Honky-tonk sounds echo through the amusement park as cow hands strangle the cow’s neck in the dirt-floored arena. While the spectacle is common in Texas, the rodeo takes place on an island in the Philippines some 13,000 miles away.
For 30 years, almost every spring, some of the country’s best wranglers have traveled to the islands of Masbate to test their skills at the Masbate City Rodeo Festival. This is a sporting event as well as a celebration of Philippine cowboy and cowgirl culture.
“Where there are cows, there’s a rodeo,” said Leo Gozum, 51, a livestock farmer who directs the festival’s rodeo events. “It’s not necessarily an American thing.”
At the Juego de Toro event (bull game), people chase around 30 bulls through the blocked streets, much like they do in Pamplona, Spain. According to the rules, any cow can be kept as long as it is caught with bare hands.
Others travel to the Masbate Rodeo from other islands in the Philippine archipelago, usually by boat. Some work on ranches in Masbate province, one of the poorest regions in the country.
Participants, mostly farmers and students, compete for a prize of $23,000. The 90 or so winners win an average of $250. Many of the skills on display have been practiced in the Philippines for centuries, long before the Philippines won its independence from Spain in her 1898 and from the United States in her 1946.
One of the toughest competitions is carambola, where teams of men or women restrain unruly bulls in a rodeo ring. By hand, of course.
Masbate province, like the rest of the Philippines, has a violent history and a long history of communist insurgency. “Here you are bribed and then blackmailed,” said Manuel Sese, a former judge who owns a ranch outside Masbate.
Judge Sese said Masbate’s rugged culture and rugged prairies have produced many talented cowboys, some of whom work on ranches.
One of them is Justin Ballen, 26. Barren says he wakes up at 4 a.m. most days to feed the diminutive mare before getting in the saddle. He supports his six children on the $100 he earns a month and sends his 19-year-old brother to high school.
The rodeo prize pool is an incentive for contestants, sometimes called coboys, Filipino slang for cowboys.
But money isn’t their only motivation.
“For me, the rodeo is a game of strength, and only the brave can enjoy it,” said Kenneth Ramoner, 50, a businessman and evangelical preacher who captains a rodeo team in Southern Mindanao. rice field.
Ramoner said he used to be a heavy drinker and drug addict. Then he had a family, found the Bible, and came up with a new use for his ranching skills: rodeoing. Today, he runs a ranch resort where tourists can learn the ways of the coboys during their visit.
Masbate City was once a colonial port, with cattle farms near the pier until the 1970s. Its rodeo arena sits next to an amusement park and is roamed by fans in denim, flannel and cowboy hats.
Vendors barbecue beef and pork on smoky grills under colorful tents. There are also line dances and a honky tonk number written for this event.
“Low dee oh masbateño,” sings the singer.
A recent morning, a cowherd was lounging in his dusty jeans. Another shook off the dampness with a splash of water.
In the livestock yard under the bleachers, just after sunrise, a few cattlemen were cooking fish for breakfast.
When the rodeo started a few hours later, they were busy feeding the cows, choosing the right ones for a particular event, and chasing them in and out of the ring.
The rodeo includes seven bull-focused events, including bull riding, lassoing, and a “cast down” in which teams of four lasso down a particularly large bull.
According to event director Gosum, the organizers of the event are experienced farmers, agriculturists, veterinarians and livestock workers who are experts in animal handling.
He said the key to good competition is choosing animals that are energetic enough to make the action interesting, but not too dangerous.
“What I’m looking for is the line between playable and unplayable,” he said.
Held for the first time after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic, this year’s event saw more than 300 contestants compete as professionals and students. Many in the second category were women.
“Women can do what men can do,” said Rosario Blanc, 25. She was part of a team that won two all-female carambola competitions.
Bran, who holds a bachelor’s degree in crop science and is studying for a master’s degree, said he was happy to win, but added that his main goal was to avoid injury.
By the 17th century, religious landowners had established ranches around Manila, according to Manila city historian Greg Bankf. By the 19th century horses were being used across the country to transport sugar, coconut and other raw materials.
In Masbate, cowboys drove cattle into stockyards around the harbor. From there the cattle were exported to ranches all over the country.
Gozum said Filipino cowboy culture is rooted in Spanish traditions and heavily influenced by American ranching techniques, but now embodies the Filipino virtues of perseverance and perseverance.
The US cowboy culture, popularized by such figures as actor John Wayne and musician Jimmie Rogers, is also influenced by Spain. But early Texas cowboys deliberately distanced themselves from the Mexican vaquero they learned, says Sarah Sargent, a British academic who is writing a book on Spanish horsemanship in the Americas.
“The cowboy figure, who has emerged as an iconic symbol of American national identity, has been stripped of any association with Hispanic descent,” she says.
For Mr. Ballen, who runs Masbate Ranch, such distinctions are not important. he just loves to ride.
The seventh of nine children, Baren moved to Manila when he was eight to live with his two older siblings after his mother died.
However, city life bored him and he spent his time watching horsemen firing guns in Hollywood western-influenced Filipino cowboy films.
At the age of 18, he returned home to herd cattle.
For him, the only things that are unusual about competing in a rodeo ring are spectators and prize money. “Rodeos are what we do here every day,” he said.