Bullfighting in Pamplona: A Conflict in more ways than one

By Vimbai Ushe

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t was four o’clock in the morning, and I was already late. While Getxo’s inhabitants were snugly tucked away in their beds sleeping, I was walking briskly to a Chinese restaurant, in order to catch a bus. Upon finding the correct location, I was able to surrender myself to the blissful siren call of sleep.

I woke up in Pamplona—an urban refuge in the middle of a formidable mountain range. Before arriving in Pamplona, my teachers laid out three golden rules to keep us safe. Rule 1) Stay Vigilant! (The city was currently filled with unsavory characters eager to commit crime). Rule 2) Don’t run with the bulls! (This was a given, as no one in our class had a death wish). Rule 3) Stay in groups! (To avoid the persons alluded to in rule one).

The winding roads leading up to the famous arena were sticky with alcohol, perspiration, and urine. Yet, this didn’t deter the tangible excitement humming in the air. At a break-neck pace, I quickly found myself in Plaza De Toros de Pamplona.

Plaza De Toros is like Yankee Stadium. Only dirtier, smellier, and filled with mysterious drunk men sleeping in corners that never made it home from the last bullfight. In other words, just another family-friendly environment slightly marred by over-zealous tourists. I heard languages from all over the world, as I climbed up the stairs to my bleacher seat. From my vantage point, I surveyed the entire arena.

I guess I expected the bullring to be just as magical as the events that I knew would later transpire in it. The running of the bulls, and later, the bull-taunting were spirited testaments to ancient Spanish tradition. Earlier in the morning, the screens had shown the weights of the bulls. The average bull was over one thousand pounds, which made the audience roar in glee. However, my stomach dropped with dread, as I imagined the hundreds of ways someone could be gored to death.

When the cameras began broadcasting the Run, it was safe to say I was sufficiently scared out of my mind. Two and a half minutes stretched into an eternity. During that time I witnessed a bull run into a crowd and gore a man on the live-feed. Men and three women literally ran away from six bulls hell-bent on taking themselves into a dirt arena, regardless of the bodies that blocked their path. It was terrifying to watch, but it was also riveting. When the first people emerged in the ring, sweaty, but filled with pride, the crowd emitted a huge cheer that was heard by all of Pamplona.

Personally, I never thought I was particularly squeamish, until I saw the bullfight. As someone who supports animal rights, I found the entire event appalling. Everyone thought they were a professional bullfighter to the point of utter savagery. Contestants pulled the bulls tails and horns, slapped the backs of the bulls, or simply tried to attract the bulls by waving around red jackets in their faces. The bulls rotated out, by having one bull enter the rink to lead the other bull out. Overall, it was organized chaos, and after the second round, I was finished. However, there were still six more rounds to go. It was agonizing to watch the bulls become increasingly frustrated in the ring. I’d never seen a bull paw at the ground, but witnessing that action heightened the sense of helplessness I felt watching those poor bulls get terrorized. A woman ended up getting knocked unconscious. As I saw her rolled out in a stretcher still unmoving, it captured the danger of the event for both people and bulls.

Thankfully, we left before the actual bullfight, which included the killing of the bull. The running of the bulls and the bullfight were both unforgettable experiences. Though, I now know that I’ll never have the reckless courage to participate in those events, I commend the participants for their special brand of bravery. In those harrowing moments in the ring, I felt united with the bulls, the mock bull-fighters, and the audience. It was absolutely exhilarating!


Vimbai Ushe is a rising sophomore at Branford College and a prospective EP&E and Film Studies major. Contact her at vimbai.ushe@yale.edu.