RESEARCH!

 

OLE-OLE!

THE STORY OF BULLFIGHTING IN SPAIN AND PORTUGAL

Bullfighting has come to define the cultures of Spain, Portugal and most Latin American countries. Citizens of these countries view fights as fiestas that usually coincide with national celebrations. Today, bullfighting's popularity in these places is increasing rapidly, as it has taken on the role of the national sport. The sport has shaken the stigma of political correctness in these two countries, and the faces in the audience represent this change: women and families who previously did not make up a large portion of the audience at bullfights now compose a hefty percentage of those who attend fights.

But despite the popularity of the sport in these nations, there remains a large faction of people in the rest of the world that condemn this sport as cruel and inhumane. The countries that prohibit bullfighting, including the United States of America, base their laws on the fact that the sport is sadistic in its direct cruelty to animals. In Spain, the bulls are killed as part of the event; in Portugal, they are not killed in front of the audience, but they are maimed and later butchered outside of the arena. Many people consider the fights in Portugal to be of a more humane nature for the bulls, but the majority of those who object to bullfighting cite the harm inflicted upon innocent animals as appalling, whether the bulls are killed or not. But regardless of protests, bullfights continue to flourish in the regions of Spain and Portugal and remain a defining feature of their cultures.


The origins of bullfighting can be traced to the early centuries of Spain's civilization. It began as an accompaniment to social events of the Spanish aristocracy and also marked governmental affairs, such as sessions of Parliament. Over the centuries, bullfighting became a sport that could be enjoyed by all of Spain's citizens, moving from the aristocratic jousting fields to public squares. It became formalized as a sport, with the building of the bullring in Ronda, Spain, in the late 18th century. From that time, it began to follow a specific act: the entrance of the bull, the picador, the banderilleros, and finally the matador. The picadors ride heavily padded and blindfolded horses, and they initiate the fight by provoking the bull to attack them. The aim of the picadors is to plunge their lance into the neck of the bull, thereby weakening the bull's strong neck muscles. The banderilleros follow on foot, each man carrying a dart (banderilla) decorated with colorful ribbon at the end of it. They run towards the charging bull at an angle and place the banderillas in the bull's neck, not just to weaken the bull, but to slow the movement of the bull's head when swinging its horns at the matador.

The matador enters the ring last, after the others have cleared the arena. He generally salutes the president or the highest commanding officer present and asks for permission to kill the bull. He also at this time has the choice to dedicate the bull to somebody in the audience. After provoking the bull with his cape, and hopefully escaping injury from the bull's horns, he stabs the bull several times with his sword until the bull is too weak to fight. When the bull has reached this state, the matador reaches for his "killing sword" and plunges it into the bull, aiming for the heart. The audience will then stand on its feet to applaud the bravery of the bullfighters. Portugal follows the same basic format, only without the final kill of the bull in the ring. The bull in Portugal is led out of the ring and killed out of the audience's sight.

One of the reasons I decided to research this subject was based on the fact that I attended a bullfight in Seville, Spain when I traveled around Europe in April of 2000. Seville is a renowned center for bullfighting, and my friend and I decided to participate in the festivities of the city. We did not really have any idea what was in store for us at the fight, since neither of us had ever heard much about the sport. We only knew it was popular in Spain, and we wanted to emerse ourselves in the culture of the country. The bullring was huge, and it was packed with people, including a large number of tourists. We took our seats under the pavilion, thankful that we were in the shade because of the overwhelming heat. After we were settled, the bull entered the ring and the fight commenced. Perhaps I am of a sensitive nature when it comes to animals, but I could not help feeling sorry for this bull that was running around in circles, obviously confused as to his whereabouts. My sympathy soon turned to horror when the picadors came out and began jabbing at the bull.

