Port-Au-Prince (AFP) Feb 6, 2010
The cockfighting must go on, even after earthquakes, so the roosters have been bathed, their claws sharpened, and they wait in cages in the red-carpeted ring, the crowd anxious and gripping cash.
The referee has weighed them and announced their names -- Doudou versus Zo La Plaine -- and now he wants a moment of silence for prayer. Everyone stands, heads bowed.
After a couple minutes, the referee speaks into the microphone sparking applause from the crowd gathered in this concrete mini-stadium in the Petionville suburb of Port-au-Prince: "Life continues," he says, and the roosters are freed.
Some may ask why people would turn to cockfighting so soon after Haiti's massive earthquake killed more than 200,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.
The answer, according to cockfighting fans and gamblers at this ring on Saturday afternoon, is simple: It's what they have always done throughout this country, and now, amid the destruction, it provides a welcome distraction.
"This is part of Haitian culture," said Laine Mackinson, 26.
So they have gathered here at the red and yellow ring, the words "Arene des Coqs de PV" (Rooster Arena of Petionville) inscribed above the front door, a handful of people living in tents in the parking lot.
It is an impressive place as cockfighting rings go, and several of those in attendance call it the country's finest. There are some 500 seats that extend upward, the place arranged like a bull-fighting ring in miniature.
The seats are numbered, and though it is only one-third full, it is important to sit in your assigned place. People check.
Mackinson says this venue is up to "international standards."
There are only men here, dressed casually in jeans or shorts, some of the older ones wearing slacks and button-up shirts that are, from all appearances, freshly ironed.
The sharpening is done in the back of the arena, one person holding the rooster with a hood over its head to keep it calm while the other works away at the claws. Others teams do the same.
Some birds are stunningly colorful, their feathers bright green and red. Others are more dull and seem battle-worn. There is frequent crowing.
Jean Robert Delisca, 45, stands nearby and explains that a couple of his cousins were killed in the quake and many in his neighborhood are homeless. His house is still standing.
"Life is difficult," he says, "but you have to get moving."
Louis Oja's granddaughter was killed on January 12, but he says as he mills among the sharpeners that people must find a way to distract themselves from the disaster.
"Cockfighting is well known here in Haiti," he says. "Everybody knows cockfighting."
According to Mackinson, some of the best roosters are produced by breeding those from Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The Dominicans are known for their speed, he says, while the Cubans have a reputation for power.
He says it's like combining European and American football players, producing a team "like Barcelona."
The referee says the first match will begin soon, and everyone takes their places. The prayer occurs, "life continues" is heard, the applause follows. The fight starts.
Bets are yelled and bills worth 500 gourds (13 dollars) exchange hands. Some say those with winning birds can collect tens of thousands of gourds per match.
Doudou soon gets the upper hand, and each time he jumps and whacks at his competitor with his claws, the crowd yells "hah!" in unison.
As the fight wears on, the excitement fades slightly, but the yelling continues. Zo La Plaine is now losing feathers and blood appears on his head.
After more than 20 minutes, he is ready to quit and tries to take cover at the edge of the ring like a broken fighter avoiding a knockout. Doudou chases him and hammers away, relentlessly biting and scratching him.
Zo La Plaine is now trying to jump out of the ring, but he cannot. The referee grabs the microphone and calls the fight, announcing that Doudou and all those who bet on him have won.
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