Fighting ignorance since 1973 • It’s taking longer than we thought
What's up with dead roosters in the
middle of the road?
A dead rooster was dropped in the middle of an intersection in our neighborhood recently (Springfield and Belle Plaine). It was smashed (from having been run over?) and seemed to have had its entrails pulled out deliberately. A neighbor reports having seen other dead roosters over the years, in the same intersection as well as in others. Our police department liaison says it's unlikely that there's a cock-fighting connection but can't come up with any other explanation. Gang initiation? Voodoo ritual? Urban-chicken rumble? What's the poop, Cece?
Cecil Adams replies:
People ask why I love living in the big city. It's because I get asked questions where the two most reasonable answers are (a) urban chickens and (b) animal sacrifice. Let's consider these one at a time.
Urban chickens. According to some, raising chickens in the city is the latest … well, calling it a trend is surely an exaggeration, but it isn't the outré notion it used to be. The claim, as argued on the Straight Dope Chicago Message Board, is that people now keep chickens in the city, occasionally a few get free, and every so often one winds up as roadkill. Thus the carcass in the intersection.
Anything's possible. However, I point out that we're not talking generically about chickens, but specifically about a rooster. If you've had any experience with roosters, and I'm here to tell you I have, you know they're not critters whose presence is easily overlooked, owing to their propensity to start crowing at three o'clock in the morning. (Or maybe four. The roosters I encountered lived under our cottage during a week-long stay in Kauai. My sense of time when awakened wasn't the best.) I feel confident that if urban roosters were on the loose in your neighborhood, My Aim, you wouldn't be asking where that carcass came from. You'd want to know how to make roadkill out of the rest.
Animal sacrifice. This is the more likely explanation, in my opinion. As you may imagine, it gets us into murky territory pretty quick.
I'll be blunt. Your first thought on hearing a story like this is that it bears the hallmarks of Santería, a secretive religion described as a blend of West African beliefs brought to the New World by slaves plus Roman Catholicism. Santería has a sizable following among Hispanics, with an estimated 70,000 adherents in the Miami area alone, and quite a few in Chicago — the most prominent local believer is White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. The religion has no churches for the most part, no central organization, no book of common prayer. There are just a few core elements: a belief in spirits called orishas; priests called babalorishas or iyalorishas; and a conviction that one needs periodically to slit an animal's throat.
The last item, not surprisingly, has been controversial. In 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a ban on ritual animal sacrifice by the city of Hialeah, Florida was unconstitutional because it was aimed at the Santería religion.
Some don't see any necessary connection between street-corner carcasses and Santería. The Trib's Eric Zorn, who considered a similar question in his blog a few weeks ago, ventured the opinion that this didn't sound like the kind of thing followers of the religion went in for. An expert I consulted, Miguel De La Torre, a religion scholar and author of Santeria: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America (2004), was likewise skeptical, for reasons to be discussed. Nonetheless, I point out the following:
On the other hand:
By now, I imagine, you — well, maybe not you, My Aim. Maybe you're toughing it out. However, I'm guessing a good many sensitive souls are thinking: oh, gross. One concedes there are unsanitary aspects to Santería ceremonial practice, if in fact that's what this was. However, to put the matter in perspective, it wasn't the Yoruba who came up with the idea of eating God's body and blood. For what it's worth, Professor De La Torre says he's seeing signs that Santería is becoming more Americanized (read: blander) as adherents internalize the bourgeois proprieties — the probably inevitable process by which yesterday's carcass in the crossroads turns into today's Halloween.
Then again, maybe this was something else altogether. I can't wait to find out what.
— Cecil Adams
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