The Age – Feature Story

Traditions: Bull-ocks or Not?

A look into Spain’s traditional bull fascination.

Traditions have marked the distinctiveness and uniqueness of different cultures through human civilisation. Some traditions have come and gone whereas others stubbornly refuse to go despite fervent opposition. Bull-frenzy Spain has a history of bull-related traditions and festivals ever since the 18th century, much to the disdain of animal right activists.

The recently concluded Torneo del Toro de la Vega (tournament of the bull in the meadow in Spanish) on 14th September is a century-old tradition that took place in Tordesillas, Central Spain. Bulls are set loose and young men give chase with their lances in hand, wounding the bulls repeatedly before taking them down. The one who manages to cut off the bull’s testicle is declared the winner, and is entitled to a gold badge and lance made of forged iron by the Town Council.

Bull being chased at the Toro de la Vega in Tordesillas, Spain. Photo from

This is but one of Spain’s many fascinations with its animal. Bullfighting was banned in the Catalonia region in July this year, but many regions still hold onto this tradition, minus the killing element.

“Spectacles like the Toro de Tordesillas [Toro de la Vega held at Tordesillas] should no longer exist. A country like Spain should not maintain such cruel traditions,” said Nacho Paunero, president of the animal rights group El Refugio.

Perceived as a challenger in its own right, the bull is not so much an animal sacrifice but a worthy competitor.  A multi-million dollar industry in Spain, it is little wonder the authority is hesitant to do away with this custom.

A survey conducted by animal rights activist group El Refugio indicated that 76 percent of those polled were in agreement of the permanent ban on such cruel festivals. There were, however, Spaniards who feel differently. As a counter reaction to the aggressive attempts by animal rights activists to ban such traditions, the town folks of Tordesillas erected a signpost that says “All regions of Spain defend and respect traditions”.

What justifies the keeping of our traditions anyway? Traditions in other parts of the world such as the rural parts of Thailand and India are facing slow deaths, where people are moving from rural areas or tribes to settlement areas in search for better lives. What will become of Spain’s bull traditions in the face of continuous oppositions?

“The bull was declared a part of Spain’s National Heritage. Through declaration by the Spanish Supreme Court, this animal has become essentially synonymous with Spain,” says Stanley Brandes from the Social Cultural Anthropology at the University of California, Berkley. In addressing the bull in Spain’s traditions, Brandes says, “These anti-bullfighting arguments fade in importance when measured against the evident fact that bullfighting appears to be on a steep road to extinction.”

As the bull is synonymous with Spain’s national identity, it is no wonder the authorities is unwilling to budge too much on the issue and it looks like a tradition that will only allow nature to take its course.


2 Responses to “The Age – Feature Story”

  1. jumpingatshadows October 13, 2010 at 12:50 am #

    It’s a difficult balance between preserving differences in ethnic or national identities & resisting the pull to become a global monoculture, while also allowing change to happen. Sometimes (or maybe often) banning something creates a greater resistance than using other means to deal with such issues. I would have thought a compromise where the bull is tagged somehow, but not injured would be preferable to the death of the ‘sport’. (maybe velcro would be handy here!)

    • makiecostories October 17, 2010 at 11:35 am #

      I like the velcro idea! Unfortunately I seriously doubt that will come out looking macho and strong, like I’m sure that’s how the bull is being represented as an icon of the Spanish national identity. Worth a shot at the thought nevertheless.

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