Algeria’s ‘lost generation’ has been shaped by years of conflict, unemployment and state repression. Sheep fighting offers an arena where men can escape the constant supervision of the state. By Hannah Rae Armstrong
Last August in Algiers, one week before the holiday of Eid al-Adha, men in tracksuits and trainers were guarding their sheep in anticipation of the fights to come. Kbabshis, as these men are known, scour villages looking for lambs that are fast, belligerent and shock-resistant. They then spend years raising them to be champion fighters. Coaches are tough but also surprisingly tender. They treat their sheep like mistresses, stopping by the garages where they install them, bringing food, caressing and massaging them before they head out together for long walks on the beach.
Professional trainers toughen their sheep by chaining their horns to a wall: as they pull and twist to break away, the resistance thickens their sinewy necks. Unlike with cockfighting, there is no gambling on sheep fights, but speculation on the sheep market can make it a lucrative trade. Each fight lifts the value of its victor and sentences the loser to slaughter. A champion ram might fetch as much as $10,000 – although most sheep trainers on a winning streak prefer to chase glory than cash. The sheep are given names that inspire fear, like Rambo, Jaws or Lawyer. In the third round of one recent match, Hitler delivered a brutal defeat to Saddam.