From Thu Feb 20 10:00:48 2003
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2003 08:08:44 -0600 (CS)T
From: Bob Corbett <>
To: Haiti mailing list <>
Subject: 14870: (Chamberlain) Haitians seek diversion in traditional cockfights (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <>

Haitians seek diversion in traditional cockfights

By Michael Deibert, Reuters, 19 February 2003

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb 19 (Reuters)—It’s Sunday afternoon in the hilly and crowded Port-au-Prince neighbourhood of Nazon.

As people head home from church dressed in their Sunday best and others pause to sample the aromatic pork fried by market women in black pots, Emil Piton, 63, heads to the gague or cockfighting ring he owns.

Inside, dozens of men gather around a concrete pit littered with feathers and spattered with blood. The tin roof above them does not quite reach down to the concrete blocks supporting it, and the resulting space lets some air into the otherwise sweltering room.

How much men? Place your bets! Piton says as the men, beer or rum bottles and cigarettes in their hands, eagerly gesture to the two birds, one black and one greenish-brown, being led into the pit by their owners.

In a flash the hoods which the birds wear to keep them calm are off, and they are clucking and clawing away at one another.

Cockfighting, a tradition in many Caribbean and Latin American countries, is older than the nation of Haiti itself, imported to the region from England and France, where it was hugely popular in colonial times, historians say.

Perfectly legal in Haiti, the sport is less vicious than the version practiced in some parts of the world. The birds do not wear metal spurs and rather than fight to the death, they fight only until an owner calls time and a winner is declared.

Although it seems brutal to some, cockfighting is as much a part of Haiti’s traditional life as bullfighting is to Spain, and there have rarely been any voices raised in protest.

In Haiti today, as an economic downturn sends people scrambling for survival in an atmosphere of instability and political crisis, the tradition provides a much-needed release for the country’s beleaguered poor majority.

When there is a gague, people are there only to attend and watch the match, our problems can’t enter, said 27-year-old Lithene Pierre as he ate bits of spicy conch from a plastic cup.

Cockfighting is a distraction from the losing battle that so many Haitians are fighting with poverty, said Michele Wucker, author of Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola.

The cockfight mirrors Haiti’s political violence, but it also provides a ’safe’ arena where Haitians can release frustration and aggression. Spectators may lose money betting, or an owner’s pride may get bruised, but only the birds really get hurt.

Haitians have watched their country get poorer in recent years as the value of its currency, the gourde, has tumbled, and the country has been racked by political unrest.

Since his re-election in November 2000, Haiti’s President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has been locked in a bitter dispute with opposition politicians over May 2000 parliamentary elections that observers charge were tabulated to favour Aristide’s Lavalas Family party.

In recent months pro- and anti-government protests, riots and strikes have affected all parts of the poverty-stricken Caribbean nation of eight million.

Inside the gague, none of that seems to matter. As the birds claw and peck at one another, a great roar goes up from the crowd whenever contact is made.

The birds stagger and rush around the pit, with men standing on any available surface and leaning on their neighbours, straining to watch the action.

The crowd is overwhelmingly male. The only women present are the vendors selling rum, moonshine and snacks.

As a reminder that cockfighting is not only a pastime, but a significant business, a man passes out cards advertising a match to be held the following weekend.

The prize for first place will be 3,000 gourdes or roughly US$67, an astronomical sum to most Haitians and more than most families bring home in a month.