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Cockfighting in the Dominican Republic
Some define it as a representation of war or the extension of human aggression, complete with its own theatrical components and metaphorical language, while others classify it as vile, sacrificial, archaic and disgusting. Some stand behind the cloak of culture, customs and history to defend its existence and continued practice, while others deem it barbaric, regressive, inhuman and exploitative.

No, this is not boxing or mixed martial arts, its cockfighting.

The blood sport, which consists of two bred and highly trained roosters pitted against each other in a fight to the death, is a controversial topic. There is no denying the popularity of cockfighting within some strata of Dominican society. Breeders in the DR have become experts in breeding contest-ready game, and they spare no expense in preparing their fowl for competition. In some cases the cocks are treated better than family members, receiving specially prepared meals, vitamins, massages and baths in preparation for what could be very lucrative fights.

Outsiders to the cockfighting "culture" seem either baffled or disgusted by the sport, while insiders accentuate, not the bloodiness of it all, but the beauty and the drama that accompanies the fights. Either way, as part of a defined pastime in the DR it is important to understand the factors behind the popularity of cockfighting in this country, why certain measures are taken to maintain its status as a sport, and to determine whether in fact cockfighting is as popular as publicized.

History of cockfighting
Cockfighting can be traced back to before the time of Christ with some scholars indicating that the sport had its start in India more that 4,600 years ago. The rooster had long been considered an admirable fowl before its entrance into the fighting arena. The ancient Syrians, for example, worshiped the rooster as a deity. In addition, the ancient Greeks and Romans associated the bird with the gods Apollo, Mercury and Mars.

Approximately 3,000 years ago cockfighting was popular with the Hebrews and Canaanites, and raising gamecocks was considered a skill with a lucrative end. For Egyptians cockfighting was a favored pastime and during the height of Greek civilization, a Greek general, Themistocles, held a cockfight the night before battle to inspire his men through the metaphor of the cockfight.

Persian traders loved to gamble by pitting their fighting birds against each other, and the popularity of the sport even stretched to the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar, the first citizen of Rome to become an aficionado of the sport, brought cockfighting to Rome.

It took a while for the sport to spread, but by the 16th century it was popular in many European countries, especially in England and France. During the reign of King Henry VIII, cockfighting became a national sport. Schools were even founded to teach students the fine points of cockfighting. At its very height of popularity, the sport was popular among the church members with churchyards being used as cockfighting arenas. However, by the 17th century the sport declined in popularity in England and later on Queen Victoria banned cockfighting with a royal decree.

The sport was also very popular in the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries. Presidents like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln were admirers of the sport and rumor has it that President Lincoln got his nickname "Honest Abe" for his fairness as a judge in cockfights. Overall, it was socially acceptable and encouraged to have gamecocks. The U.S. would eventually become a center for cockfighting activities and events, and the fighting-cock almost became the national emblem of the United States, losing by just one vote to the American eagle. However, by the beginning of the Civil War the sport had lost much of its attraction and appeal.

Today, cockfighting is a popular sport in many places around the world including Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Colombia, France, Mexico, Italy, the Philippines, Peru, Puerto Rico, the Canary Islands, Guam, India and Pakistan.

History of cockfights in the DR
Not much information exists on how and why cockfighting got to the DR, although some believe that it was brought over by the Spanish, maintaining its popularity during French and Haitian colonial rule. Very little exists in terms of text associated with the sport of cockfighting, with mentions restricted to liner notes and obscure references in certain texts. However, the importance of cocks is highlighted in Dominican history through political references, most notably through the "bolos patas blancas" and "bolos patas prietas" parties, in references to the factions of Horacio Vasquez's ‘bolo’ political movement of the 1910s. The rooster also has a significant place in Dominican history as it was and still is the symbol of the Partido Reforsmista Social Cristiano (PRSC). The PRSC morphed from the Trujillo-run Partido Dominicano to the PRSC after the dictator’s longtime right-hand man, intellectual Joaquin Balaguer took over the reins of the country in 1966 and governed, officially and extra-officially, until his death in 2000.

During this time, the symbol of the rooster gained a special place in the nuances of Dominican cultural identity and came to represent the virtues of the Dominican political spirit, further enamoring the public to this fowl. But social commentators like Gustav Jahoda claim that, "in many cultures, notably hunting-gathering ones, animals are believed to have souls and to be in close partnership with humans," taking the argument a step further and presenting the idea that the ritualistic behavior of the cockfight represents the social dynamic which asserts a male's place in Dominican society. The reason men look to animals to describe themselves is because, according to Jahoda, there is an inherent connection between humans and animals, and thus understanding the affection between man and fowl is more plausible.

In looking at a cockfight, and its prominence as a national sport, one notices how a Dominican male views himself through the lens of the animal. "Like politics on Hispaniola, the cockfight is a male ritual," writes Jahoda. The cockfight, and in turn the rooster, represent the spirit of the Dominican male, and this is why one can argue that cockfighting has carved a special place within the Dominican psyche. According to popular author Michel Wucker,

"In the cockfight, man and beast, good and evil, ego and id, the creative power of aroused masculinity and the destructive power of loosened animality fuse in a bloody drama of hatred, cruelty, violence, and death. Emotions are displayed in a cathartic microcosm of human interaction, violence released through the flailing spurs, beaks, and feathers in the ring."

The rooster has come to represent all aspects of daily life in the Dominican Republic, according to Wucker. "The rooster represents politics, home, territory, courtship, healing, sustenance, the passage of time, and brotherhood."
 
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