The closest I came to seeing a bull was the stuffed head of the one that had killed Spain’s legendary bullfighter Manolete at Seville’s Plaza de Toros museum. I simply had no desire to be a spectator to a cultural pastime that I feel is archaic. Although plenty of people in my study abroad program attended a match, I, along with a small number of them did not. I’m by no means a PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) fanatic as I do eat meat; however, I still find the tradition cruel to the bull. For it to be baited in a bullring for sport and entertainment? If only the bull could occasionally do that to a person.
Bullfighting has a long and gloried history in Spain, the country best known for it. (There is also bullfighting in Portugal, southern France and some countries in Latin America.) The tradition involves professional toreros, who perform formal moves which can be interpreted and individualized according to the bullfighting style or school. The moves are executed in close proximity to the bull, which places the torero at risk of being gored and trampled. Once the bull has been hooked multiple times behind the shoulder by other toreros, the bullfight generally finishes with the killing of the bull by a single sword thrust, estocada.
Proponents of the sport (if you want to call it that) equate bullfighting with their national culture. They call it art since a bullfight is about the demonstration of style, technique and courage by the bullfighters. On the opposing side, individuals find bullfighting to be the cruel and inhumane treatment of a helpless animal, all for the viewing pleasure of the spectators and tourists.
Polls taken in Spain indicate that the majority of the population has no interest in the sport. In September of this year, the autonomous region of Catalonia (where Barcelona is located) voted for a ban against bullfighting. It is the first of its kind in mainland Spain (bullfighting was banned in the Canary Islands in 1991) and will take effect on January 1, 2012. Although the remaining bullfights of this year have sold out at record speeds, large crowds at Barcelona’s bullring hadn’t been the case for some time and the reduced support was one reason the regional parliament voted in favor of banning bullfighting. Another reason was said that it would distinguish Catalonia from Spain, by not having its national cultural identity include a sport that is quintessentially Spanish.
In Andalusia, the region of Spain where I studied, bullfighting is still el rey (the king). It is here where stereotypical Spanish images still persist-women in traditional bright colored dresses with a mantilla in their hair, flamenco music being played-so it should come as no surprise that bullfighting is most popular here. Seville’s Plaza de Toros (its full name is the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Sevilla) is the oldest bullring in Spain. I won’t deny its striking appearance both inside and out. A circular white structure with red doors and golden overlays, it is extremely evocative of its region, Andalusia being a hot and arid place like the Sahara desert it is so close to. The inside is even more captivating, a performance floor made up of golden sand just like the golden land that is the region.
When my dad came to visit me, we toured the Plaza de Toros and it was an interesting experience. We got to see unique artifacts, the capilla (chapel) where toreros pray before a match, as well as the on-site hospital. In Spain there are even doctors who are specially trained to treat bullfight wounds.
I’m all for preserving cultural traditions and being respectful of those in a country where I am just a visitor. But from my own soapbox, my feelings are that if it involves the cruel treatment of an animal just for sport, it shouldn’t be allowed.
What’s your opinion on bullfighting? Have you ever been to a match?