Now to Haiti, where one of the most popular sports happens to be one that is illegal in the U.S., cockfighting. It rivals soccer as the most watched sport in Haiti.

Animal rights activists in the U.S. denounce the activity as cruel and inhumane.

But as NPR's Jason Beaubien reports, Haitians say it's a weekly diversion from their daily lives.

(Soundbite of roosters and conversation)

JASON BEAUBIEN: It's a Wednesday afternoon in Croix de Bouquets just outside Port-au-Prince. About a hundred men have gathered in the back of a dusty, empty lot. An old man sitting at a school desk charges 20 gourdes, or about 50 cents, admission.

The cockfighting ring is actually a concrete square with tiered steps rising on each side. The paint is peeling off the cement. The sheet metal roof is rusted and battered.

Within weeks after the devastating January 12 earthquake, while many other things in Haiti still weren't working, the cockfights resumed.

Mr. JOSELIN DE ROGER: (Creole spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Sixty-eight-year-old Joselin de Roger says this is a great sport. The conflict is between the roosters, not between the men, he says. And in this neighborhood if you grew up and found that your father doesn't know how to raise a fighting cock, de Roger says, well, he's not a real father.

De Roger is cradling a rooster named Woy-Woy, or Ouch-Ouch, in the crook of his arm. Like many other spectators, de Roger has brought his favorite bird to the event even though his animal isn't going to compete. He keeps a sock over the rooster's head so it doesn't get too excited. Other men tuck the creatures under their shirts against their bare skin to calm them down.

In a country with so many troubles, de Roger and several other men say this ancient sport is a diversion from their daily woes. The rules of the cockfight are quite simple. The fight lasts 30 minutes; the roosters try to kill each other; if one chicken flees or collapses, the other wins.

These are not muscled, plump roosters; they're wiry, thin birds. Once their owners pull off their hoods, the birds fluff out their neck feathers and attack. They're vicious, slashing at their opponent's head with their claws and pecking with their beaks. Unlike in some countries, the Haitians don't attach blades to the birds' feet.

(Soundbite of crowd yelling)

BEAUBIEN: Every time one of the birds lands a hit, the men in the crowd yell. They wave crumpled 100 gourde notes, worth about two and a half dollars, calling out bets.

The roosters jump at each other claws first. Blood and feathers litter the ring. One rooster's face is severely cut. He starts to wobble like he might topple over.

Roosters are revered animals in Haiti. They figure prominently in voodoo ceremonies, and in the 1990s, the cock was the proud symbol of priest-turned-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Lavalas party.

Somehow on this afternoon, the battered rooster holds on until the clock runs out. There's jubilation at this result among the spectators. It was as if they'd just watched the thrilling finale of a soccer match.

After the fight, the two roosters are brought over to Belen Edner, the unofficial veterinarian.

Mr. BELEN EDNER: (Creole spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Edner cleans the birds' wounds with seawater and massages their chests. The weaker cock collapses and Edner revives it by blowing a puff of air down its throat. He says the roosters need to rest for at least a month before their next battle.

And if the weaker one doesn't survive the night? Edner throws up his hands, smiles and says, well, then we'll have him for breakfast.

Each week, these fights are staged all across Haiti.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News.

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