Later, Triads escaped from Shanghai muscled into the Parian slum and demanded larger payoffs from Gallera de Campeón. Finally, they ordered Paco to sell them the gallera – for one peso.

“Throw peso at ugly faces of Chinese gang, cut down two with kris, but they are many and I was alone, so I must run. Hide with mestizo for a few days, then leave island on a trading junk for Manila. From there, go to sea.”

In Yang Shen, Book I, it is Paco Dalogdog who rushes out from cover to the foot of the Sungkiang wall to save his comrades.
Koronel! Necesito ayudar los heridos! Colonel, we must help the wounded!”
Si, vaya! Rapido! Yes, go. Quickly!” the colonel said, waving toward the wall.
Mga kapatid, táyo na! Brothers, let’s go!” Paco shouted to the other Manilamen. As a body twelve of them lay down their rifles and rose up from behind the mantlet and sprinted to the moat, musket balls flying all around them. Rifle volley followed volley from the 1st platoon, and Colonel Wood repeatedly emptied his revolver and replaced the cylinder. Rebel fire fell off under the withering salvo of rifle fire and the Manilamen were able to get across the moat on the remaining two ladders and to the wall without serious damage. Musket balls hit them each, but most ripped through their jackets and haversacks. Paco and Naguapo went from body to body and loaded those still alive onto the shoulders of a compadre to carry back across the moat.
“Keep going all the way to the ruins!” Paco shouted.

In Book II, Paco is appointed a Foreign Rifles platoon leader. We don’t know yet what lies ahead for Paco – he survives 2nd Sungkiang, and will go on to lead his countrymen of the Foreign Rifles in their struggle to protect Shanghai from the Taiping rebels..

(Part 3 will take up with Tata Grandfather Viray, the son of an Ilocano boat-builder who grew up playing in Cavite and Vigan boatyards. The oldest of the Yang Shen Manilamen, Tata came to the Foreign Rifles by way of the Spanish brig Tiempo, and becomes one of the little army’s best Sharpshooters.)
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