What most people know about bullfighting comes from the Spanish tradition of corrida de toros, literally “running of bulls.” One thinks of the matador decked in satin and jewels, participating in a highly stylized ritual in which a bull is led into the ring, baited, and in the end, killed with a sword.
This version of bullfighting dates back to prehistoric times, when the worship and sacrifice of bulls was common. It can be found in ancient Rome, where the Coliseum was home to many human vs. animal spectacles. From Rome, the tradition spread to Spain, and later to southern France and the Spanish colonies in Central and South America, where bullfights in the plaza were often the centerpiece of religious festivities and royal weddings.
Today, the practice of killing bulls for entertainment is seen by many as cruel and barbaric. It is an elite sport in which man demonstrates his power over nature, although nature is often subdued by drugs before it even enters the ring.
Bullfights in Costa Rica are an entirely different matter. First and foremost: in Costa Rica, it is against the law to stab or hurt the bull in any way. Rather than being a sport for the elite, it attracts participants from town and country, and in the country, it doesn’t seem wise to kill off your cattle for the sake of ritual.
While the tradition is often referred to as a bullfight it is actually a corrida, which means “run,” or a rodeo. At a rodeo, 50-100 fighters enter the bullring. Once the bull is led into the ring, the objective is to outrun the animal without being horned, kicked, or trampled upon. The bull may fight man, but man is not allowed to fight back.
There are also the montadores or cowboys who make a living traveling from county to county, earning prize money for riding the bulls and staying on the longest before getting bucked. The men are cheered rapaciously by the crowd when they manage to stay atop a fiery, 1,500 pound bull. But if the bull emerges victorious, and if the bull rider is harmed or even killed, the bull is celebrated. There is no more famous bull in Costa Rica than Malacrianza, also known as El Toro Aseino, The Bull Assassin.
While the rodeos may fall short of the ancient notion of bull worship, in Costa Rica, the bull is a beast deserving of respect.
Interested in attending a local bullfight? Check out Expo Liberia for a list of upcoming events.
All photos by Zoraida Diaz