Ink Stains from Spain: Student experiences the fading tradition of bullfighting

In Features
Breanna Vasquez continues to immerse herself in Spanish culture and decides to attend a bullfight. She is surprised to discover that the arena hosting the event is only half full, and learns that this Spanish tradition is losing support.
(Brianna Vasquez / Daily Titan)

When you decide to live in Spain for a year, you want to try to soak up the culture as much as possible. For me, that meant attending the Corrida de Toros, a bullfight during Jaén’s Feria de San Lucas.

The feria, which takes place each October, is a week-long fair filled with dancing, loud music and laughter. It’s a time for friends and family to get together and celebrate their culture.

The streets, bars and restaurants of Jaén are filled with women of all ages wearing brightly colored traditional flamenco style dresses that fit their body tightly and flare with ruffles at the bottom. Their outfits are completed with one-inch heels and their hair tightly pulled up into buns adorned with flowers.

When I think about Spanish culture, I think about tapas, wine, fútbol and bullfights. But after attending and witnessing a bullfight during the feria, I have to admit, I let my preconceived notions of Spanish culture get the best of me.

For me, it was about experiencing the culture to the fullest extent in order to understand the tradition of bullfighting. It wasn’t that I wanted to go and see a bull get tortured.

As I walked into the arena, I was surprised to see less than half of the seats were filled with spectators. The smell of livestock wafted through the air and within 10 minutes, the sound of trumpets and drums filled the air, signaling the start of the show.

Still, the arena remained less than half full.

The first bull sprinted out into the ring, already stabbed once on his neck. It aggressively darted around the arena after the toreros, who were waving pink capes. The bull’s body and horns thudded with tremendous power against the walls of the ring, sending an echo through the arena.

After about three to five minutes of the toreros dodging the bull, the sound of trumpet and horns signaled the release of the picadors. Two men mounted on two blindfolded, armored horses rode into the arena. Both men were carrying large lances in their hands.

The bull immediately focused its attention on one of the horses, then charged the horse and lifted it into the air with its horns. As this happened, the picador stabbed the bull near its shoulder along its spine. The picador’s job was now done, the horse unharmed.

Blood then began to spout out like a small fountain, making the bull’s coat glisten with blood. Bright blood puddles begin lining the soft brown dirt floor of the ring.

The picadors left, the toreros taunted the bull more and then two men called banderillos entered the arena, each holding a colorful barbed stick in each hand. They took turns each stabbing the bull twice along the spine.

When the bull had been stabbed six times, it began to lose his aggressiveness and started to look confused, like a lost puppy trying to find its way out of the ring. The bull stood in the middle of the ring, looking around dazed and confused.

Finally, the main matador entered the arena. Skillfully, calmly and on his toes, he danced with the bull. He turned his back to the bull confidently as he looked at the crowd bravely and then came within inches of the bull to claim his territory. Finally, music cued the actual killing of the bull. The matador was handed a sword and stabbed the bull one last time, making the bull fall to its knees.

This went on for five more bulls.

The only way I can try to justify the bullfight is by understanding and watching it as if it were a performance. There is no doubt that it takes skill to be a matador, and that it took years of training before the matador is finally able to wear the lavishly embroidered traje de luces. But still, justifying the inhumane killing of a bull by appealing to the skillset behind it did not sit well with me.

As I sat there watching the bullfight and trying to understand the torture of the bulls, loud whistling filled the arena. I asked the young man sitting next to me what that noise was, and with a wave of his hand, he said it was protesters trying to disrupt the performance.

That’s when it hit me. As I looked around to see the arena less than half full, I realized the tradition of bullfighting is dying.

Within the past 10 years, the number of bullfights in the country has decreased. In 2007, 953 fights were held in Spain and by 2014 the number had decreased to 398, according to Aljazeera.

Sixty percent of Spaniards disapprove of bullfighting, according to an Ipsos Mori survey.  

By purchasing a ticket, I supported the torture of bulls. I was one of the many tourists who believed that bullfighting was part of Spanish culture and attended to try to gain an understanding of the culture. I still feel guilty about attending the fight.

The only good that came from attending the fight was that it helped me realize the cultural tradition of bullfighting is starting to become a thing of the past.

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