This article analyzes the sociolegal significance of a highly localized form of illegal behavior: the Hawaiian cockfight. Drawing on ethnographic data gathered at illegal cockfights in Hawaii, as well as in-depth confidential interviews of cockfighters, this article depicts the activity as it occurs on the ground, from the fighters’ perspective. The men who engage in cockfighting derive at least two meanings from the illegal activity. First, cockfighting expresses a man’s central identity as a Hawaii “local,” embodying a positive cultural assertion that honors cockfighters’ family histories and establishes a man’s value as an intelligent, trustworthy member of his community. Second, in the throes of legal, economic, and demographic changes to Hawaii, cockfighting has taken on an important meaning as a “resistance” activity that stands in opposition to these developments, particularly because of the pervasive sense of futility that locals tend to experience when they interact with the legal system. These two purposes, identity and resistance, are opposite sides of the same coin. In asserting local identity, cockfighters are able to communicate who they are; in resisting changes, they are able to communicate who they are not. This article also argues for the importance of considering local context in designing law enforcement measures by demonstrating the importance of cultural legitimacy to on-the-ground policing practices.

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