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  • Of Chickens and MenCockfighting and Equality in the South
  • Marko Maunula (bio)

"Hundred on the black cock! Hundred on the black cock!"

"Fifty-forty on the red!"

"Fifty-forty, red! You and me, okay?"

Two handlers holding colorful gamecocks enter the arena, and the crowds at the Bayou Club in Vinton, Louisiana, start yelling their bets. The audience greets the birds—two large and beautiful roosters, stripped of their wattles and combs—with excited noise. Loud betting and encouragement accompany the roosters' entry to the center of the pit, a small, sandy coliseum surrounded with wire fence and Plexiglas.

Inside the pit, the handlers, a Hispanic man sporting a Stetson and a wiry young Caucasian with a soft south Louisiana accent, shake hands and let their roosters take a quick peck at each other. The birds struggle to get loose, each eager to assault the cock that has entered its space and consciousness. At the referee's signal, the handlers let their roosters go, and the birds, as if filled with sacred rage, assault each other in a hurricane of feathers, beaks, glittering spurs, and flapping wings. The fight is almost too fast and furious for the eyes to follow. After less than two minutes of intense fighting, the black cock leaps in the air, slams his razor-sharp steel spur deep into the chest of the other bird, jerking to release his weapon from the opponent. The wounded bird takes a couple of stuttering steps before falling dead on the sand.

As the black rooster parades victoriously in the pit, people in the stands settle their bets, walk to the concession stands for another beer and a cigarette, joke and discuss the fight they just witnessed. Despite the betting and the corresponding adrenaline, the atmosphere is jovial, shaped by friendly banter and a moderate flow of Budweiser. It is early Saturday evening in Louisiana, and the derby is about halfway through. It will take at least twenty more fights before the winner of the weekend's tournament—and the hefty multi-thousand dollar purse—is settled.

The crowd gathered at the cockfight offers a demographic snapshot of the contemporary, blue-collar rural South. Whites, a few African Americans, Asians, and numerous Hispanics sit scattered in the Bayou Club's ascetic stands. Hispanic influence is now a visible presence in the arena. Spanish has replaced Cajun French as the most dominant minority language. At the sales stands by the exits, [End Page 76] peddlers of cockfighting paraphernalia have added Hispanic trinkets alongside the ubiquitous T-shirts, baseball caps, and other traditional sales stand favorites. This mixing of people and influences reflects cockfighting's role in southern tradition, at least here in Louisiana, the last southern state where the game remains legal. Even today, the pit serves its historical function as a cultural middle ground, a meeting point and melting pot of southern subcultures, ethnic groups, and economic classes. Today, it is an important avenue of interaction for rural white southerners and the region's Hispanic newcomers, whose presence reflects the game's popularity in Mexico and parts of Central America, as well as these cockers' desire to keep their hobby even in their new country.

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Figure 1.

They defended their game with passion, with oft-repeated and well-rehearsed arguments that soon became familiar. Cruelty? "Our fowl is much better taken care of than those chickens you eat at KFC." Photograph courtesy of Superbass, Wikimedia Commons, under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Cockfighting is, by its nature, a semi-clandestine game practiced by an almost fraternal group of enthusiasts who carefully control access to the pits. Gaining entrance to the group would be the first challenge. Hailing from Finland, I couldn't be more of an outsider, yet, my curiosity sparked, I accepted the assignment when a Finnish magazine asked me to write about this peculiar game that still survived in parts of the South. My entry to the cockfighting circles was the result of long and arduous footwork. After weeks of unanswered emails and a desperate search for contacts, Bobby Jones, a friendly Texan, promised to help with the story and...


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pp. 76-85
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