Michele Wucker

Why the cocks fight : Dominicans, Haitians and the struggle for Hispaniola

Hill and Wang

New York, 1999
bibliothèque insulaire
parutions 1999
Why the cocks fight : Dominicans, Haitians, and the struggle for Hispaniola / Michele Wucker. - New York : Hill and Wang, 1999. - XVII-281 p. : map ; 24 cm.
ISBN 0-8090-3719-X

NOTE DE L'ÉDITEUR : Like two roosters in a fighting arena, Haiti and the Dominican Republic are encircled by barriers of geography and poverty. They co-inhabit the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, but their histories are as deeply divided as their cultures : one French-speaking and black, one Spanish-speaking and mulatto. Yet, despite their antagonism, the two countries share a national symbol in the rooster — and a fundamental activity and favorite sport in the cockfight. In this book, Michele Wucker asks : « If the symbols that dominate a culture accurately express a nation's character, what kind of a country draws so heavily on images of cockfighting and roosters, birds bred to be aggressive ? What does it mean when not one but two countries that are neighbors choose these symbols ? Why do the cocks fight, and why do humans watch and glorify them ? »

Wucker studies the cockfight ritual in considerable detail, focusing as much on the customs and histories of these two nations as on their contemporary lifestyles and politics. Her well-cited and comprehensive volume also explores the relations of each nation toward the United States, which twice invaded both Haiti (in 1915 and 1994) and the Dominican Republic (in 1916 and 1965) during the twentieth century. Just as the owners of gamecocks contrive battles between their birds as a way of playing out human conflicts, Wucker argues, Haitian and Dominican leaders often stir up nationalist disputes and exaggerate their cultural and racial differences as a way of deflecting other kinds of turmoil. Thus Why the Cocks Fight highlights the factors in Caribbean history that still affect Hispaniola today, including the often contradictory policies of the U.S.

THE NEW YORK TIMES, May 2, 1999 : […]

Wucker finds in the cockfight a microcosm for the two sides of Hispaniola: the strongman leaders, like the Duvaliers and Balaguer, staging bloody fights in the arena, while the players on the sidelines - the armed forces, the bourgeoisie, the United States - wager on the outcome. But she moves beyond this simple metaphor to explore the role of the traditional cockfight in both national cultures, using as a basis for comparison Clifford Geertz's studies of Balinese cockfights. Indeed, she even enlists St. Augustine, who was entranced by a cockfight he happened upon, and wrote of the deformity of a bloodied, defeated rooster that « by that very deformity was the more perfect beauty of the contest in evidence ».

The book's closing scene is, fittingly, during carnival on the outskirts of the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo, where Haitian immigrants and peasant migrants reside. In the neighborhood of Palave, whose name derives from the French Palais Bel, or beautiful palace, Haitians dance to the sounds of a bamboo trumpet called a vaksin. Merengue mixed with hip-hop blasts from a car stereo, and a Dominican youth from New York break dances.

« During carnival, the festival that flaunts limits and rules », Wucker writes, « real conflicts disappear as Dominicans and Haitians celebrate their differences and their common roots ». It is a glimpse of the future, a New World moment when magic and the real intertwine and Hispaniola's history unfolds in a more hopeful way.

History as a Cockfight, Review by Patrick Markee

mise-à-jour : 4 novembre 2006