Running of the Bulls (So What if it’s Tradition?)

From a young age we are taught to respect traditions, the term is used to describe activities that have been passed down from generation to generation; it’s used to describe ‘the way things are’. Traditions have a cultural importance and need to be upheld, they add to the unique tapestry of the world by helping countries as well as communities define themselves. They belong to the past and the present.

But what happens if a tradition no longer has a place in society? Do we keep them as we always have or can we break the cycle?

Because we are taught to be respectful and accepting of other people’s traditions we often feel it is not our place to challenge or question the status quo when it does not feel right to us (I’m guilty for this at least). It’s a catch-22 situation: we don’t want to offend anyone but on the other hand, our passivity aids the opposition, “If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity” said Einstein.

I’d like to think most of the world’s traditions have rightfully earned their celebratory status in the world of culture, but I cannot understand – in any conceivable way – why, or how, the Running of the Bulls is able to have a place in today’s world. To those who are not familiar with this practise it involves hundreds of people running in front of a group of bulls that have been let loose down designated stretches of narrow streets in a town. But what less people know is that it ends in a savage bullfight.

It takes place in several regions but the most famous Running of the Bulls happens in Pamplona during the week-long festival of San Fermín which draws in over a million visitors every year.

Running of the Bulls in Pamplona

It attracts people from all over the world, who see it as a passage of courage, a medal of bravery, or the ultimate injection for an adrenaline junkie. But the truth is, there’s no courage to be found in a cruel event that takes advantage of frightened animals being mocked and provoked by a roaring crowd of people. Can you imagine how distressed you’d feel if you were taken out of your natural environment and plunged into a pit filled with bulls stampeding chaotically around you? You’d do anything to try and survive wouldn’t you? And just when you thought the worst was over, you are dragged into a ring and stripped naked before being forced to fight for your life against an animal that could wipe the floor with you in a second. But it doesn’t. Instead it sadistically decides to gauge you with its horns repeatedly until you die a slow and excruciating death.

A scenario like this is almost impossible to imagine because it never would happen to me or you, but that describes the exact fate of those poor and defenceless bulls. After the run, they finish up in the bullring where they are brutally speared by men on horseback until eventually, their spinal cord is cut and some kind of solace can be found in this, the final strike that ends their abhorrent misery. Make no mistake: this is murder.

Photo credit: Markkula

Photo credit:

So why does this continue to take place every year? There’s only one word to explain it, and it is ‘tradition’.

As I mentioned earlier, tradition has become synonymous with respect and people use this as an excuse for partaking in the Running of the Bulls. It can be seen as a form of cultural immersion and therefore justified, but a recent poll found out that 72% of Spaniards had no interest in bullfighting yet it still persists. This static makes interesting food for thought – whose ‘tradition’ are we therefore feeding if Spaniards are turnings their back on it? The tourism industry’s, that’s who. All those that financially benefit from the hoard of visitors who wish to partake in this ludicrous bloodsport.

No matter how important traditions are, or how important tourism is for a community, they should never precede the welfare of humans, animals and the environment.

One travel blogger, who has first-hand experience of a bullfight is Lizzie from Wanderful World, she’s written a short yet candid reflection of what she witnessed and how she felt. She begins by saying: “Bullfighting, for me, was a mix of emotions. I know it is such a huge part of traditional Spanish culture, which is why I made the decision to go and see one”. This comment brings light to everything I’ve tried to communicate thus far – until we stop looking at Running of the Bulls and bullfighting as a tradition it will continue to attract people because it’s steeped inside a discourse of respect, heritage and culture. These are all positive traits that should usually be encouraged, but like most things in life, there are exceptions to rules and this is one of them. Lizzie also goes on to say,

Looking back through my photos readdressed the horror and disgust I felt at the sport tenfold, particularly the close ups I had taken of the bleeding bulls. Why was I documenting something so horrible? Then I thought about it. I didn’t know what to expect beforehand, as I expect many people who have never seen a bullfight do, so I hope they offer those who are unaware of the tradition an insight into it.

Be part of a different Spanish Tradition

If you would like to experience a different Spanish tradition, then why not get stuck into La Tomatina? – the world’s biggest tomato fight! Both fights end up in a sea of red, but there’s a huge difference, one is a sea of blood and the other is a sea of vitamins. One fight ends up in death, and in the other, nobody gets hurts.

See how much fun it looks:

Photo credit: Flickr/Ivett5
Photo credit: Flickr/Ivett5

For more information about the Running of the Bulls and animal cruelty please visit the Peta website, and read about Running of the Nudes in Pamplona for inspiration! These people are the ones with true courage.

A travel & culture blog specialising in Scandinavia and the Arctic, peppered with the rest of the world in between.

Copyright © 2016 Shing Lin Yoong | All Rights Reserved | Designed by Paradigm Creations | Links