Since I arrived in Trinidad in December, I’d been seeing posters up in public advertising ‘stick fighting’, and I finally experienced it for myself the other day. As the name suggests, it’s a kind of sport where people hit each other with sticks.
Apparently its origins are related to slavery, and it’s an African thing (as opposed to an Indian thing, meaning it’s the black Trinis who tend to be involved in it rather than the Indian ones).
The closest one to me was in St. Mary’s, and it was happening every night there for the weeks leading up to the final in the bigger town of San Fernando (‘Sando’). Giselle, one of the members of the family I stay with, took me and Marcus (another traveler) to see it, but it was actually a lot less exciting than what we were expecting.
We’d been told that two people fight each other at once, and the crowd throws money into the middle of the ring, and that’s what the winner gets at the end as his prize. The rules were simple, we’d been told… They keep fighting until someone gets their head cut, and that’s when the other person wins. There had also been some mention of music and dancing involving African drums.
When we arrived (a few hours after the supposed start time), most people were standing around drinking or buying food from the stands selling fried chicken etc. It was clear that it was an important social occasion for the local people… The girls were wearing dresses and the boys made an effort too. The DJ was playing soca from a marquee, and not much was happening in the ring except a few drunk men waving some sticks around.
There was a small seating area so we decided to wait there and drink the Puncheon (75% Trini rum) which we’d brought from home:
The DJ apologised for the wait and said the reason was that the main fighters had been fighting in Arima (in the North of Trinidad) that evening and were still on their way down.
After waiting literally about two hours, the drummers started, and we thought there was going to be some action. People gathered around the ring and some kind of atmosphere started building…
I was surprised to see that there was more than one fighter inside the ring, and it wasn’t clear who was going to fight against who. The fighters seemed to be a lot more interested in dancing around with their sticks trying to look scary, than actually hitting each other.
After a few minutes of dancing, two guys would decide to fight and the others would step to the edge of the ring, but the ‘fight’ only consisted of one or two hits before one guy would decide he’d had enough and would leave the ring.
This is what the dancing tends to look like:
And this is what I mean by one hit:
You can hear people chanting in the background… There was one microphone which anyone could take to start a chant. There seem to be a lot of chants that everyone knows – I guess they get repeated at all the stick fighting events.
People kept throwing money into the middle, and the pile got quite big so I still thought this was building up to something more extreme, but after about an hour of people quitting after a few hits, it started to rain and everyone went home!
I went back the next night just to check that it was like that every time, and it really was. I was there for about an hour and I still didn’t see anyone win a fight. Apparently the finals are a lot more serious, and most people who go don’t really mind if no one wins, because they’re there to socialise more than anything.
Even though it wasn’t particularly exciting, it was still interesting to see what went on.