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Mexico: Dancing With Death

Documentary photo story posted on 24 October 2010 by Rafael Ben-Ari

During the eight centuries of the Spanish War of the Reconquest (711-1492 A.D.), the knights, Moors and Christians, weary of killing one another, would occasionally hunt wildlife to avoid boredom. While deer were easy prey and a cornered bear or boar would usually put up a fight, it was the wild Iberian bull that presented a challenge for these valiant knights. When provoked, it would rather die fighting than flee. At some point, a nobleman captured several bulls and recreated the fight in the village. Thus the sport of bullfighting was born.

Bullfighting–known in Mexico as Fiesta Brava, made its debut in Mexico City, on June 26th 1526, with the first bullfight in honor of Hernan Comes, on his return from Las Hibueras which is now Honduras. Throughout the three centuries that Spain ruled Mexico, bullfights were held regularly to honor city and religious celebrations.

The object of bullfighting is for the bullfighter (matador) to “conquer and kill the bull with a swift clean kill by placing a sword in a coin-sized area between the bull’s shoulders.” For this reason, it takes extreme courage and many hours of training to become a matador. In reality, bullfighting cripples one out of four matadors during their careers. One out of ten die.Advocates of bullfighting argue that if the matador aims correctly, the animal dies in a matter of seconds. This type of quick, clean death, however, is not the norm. In most cases, the matador misses the target, injuring the bull’s lungs and bronchial tubes, causing blood to flow and bubble through the animals mouth and nose. 
Bullfighting is a type of dramatic dance with death. As he would in dancing, the matador must control his movements — maintaining the rhythm, not of music, but of danger.In the bullfighting arena, one little mistake by the matador could mean death.

In every corida de toros, matadors kill four to six bulls. Watching one isn’t for the faint hearted. In an average afternoon session, three matadors each fight two bulls. The fight begins as the bull is released into the ring and the torero or bullfighter’s assistant takes a few passes of the bull with his cape, to gauge the reactions of the bull. Then picadors riding horses enter the ring and draw the first blood then exit the ring.
The traditional cape work with the bull then follows, with each pass of the cape being accompanied by a hearty cry of “Ole!” from the crowd. The matador kills the bull in a ritualistic manner by thrusting a lethal blow of the sword deep into the bulls back. A judge scores the killing, and if not done perfectly, it could bring shame upon the matador.
The largest bullring in Mexico, seating 60,000, is the Plaza Mexico in Mexico City. The season there lasts from November to March. Novillades, featuring novice matadors and young bulls, are held from June to October.


Today Bullfighting generates heated controversy in many areas of the world, including Mexico. Supporters of bullfighting argue that it is a culturally important tradition, while animal rights groups argue that it is a blood sport because of the suffering of the bull and horses during the bullfight.

Only time will tell whether bullfighting will eventually pass away  from the world…

All photos by Rafael Ben-Ari/Chameleons Eye

Chameleons Eye- Israel Photo Agency


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