Cockfighting is a distraction in Martinique

It is one of the most typical distractions of the Antilles, even if it is found in other countries. Most villages have a “pitt” (a kind of more or less rustic arena, more or less luxurious, where fighting takes place) and there are real “stables”. The reputation of certain professional breeders sometimes extends to the confines of the Caribbean. The craze is such that it was necessary to regulate the fights and especially the bets which accompany them.

Preparing a cockfighting is not an easy task: the owner of the fighting cock puts a special diet, trains him daily, heals him like the apple of his eye. A champion can win big prize. But the fighting is ruthless and usually ends in the death of one of the adversaries.

The preliminaries of the meeting are long and meticulous: weighing and choice of fighters, placing artificial lugs (steel spurs reinforcing the natural spurs that have been truncated), followed by more or less magical and in any case ritual practices of their owners (projection of rum, cabalistic signs, etc.). Finally, the birds, long excited, are thrown into the arena.

“I attended, says Granier de Cassagnac in 1842, one of the most terrible battles that took place. It was a fearsome rooster, named Canelle, which belonged to a colored man. Canelle had already killed seventeen roosters; his name alone made one shudder, and he was not several leagues around either man, woman, or child who did not pronounce it with respect. The adversary who was opposed to him was a fellow, quite unknown, named Spingle. He belonged to a white man. As soon as he appeared, the bad jokes each retained a bowl of the broth that we would make with his flesh, because it is for this profane use that dead roosters are kept on the field of honor. Canelle immediately had 200 francs on his list; poor Spingle did not have ten crowns. The regulars of the pitt, people of tactics, discussed the probable results of the fight. Cinnamon was a hurricane; it was always from the first to the third stroke that he killed his rooster. “If Spingle avoids these three blows, it was said, he has some luck. But the difficulty is there”. Finally the betting lists were closed; Spingle found eight or ten reckless gourds; his master completed the sum, and they came to grips … Neither Ajax, nor Patroclus, nor Marcellus, killed in an ambush, neither Murat, nor any warrior immortalized by his fiery audacity, could not give an idea of Canelle charging his enemy. His two terrible steel swords were still in the air, striking a thrust, rummaging in the void, and likely to pierce a knight’s armor. Spingle, in this grave circumstance, procrastinated like Fabius Maximus, avoided boots, let the storm pass, and prepared for better times. After four minutes, Canelle, amazed not to see his enemy dead, no longer knew what he was doing; his swords always struck with the same fury, but they reached nothing. It was then that Spingle, who had supported the taunts of the spectators, took the offensive and attacked sharply. Fear visibly won over Canelle’s friends; the odds had become equal: one was furious and tired, the other was rested and calm. Suddenly, the colored men uttered a cry: Canelle had just received a blow which had thrown him to the ground; but, between roosters, honor is not satisfied without a dead person, and the combat continued. It had become lamentable: Cinnamon, the trailing wings and the closed eyes, charged still valiantly, like the King of Bohemia at the battle of Crécy; but Spingle struck him again with his two swords, and then the wounded fell again and did not rise again. His master lifted him up in despair; they looked for his wound, he made his limbs play, he bled it, nothing helped. He was dead. I have never seen such dismay as that of the Mulatto master of Cinnamon, and it will have really taken the broth he made in the evening to recover from his pain.

The following Sunday, at the pitt, an incredible scene took place in view of the seriousness with which it was resolved, and the enthusiasm with which it was accomplished. There was an old, famous rooster who was no longer fighting. It was called Plume-aux-Pattes. He was one-eyed, like Annibal and Sertorius, and he had killed thirty rivals in single combat. A White man, the master of Spingle, bought it 30 fr. and made him beat. Since there were no rivals with equal chances, Plume-aux-Pattes fought against roosters that weighed a pound more than him. He killed three. Then the public intervened en masse in favor of the feathered gladiator, and shouted that he would no longer run the odds of the fight. It was fair, his master granted the request. But as enthusiasm had mingled, a voice asked that Plume-aux-Pattes, who had killed 33 roosters, be decorated; and only one cry was heard: the cross! the cross ! We went immediately to seek a cross of the Legion of Honor, where there was “honor and country” and we passed it around the neck of the rooster, with a red ribbon. At the same time, a beautiful mahogany wooden cage was brought in, in which Plume-aux-Pattes was placed; and then, all the other roosters carried by Negroes paraded before him, singing its triumph, which determined among the spectators an Olympian laugh … “