This probably sounds really naïve, but I honestly thought bullfights consisted of a matador who waved his red cape a few times while the bull ran through it. Over the next hour, I discovered my image of a bullfight couldn't have been further from the truth. My horror turned to anger as the picadors exited and the banderilleros entered the ring, taking turns decorating the bull's neck with their colorful darts. I became vocal in my anger announcing that it was an unfair fight, one bull against eight or so men. The final sequence turned my anger into a feeling of sickness when the matador plunged his sword into this defenseless bull's neck. The bull let out a loud moaning sound (this really did happen - you could hear the bull across the ring) and died. Well, I could not believe the reaction this man received - a standing ovation as hats and flowers were thrown into the ring and the matador took several victory laps. This man was treated like a hero for killing a bull that had already been stabbed by at least ten other men. Well, that did it; my friend and I marched out of the bullring without looking back. However, while I was horrified by the bullfight, I do recognize how essential this event is to the Spanish and Portuguese cultures, so I have no future plans to form any protests. I know I'm not alone in my feelings of negativity towards the bullfight since there are many organizations that have developed in recent years with the goal of protecting the bulls. It looks like for now, though, the Spanish and Portuguese culture will prevail over the protests of others.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

II) Kennedy, A.L. On Bullfighting. Yellow Jersey Press: London, 1999.
Call number - GV1107. K46 1999.
This book, a recent release onto the market, gave a really detailed account
of the psychology behind bullfighting - it's history and the reasons for
modern-day popularity. It also received high accolades in the
reviews for it, even from experts in the subject; all of the reviews could be
found in the Academic Universe sources.

Mitchell, Timothy. Blood Sport: a Social History of Spanish Bullfighting.
University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, c. 1991.
This book was recommended by a librarian because of it's content dealing
with the social conflict that revolves around bull-fighting, and how bullfighting
configures into Spanish history and life.

III) Bishop, Patrick. (2001, August 25). Bullfighting fires the blood of a new
Generation. The Daily Times [Online], 502 words. Available: LEXIS-NEXIS
Academic Universe [2001, September 12].
This article was really informative, because it addressed the new audience at
bullfights - primarily women and families. The popularity of bull-fighting is
increasing in Spain and Portugal, and the audience is changing to illustrate the
fame of the sport among all citizens of these two countries.

Cole, Teresa Levonian. (2001, July 7). Bull-fighting: Death in three acts:
Everyone's seen the poster-but what's a bull-fight really like? The Guardian,
[Online] 2321 words. Available: UMI News Abstracts [2001, September 10].
This article was a good one, because it went through full detail of an
actual bullfight for people who do not know what occurs, comparing the
event in Spain and Portugal.

Daly, Emma. (2001, February 11). Fears of Mad Cow Disease reach bull-fighting
rings. New York Times [Online], volume 150, pg. 4. Available: Academic Search
Elite [2001, September 15].
This article was really interesting, because it addressed the issue of Mad Cow Disease
in Europe and it's effects on the Spanish population, primarily the culture surrounding
bullfights - the toreadors, the matadors, the bulls and the audience.

Holledge, Richard. (2001, February 15). Death's Dismal Arena. The Times [Online],
903 words. Available: LEXIS-NEXIS Academic Universe [2001, September 10].
This article was informative but biased in some ways in a dramatic account of the
bullfight. However, it was, on the whole, descriptive and enlightening.

McIntyre, Mike. (2000, September 24). Learning about courage and beauty from
the beast. Los Angeles Times, [Online] 1015 words. Available: LEXIS-NEXIS
Academic Universe [2001, September 12].
This article was written in the feature style and gave a person's view of a bullfight in
Madrid, the home of the largest bullring in the world. It was very graphic, but did
give good background and description of the event.

Wilkenson, Isambard. (2001, September 15). Toreador arrested for killing bull in ring.
The Daily Telegraph [Online], 203 words. Available: LEXIS-NEXIS Academic Universe
[2001, September 17].
I liked this article because it addressed Portugal in particular, and there is less information
regarding bull-fighting specifically in Portugal. It discussed the laws regarding the bull-fight
and reaction by citizens of the country to the killing of the bull. It is also really current.

 

You can reach me at ssnypp@email.unc.edu
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