|By Deepak Pereira, Oman [ Published Date: May 1, 2005 ]|
Muscat, April 16: Bullfighting has its origins in ancient Spain where the Matadors (on foot) and much later the Picadors (on horseback) are now undisputed masters of the arena. Famously believed to be a sport that has its origin in ancient hunting practices, bullfighting is considered by many as barbaric and brutal. Fiercely opposed by animal rights activists all over the world, it still continues to hold a strange and almost uncontrollable fascination for those who get immense satisfaction when human cunning finally wins over brute force. But it does not always happen that way. Matadors themselves describe bullfighting as a dramatic ballet dance with death itself.
Perhaps, one of the reasons why in certain parts of the world man prefers to pit animal against animal where the stakes are not so high except maybe in the bullís opinion. But then, who asks the bull for his opinion? In the Arab world therefore, bullfighting has been reconstructed to entertain people on a lazy Thursday or Friday afternoon and one of the most popular bullfights takes place in Fujaira, in the United Arab Emirates. A similar activity called 'Jallikattu' takes place annually, closer home in Chennai, India.
There are conflicting opinions about the origin of bullfighting in Oman. Many locals here believe it was brought to Oman by the Moors of Spanish origin. Yet others say it has a direct connection with Portugal. The oldest and seemingly wisest of them believe itís just one of those things that simply existed since ancient times.
According to Khalfan Bin Mubarak Al-Baloushi, Chairman of the Arbitrary Committee for bullfighting in Al-Batena area, bulls in Oman are divided into three species; the Omani bull, a pure Omani breed, found in the northern and central provinces of Oman; the Dhofari bull, found in Dhofar Province and the Marine Bull, brought from overseas to the Sultanate of Oman. All three species have their own distinct features.
Yaqoub Bin Ibrahim, supervisor of bullfighting in Al-Musanaa province, says that "during matches, many merchants come from neighboring provinces to buy and sell the winning bulls," pointing out that bull prices sometimes reach 2,500 Omani Riyals (7,000 US Dollars) per head.
Our pictures today illustrate the bullfighting that took place at the Al-Hambar stadium in Sohar.
Once every 15 days on a Friday, the wilayats of Sohar, Shinas, Saham and Liwa take turns to play hosts to this sport that is held solely for the entertainment of the people. A total of 30 to 35 bulls take part in the fight. While the losing bull is withdrawn from the fight, the winning bull fights with the next contender until the final winner stands alone Ė tired but victorious (and also probably relieved). Though there is no official prize given, the price of the bull hikes up after each win, and can range from Omani Rials 500 to as high as Omani Rial 2000. Betting between the owners is also not uncommon.
On a typical Friday therefore, it is not unusual to see distressed bulls straining against their ropes and bellowing mournfully or a couple of them digging their hooves threateningly into the ground and apparently getting ready for the charge. All which adds considerable excitement in the stands.
While owners do take care to see their animals do not get hurt and though there is no bloodshed, as in the traditional Spanish sport, nevertheless, the fear and humiliation that the animal goes through is plainly evident. Perhaps one of the reasons why this is not a sight for animal lovers or the weak hearted.
But for those who believe in the pleasures of this sport it goes something like this - The bulls are restrained until its time for the charge. Then they are allowed to lock horns fiercely, encouraged by their owners and vociferously egged on by the crowd. The noise, the dust, the sweltering heat and the agitation of the bulls, all adds to the general excitement. The winning bull is the one who forces the other bull to back down. Sometimes one of the bulls decides enough is enough and makes a run for it, much to the embarrassment of its owner. By default, the remaining bull is declared the winner. The ownerís joy at having his bullís status elevated from ordinary to Ďprize bullí, somewhat makes up for the bullís lack of interest in his own victory.
In the bull's opinion, the camel is luckier. After all, taking part in a race is much more dignified than getting into a fight.