This transcription has been completed. Contact us with corrections.
That Singular Senegalese BATTLING SIKI By Ted Lawson He Came Out of the Deepest Jungle of West Africa to Rise to the Greatest Heights of Fame and Glory Only to Pay the Supreme Penalty with His Life THE scene was the West Coast of Africa, thirty-three years ago. A woman had just landed, a German woman, a noted actress. She was searching for a young black boy to act the part of a page in the act in which she starred. She asked one of the old men of the village if he had a son she could use. The grizzled old man looked over his brood. Finally, selecting a roly-poly little black boy from among those who played outside the dwelling, he pointed his finger and looked with a broad grin at the beautiful woman beside him. The German woman's eyes followed his finger. The little boy looked up and grinned a foolish, childish grin. He made funny faces. The old man looked on approvingly. "Him Siki," said the old man in his best French. "Him good." The plump-faced little savage looked up, and his face spread into a broad grin. "Me Siki," he chanted. "Me good." [[Image]] [[photo credit]] International Photo [[caption]] This scene shows Battling Siki playing the part of strong man with his trainers. He could raise two men above his head with little effort. [[/caption]] "He's cute," said the German woman. "I think I'll take him." When she returned to the French Riviera a short while later, the little black boy named Siki went with her, wide-eyed at the new marvels of civilization which daily met his eyes. The woman renamed him Louis Phal, because it sounded more civilized than simply "Siki." But to himself he was still "Me Siki." Even after he had won the middleweight and heavyweight championships of Europe and the light heavyweight championship of the world, and had had the Croix de Guerre and Medaille Militaire pinned upon his breast, he was still "Me Siki" to himself. The world knew him as "Battling Siki," at once the best and the worst Negro fighter the world has ever seen. "No man ever came out of the Dark Continent who had a more dramatic life than he did," ran his eulogy. "No man's life ever had a more tragic ending." "He was a good boy," wailed his wife, after they had found him murdered in one of the gutters of Hell's Kitchen. "He was a good boy when they didn't take him out to liquor parties. He would never harm anybody. He was just playful, that's all." "He was a gorilla," complained his manager. "He had gorilla's habits and gorilla's manners. He was just a bit crazy, judged from human standards. He was never where you wanted him, and he fooled you every second." But could they have expected more? 12 In the beginning Siki was savage, wild. In the end he was no less savage, no less wild. In Africa it would not have mattered a great deal. In America it was all that mattered. HE had not been brought out of the jungles to rise to the heights of fame. The smiling eyes in his wild chubby face and ways more mischievous had attracted the actress to him. He pleased her so well that she hired him for her page boy at once, and planned to deck his India rubber jungle person out in green velveteen and brass buttons, and to use his broad, mischievous grin as atmosphere for the act in which she was starred. But the actress died soon after the two had arrived in France, and Siki was left to shift for himself in a world entirely new to him. He had grown so fast that he could no longer get a job as a page boy. His only confidence in himself lay in the strength of his muscles. He finally, forced by hunger, found himself a job washing bottles in a cafe in Nice. In his spare time he managed to pick up a few extra coppers by fighting other youngsters in low resorts frequented by sailors. [[image]] [[photo credit]] P & A Photo [[caption]] Another view of Siki, the singular Senegalese, with the pots and pans. Stories are told of how Siki, growing tired of waiting for his meal, would proceed to the kitchen himself and oust the cook by force. [[/caption]] When he was eighteen he started to fight in earnest. He enjoyed it. It used up some of the surplus of muscular energy in his powerful body. He enjoyed fighting so much that when the opportunity came for him to join the Colonial troops at five sous per day, he was one of the first to sign up. The French used their Colonial troops for the most desperate missions, where the chance of death was greatest. Siki had his chance many times to get into the thick of the battle. He plunged on ahead of his troops; fought hand to hand with the enemies of his country, howling with rage and glee as shrapnel burst overhead. The result was that he was awarded the cross of the Legion of Honor, the Croix de Guerre, and the rare Medaille Militaire, a batch of other citations for conspicuous bravery, and was kissed three times on each cheek by officers of high rank in the French army. He also bore scars of several bayonet wounds and craters left in his legs by pieces of shrapnel as marks of honor. Then came the armistice, and the fighting was over. But Siki could never believe this; for him the fight was never ended. If there were no fight, he could always create one. Gradually he drifted into minor bouts at the French capital. He showed himself to be quick as a leopard, able to hit hard, and willing to take a terrific beating. In all his career he was never knocked out by a blow from a man's fist. Quite naturally he found himself at the prize fighter's mecca, the Cirque de Paris, which nightly resounded to the pounding of padded leather glove on muscular ribs and unguarded chins. In Paris there was one fighter who stood out above all the rest, who, even in spite of his defeat at the hands of Dempsey only a few months before, was rated one of the greatest fighters in the world. His name was Georges Carpentier. WHAT Georges wanted at that time was an opponent whom he could beat into a pulp before the motion picture cameras and before a Parisian mob which had not had an opportunity to cheer him for three years. A decisive victory, he thought, would lead to a return engagement with Dempsey and another chance at the heavyweight crown. Siki, untrained, inexperienced, was chosen for the sacrifice. It was Greek statue against black panther. Carpentier sprang into the ring and grinned at his followers and into the camera. Fifty thousand persons madly roared "Georges!" Siki, the Senegalese, looked about him like a trapped beast. Instead of amusement there was panic in his eyes. There was no escape. The bell rang. The fight was on. Ugly and awkward, the black man jumped and dodged around the ring. He seemed to be running away from that terrible right fist for which Carpentier was famous. Georges smiled confidently into the cameras for two rounds. "I can finish him off whenever I wish," he called to his seconds. In the third round, Carpentier evidently decided to finish Siki. The terrible right landed. Siki went down on one knee. He looked bewildered. He had found that the terrible right of Carpentier had not hurt him so much after all. Some of the savagery of the jungles (Continued on page 64) 13
Please note that the language and terminology used in this collection reflects the context and culture of the time of its creation, and may include culturally sensitive information. As an historical document, its contents may be at odds with contemporary views and terminology. The information within this collection does not reflect the views of the Smithsonian Institution, but is available in its original form to facilitate research. For questions or comments regarding sensitive content, access, and use related to this collection, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.