Monday, June 22, 2015

Cultural Experience or Animal Cruelty??

One of the truly unique experiences that pueblo life provides is the ability to partake in festivals and other celebrations in a more intimate and concentrated setting. One festival that every pueblo celebrates is that of their Patron Saint. Repelón’s Patron Saint festival, which was recently held to celebrate Saint Anthony, included streets brimming with people, vallenato (a type of music very popular here on the coast) concerts, and correlejas (bullfights). The 4-day festival itself was a lot of fun. A few other volunteers from the Atlántico region came to join in the festivities and experience a different side of Repelón. 

Highlights of the festival itself:

  • Showing off Repelón, my new adopted home, to fellow volunteers
  • Seeing the streets filled with people, as this contrasts with the normally tranquil lifestyle here
  • Witnessing my first bullfight with a couple hundred of my closest Colombian friends
  • Introducing the Colombian culture to Jessi’s family
  • Meeting the mayor’s son and getting into the VIP section (granted only for a hot second) for free
  • Enjoying the company of great friends (both Colombian and American)
  • Discovering that I’m not able to rage past 2 am anymore 
Finally met the famed Mama Atha!!
Great group of people right here!
Breaking out the camera (after a long hiatus) in style!
Representing CII-6 with pride!!
Quick view of the stage from the VIP section
The one aspect of the festival that was a mild point of controversy is that of the bullfights. Many members of the community that I talked to about the festival mentioned to me that they don’t attend the bullfights because they don’t support what they stand for. So out of curiosity, I decided to do a bit of research into the history of bullfighting and how it came to be such an integral part of Spanish culture.

Bullfighting traces its roots back to the days of Mesopotamia. The people of this region not only sacrificed bulls, but also worshiped them for their pure strength and sheer beauty. Other sources claim that bullfighting can be linked to the Roman Empire and subsequently spread to Europe through the various conquests carried out by the empire at the height of its dynasty. 

The original purpose of bullfights was to celebrate royal weddings and religious holidays (like patron saint festivals). This sport was reserved for the nobles and wealthy as only the rich could afford the proper supplies and training for both the bulls and horses. While other European countries participated in jousting matches, Spaniards partook in bullfights. 

The concept of modern day bullfighting can be traced back to 1726. During this time, nobility on horses was replaced by commoners on foot. This switch drew larger crowds and also introduced a higher degree of danger and peril to the sport. Instead of being on horses, the matadors were now only inches from the bull, providing more drama and excitement. This type of bullfighting was then introduced to other Latin countries through various Spanish conquests, including Colombia.

The Colombian version of bullfighting is a bit different than that you will find in Spain. For starters, the ring in which the bull is released is filled with multitudes of participants, not just one matador. The object is not to kill the bull, like it is in traditional fights in Spain. Instead, the bull runs around for a couple of minutes, challenging participants and chasing those on horseback. After a few minutes, the bull is corralled out of the ring and another bull is released. This continues for hours upon hours. 

Pure mayhem in the ring itself
This stadium is constructed solely for this event - then promptly torn down until the next year
Jimmy, Luke (Jessi's younger brother) and I taking in the event
The action happening right in front of us
People literally clung to the sides of the bleachers and darted underneath them when the bull came their way
The pure spectacle of this event has greatly divided many people, both within the Hispanic community and worldwide. Supporters claim that the beauty of this sport is based on the interaction between the bull and the matador. It is a demonstration of various styles, techniques, and a certain courage taken on by the participants. The bulls are not seen as sacrificial victims, but  rather as a worthy adversary. Also, the bulls used for these fights are respected, revered, and overall, treated better than any other animal, including cattle. This I can personally attest to. The cattle that roam the countryside around Repelón are sickly and underfed, while the bulls that were used for the fights were strong, sleek, muscular animals that surprised me with their speed and strength.

Opponents to bullfights cite the fact that the point of the bullfight is to eventually kill the bull by driving a sword through its spine. Many see this unnecessary bloodbath as a cruelty that no animal deserves to be subjected to. These opponents have led to the banning of bullfighting in many cities around the world where this sport used to be practiced quite freely.

As for me, I can see both sides. Witnessing a bullfight for the first time in my life, I saw the cruelty and savageness that is normally associated with the event. However, I also tried to step outside of the event itself and understand it in a greater context. The electric atmosphere of the stadium, including various bands and venders, added to the excitement that the spectators felt watching the participants flee from the bull as it barreled down on them. 

While I am not advocating for bullfighting or am in any sense a staunch supporter of the event, one thing that I learned from this experience is that sometimes you don’t have to fully agree with something to appreciate its importance in another culture. Being able to fully experience this event in the context of another culture was the true pleasure and joy that will remain with me well beyond my time here in Colombia.

*Information used for this post was found using this article