A reader writes:
I’m a long time reader, but this is the first time I’ve felt compelled to write a response to one of your posts. Bullfighting is a subject I’m familiar with, but I find most Americans are not. An ethical option does exist.
My family is of Portuguese ancestry; specifically, my grandparents were all born in the Azores Islands, landing on American shores around a century ago. Most Azorean-Americans have settled in Massachusetts and Central California. I’m not certain about Massachusetts (maybe some Mass. readers will weigh in), but here in California you can find legal, Portuguese-style, “bloodless” bullfighting. You see, the Portuguese do not kill the bull. We actually find the blood sport of slaughtering the beast in the arena to be disgustingly cruel and wasteful. Portuguese bulls are put back to stud, where in the U.S. and the Azores they live the life of an average farm bull (and sometimes reused in the arena), and in mainland Portugal they’re pampered stud animals, with the best commanding the highest fees for their services. In fact, the bullfighting industry in Spain often uses Portuguese bulls for stud since they’ve wasted their own.
California bullfights are not allowed by law to spill a drop of blood, so a Velcro pad is placed over the bull’s shoulders where the Velcro tipped bandarilhas (small spears) attach. This is done primarily by cavaleiros or cavaleiras (horsemen or horsewomen) riding beautifully adorned horses skilled in dressage. In Portugal some blood is drawn this way since a small dart is stuck into the fatty hump between the bull’s shoulders (as pictured in your post). It looks messy, but it only serves to piss the bull off and make him all the more dangerous. Personally, I prefer the Portuguese-American Velcro method.
After the cavaleiros, traditional matadores finish tiring the beast out, and then it’s time for the most amusing part: forcados, or the “suicide squad” as we call them here in Central California.
Eight young men, usually in their late teens and early twenties, often slightly sauced-up on some liquid courage, line up single file facing the bull. It’s the job of the lucky first in line to coax the bull into charging where he takes the full force of the hit with a pega de cara (face plant), wrapping his arms around the horns and riding backward into his buddies who pile on. One will grab the tail, and often hands full of bullshit, while they all try to bring the animal to a full stop for a few seconds to declare victory. If they get scattered like bowling pins they were not successful, but they can lick their wounds and be happy they survived to risk their lives all over again at the next occasion.
After the forcados spectacle is over, a small herd of cows is ushered into the arena so the bull will follow them out to his retirement. Many years ago, while I was attending a bullfight on the Azorean island of Terceira, one of the cows refused to leave, causing the matadores to run for cover. They were genuinely more afraid of a scrawny cow than they were an 1,100 to 1,600 pound, pissed-off, testosterone-pumped bull! I turned to my dad and asked why. He grinned at me and replied; “Cows don’t close their eyes when they charge.” It took men with shields and very long poles poking the cow in the forehead to get her to leave.
Animal rights activists who take issue with rodeos also take issue with bloodless bullfights. I respect their concerns about the well-being of the animal, but as Nusbaum mentioned, which life and death would be preferred? I’m sure many readers will disagree with me, and I may just be old fashioned and as enamored with my ancestral culture as those who support bull-killing are, but I can’t consider it inhumane to simply torment a huge (my father always claimed the head alone weighs around 300 pounds), dangerously aggressive beast for less than an hour when he’s going to live a life of leisure and copulation for many years to come.