ethnography & cockfighting

Talib Kweli – Get By

spooky. learned that anthropologist clifford geertz died today (rip), and the chapter i read this morning in the book “writing culture” had a section on geertz. the chapter was by vincent crapanzano and was called “Hermes Dilemma: the Masking of Subversion in Ethnographic Description.” it sounded good, but it was really quite terrible. first, he kept referring to his lame comparison between Hermes and the ethnographer as a “conceit.” after duncan and HD, i am so sick of hermes and hermeneutic conceits.

the whole premise of the essay was so banal: that ethnographers use rhetorical figures to convince the readers of the authority of their descriptions, but that these devices ultimately render them suspect (or, as merely rhetorical and not Truth and thus “auto-subversive). snoozeville. the only thing that makes this essay interesting is that it does look at Catlin’s descriptions of the Mandan O-Kee-Pa ritual, Goethe’s description of the Roman Carnival, and Geertz’s description of the Balinese cockfight.

altho the case studies are interesting, and he quotes generously from them to deconstruct their rhetorical devices, crapanzano clumsily squeezes them into his banal thesis. There was one interesting sentence though that relates to barbara’s most recent post which i hope to comment on soon:

“There is only the constructed understanding of the constructed native’s constructed point of view.” (this is in reference to the ethnographies, despite their “phenomenological-hermeneutical pretensions”).


SPEAKING OF COCKFIGHTING, check out this article written by an ESPN freelancer who visited guam (he was apparently visiting his brother or sister, who was in the military) and wrote this story back in may 2005….as you can imagine, it caused quite a stir. LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK OF IT…


By Mike Ogle

SANTA RITA, Guam – Entering the cockpit, I didn’t know what to think.

Earlier in the week, on a thinly trafficked road by the mountains, we saw a hand-painted plywood sign announcing the weekend’s main event. And we thought, well, when in Guam …

Tonight: Cockfighting. Tomorrow: Chicken dinner special.
So Friday night, my sister Kristy, my brother-in-law Matt and I headed to our first … … cockfight.

All we knew: The fiesta was slated to start at 7 and last until the gamblers ran out of money. And without a rooster, it would cost us $5 to watch.

Evidently, this is what the locals do to pass the time on this 341-square-mile island (about three times the size of Washington, D.C.) stuck all by itself in the middle of the Pacific. Truly, the middle of nowhere. Entertainment options are limited.

People here fit into one of two categories. Either they’ve lived here their entire lives, or they’re stationed here by the U.S. military. I’m here to visit Kristy and Matt, who’s one year into his three years at the U.S. Naval Base. And for the record, cockfighting is legal in Guam.

Parking overflowed the lot into the street. We walked onto the grounds of the mayor’s office – yes, the mayor’s office – and paid our entrance. I wasn’t sure how I should feel. Should I be excited for the upcoming fights? Fascinated to experience a foreign slice of life? Horrified? Disgusted? Outraged?


No, not hungry. I’d just eaten jerk chicken for dinner.

I said to myself: Boxing is a billion-dollar industry in the States. If we aren’t above paying to watch men punch each other senseless, then why cluck over five bucks and poultry?

We settled into ringside seats and absorbed the scene. Blackjack and craps tables stationed on the perimeter of the ring. Roosters engaged in some prefight trash-crowing, cock-a-doodle-dooing back and forth from their cages, undoubtedly calling each other the worst insult of all: Chicken!

The announcer delivered an apologetic message to the crowd: “I’m sorry, but I just found this out. The children can’t be here, so they’ll have to leave.” Five kids, none appearing older than 6, vacated their front-row seats and exited with their parents. Adults only on this Friday night.

Forget about performance enhancing drugs — try razor blades on your feet.
We quickly realized this was an amara cockpit – that is, one in which the roosters are packing. Each rooster would have a curved, three-inch, razor-sharp blade extending from its hind toe.

Now I started to really question how I felt about being there. Too late, though, to turn back now.

The first match was set and the contestants stepped into the ring. The owners restrained the birds as they briefly put them on the ground to face each other so the crowd could size up the fighters and their feistiness. As bets were placed on the cocks, the less aggressive rooster tangled with a fighter’s equivalent of a fluffer. A third bird is used to antagonize him, pecking at his backside and neck to rile him up while he’s held by his owner. The roosters’ neck feathers flare straight up. Mine would, too, if someone was biting me on the rear.

Patrons make their verbal bets to the pit – $20, $25, $50, $100 – just like traders on the stock-exchange floor. Or, in this case, the cock exchange. Guam, though, is not exactly Manhattan (23 percent live below the poverty line), and the crowd was not exactly the upper crust of the population. They say if an American man walks through a particular poor village in Guam, families will offer their daughters.

When the bets evened out, the owners dropped the birds and the fighting commenced. The roosters charged, flapping, floating. They fought with their feet, which explains the placement of their weapons; and before I could digest it (the scene, that is), the fight was over. One bird jumped on top of the other and placed a fatal dagger blow to the neck, and the loser collapsed to the dirt, neck limp. As its owner picked him up and walked away, blood and feathers poured onto the ground. Then someone came through with a broom to sweep up the mess while the bets were settled.

The first fight finished more quickly than a late-’80s Tyson bout. Lasted only about 15 seconds. But the crowd had a taste of blood. And so did I.

A few of the next matches were just as short. Most were a little longer. Some lasted a couple of minutes, occasionally because one of the birds refused to play dead. The referee would separate the roosters, sometimes pulling a blade out of one; and if they could both stand, he’d let them go at it again. Usually, the one who had been picked up off the ground fell right back down as soon he was attacked again.

Too weak to put up a fight, too alive to quit.

Once the fights got rolling, I enjoyed them more and more. I relaxed my moral concerns and turned into a bloodthirsty gawker. There was something primal about watching, something savage that we’re ordinarily forced to repress. And yes, the taboo – that I knew I shouldn’t be there, that none of this should be happening in the first place – was part of the attraction.

But just as I began to feel comfortable with myself, eager for the next pair of roosters to claw to the death, Kristy had had enough. She was ready to go home.

We walked out, dodging drips of blood on the floor on the way, and drove home.

iPod — check. Lunch — check. Arsenal for cockfighting — check.
“That was crazy,” Matt said.

“It was exciting at first,” Kristy said. “But once in a lifetime is enough for me. I’ll probably never hear a rooster crow again without thinking about that.”

In the moment, I wanted more. I wanted to stay. I would’ve stayed all night. Outside, though, I regressed back into second-guessing mode. Should I have enjoyed that so much? Shouldn’t I be disgusted with myself? Why did the sight of an innocent animal’s blood thrill me like it did, somewhere deep inside?

And would I go back?

Once in a lifetime is probably enough for me, too.

But if I ever live in Guam, all bets are off.

3 thoughts on “ethnography & cockfighting

  1. Happy saturday!

    There’s a Certain Slant of Light– Dickinson

    This one was easy…i love her!

  2. Okay…I have no idea why I just put Saturday…wishful thinking, I guess. Oh well…one can hope! Happy thursday!

  3. Cockfighting is exciting for a short while, but the simplicity of poultry brain makes for an awfully small ring of fire.

    I’ll still take it over Battlebots, however. AI imposes an even smaller radius.

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