Fafa and Angry Birds
05 August 2019
Fafa is Polynesian for Callaloo, the green leaves of the Taro plant. We often ate Callaloo in the Caribbean as a green, similar to Collard Greens. But unlike other greens, Callaloo will burn your throat like ground glass if you eat it raw. Don't try it. I have done that for you and it really burns! But sauteed in duck fat or bacon fat and simmered with onions, red wine and chicken stock for 15 minutes makes one of the best green veggies you can get in the tropics.
We were told that Taro grown in water produces the best leaves for Callaloo. Taro grown in dry ground produces the root bulb eaten as a starch. When I first spotted it growing in French Polynesia, I was excited that I could get one of my favorite, green veggies here. The locals call it Fafa but rarely eat it as a green. They gladly let me cut it and never accept payment. They are careful to warn me not to eat it raw. Oui, je connais!
My bike route in Raiatea often took me by a ditch full of Fafa. I stopped and asked the guy if I could buy some Fafa. He always let me take what I wanted and never accepted payment. I noticed he had a lot of cages off the ground with healthy looking roosters. One day I asked him if the roosters were for competition. Mai oui! He told me where and when they had chicken fights on Raiatea. I googled cock fighting, FP and learned that the original Polynesian voyagers brought fighting cocks from Asia. Cock fighting is the oldest sport know to man according to the article. While it is forbidden, it is still popular in FP. DNA tests have linked these cocks to Asian fighting cocks.
Well, it has been a slow weekend. Lisa has been back in the US visiting friends and family for a month. I moved Uproar to a beautiful Motu on the east side of Raiatea, just adjacent Avera where the combat de cocques is held. Porquoi pas? I dinghied to shore and started walking. I asked several people where I could find the combat de cocques. More directions and I found myself on a lonely road heading inland. I don't mind a hike but we have found locals in these and all islands notoriously bad at directions and distances on foot. They all have cars.
Eventually I heard the shouting and knew I was near. I found the arena, a permanent setup for combat. There was a strong warning sign that no alcohol can be brought in. They sold beer and were pleased to offer Hinano for the lowest prices around. I wandered into the arena area and a guy moved to give me a seat. Sure enough, two roosters were tussling to the delight of all. I was struck by the nude necks and bellies of these birds. Had they plucked each others feathers out? That's enough for details.
After the bout, everyone left their seats and wandered around. There were cocks everywhere with one leg tied to a string, staked to the ground. They were totally docile and their owners were often petting them or holding them. I bought another beer. What else could I do? I asked a few questions and one guy summoned a friend who spoke English. He explained that the trainers pluck the feathers from the neck and belly so the other cock can't get a grip. He said things are quite boring on Raiatea and cock fighting is just a social gathering for the guys (very few ladies) to get together and drink some beer.
Several other local guys approached me with smiles and greetings. I noticed I was the only white boy in sight! There are a lot of French citizens living in FP but none were there. I did notice a lot of Chinese descendants among the Polynesians. Nothing much was happening but one guy mentioned there was a lot of negotiating to find a good match for the next fight. Suddenly, everyone headed for the arena seats.
I entered with a Chinese-looking guy who spoke perfect English. He motioned for me to sit next to him. He said, “The fight is boring unless you bet $10 on the fight.” I readily agreed to take the bird he had bet against. His friend said, “You have a good cock.” I said, “Well, I hope my wife didn't marry me for my money.” I don't think that translated well.
The round began. It was actually more of a wrestling match than blood sport. These two chickens were tenacious! I'll skip to the end. It was quick! I hardly saw it but one cock put his spur through a weak spot in the others head. Down he went, instantly dead! The crowd went wild. My neighbor said, “No problem, you don't have to pay me.” I insisted and gave him the $10 with a smile. We fist-bumped and I headed back to the road.
A departing car gave me a ride to within a kilometer of my dinghy. I'm back on Uproar richer for yet another cultural experience with these gentle people. I'm not a fan of animal cruelty and have mixed feelings about what I witnessed. But I promised to tell all about our voyage, good and bad.