The most classic image of the running of the bulls in the whole world is the one we see each month of July in Pamplona. However, it is not the only one, for the bull is seen as a noble, strong and brave animal in many cultures around the world and it is used as a symbol of these values. In addition, the animal has also been used for transport and food in the development of many civilizations, and in its version as a fighting bull, for many spectacles and fiestas. We will consider some of these “other runnings of the bulls” which take place in different parts of the world and with different kinds of format and which are identified within a determined culture and circumstances.
Some of these “runnings of the bulls” might seem cruel to our eyes but let’s not pass any judgment without first learning something of the background to each case. And, it must be recognized that bulls have little in common with snails and when their horns touch something they do not exactly shrink, but rather slice through something or other. Besides, there is another section where it is bull versus bull and it draws the crowds even if it is not like the running of the bulls as we know it. Evidently, there is no need to talk about our own Sanfermin running of the bulls as our neighboring pages on this web site has all the information that you can need.
The “Pamplonada”, as it is called, takes place in Mexico during the fiesta of San Miguel de Allende. And so, logically, it is sometimes also called the “Sanmiguelada.” This event is no centuries-old tradition; indeed, it took place for the first time in 1973. Since then it has not missed any year. It seems clear that this fiesta in San Miguel de Allende goes hand in hand with some hard drinking and dangerous moments from the bulls.
This “Pamplonada” is given a lot of media coverage at a national level and it is quite similar to our classic running of the bulls except for the fact that the running does not end in the bullring but rather continues various times around the same circular course. Such a tradition exists in other European towns but the Mexicans give the event spectacular live coverage from their national TV and the whole thing has elements of bravery, fine bulls and a fiesta atmosphere. Each year there are lots of wounded and it is not rare for someone to even get killed.
The running of the bulls at San Sebastian de los Reyes
This town, close to Madrid, was founded in 1492. Records show that just some thirty years later there were fiestas being celebrated with bulls in the streets. So these runnings of the bulls are as old as the town itself and they are considered “the little brother version of the Pamplona runnings of the bull”. The format is the same as that of Pamplona, with the same bull breeds and with many runners who participate in both events each year. As the fiestas in San Sebastian de los Reyes take place later in the summer, it can be seen as a second opportunity to run in front of fighting bulls which will later fight in the bullring. Some would say that in some aspects these runnings are better than those in Pamplona in Sanfermin.
On top of the bull, at the rodeo
Normally, a bull will not allow anyone to sit up on its back. It understandably gets angry at this audacity. And this is exactly what happens at the American rodeos. Some people get paid to make the attempt to sit up on the bull and it is then released from its corral and it comes out leaping and capering for all its worth. The aim is to try to stay up on the bull for as long as possible, and when you are tossed off to land well and avoid the bull from trying to kill you. These are wild animals and they don’t like the idea of anyone trying to tame them, but the riders are tough too and with skill and expertise, they can stay up on the animal for longer than you might think. These events can attract big crowds and the best bull can also get an award as well as the best riders.
In front of the bull, the jalli kathu
Perhaps “in front of the bull” is not the best description for this custom. Because when the bull is not charging at those in front of it, the people themselves are chasing after the bull. The image is very clear, hundreds of people trying to grasp the bull as it defends itself as best it can. This event takes place in the Indian townships of Madurai, Tiruchirapalli and Tanjavur during four days of festivities when the people celebrate the Pongal, the Harvest Festival (24th January). Wads of bank notes are tied to the head of the animal and …well, here you have a very original running of the bulls. It should be remembered that bulls and cows are well respected in Hindu culture and, in spite of the images, the animal is respected and given the opportunity of not being caught by anyone.
The Makepung Hauling
The Makepung is celebrated each year in Jembrana, in Bali and it is a type of cart race. Animals known as buffalos by the locals but which we in the western world realize are “big bulls with even bigger horns”. These animals are prepared for the race and in pairs they pull a small cart with a jockey and run as fast as they can. Each team has its particular pennant and the animals are adorned with the colors in the Balinese style. It would not exactly be the best place to take part in a running but the whole thing looks very colorful. The horns are decked out with wooden ornaments and in the same colors as the small cart that they must pull. The Makepung is a very prestigious race, especially for the winner, who is seen as a local hero as well as a fine sportsman.
In Pakistan there is a simpler version of the Makepung which is run with local animals. Again there are two animals but less decorative, although the animals have prestige. No wheels are used here. Just a simple wooden board which the jockey stands on and hold some rope as reins at about two meters from the heads of the animals. The jockey needs to show “skills” in “piloting” the animal but also an ability to stay on his two feet in this kind of “aquatic skiing” even though it is run over sand. The speed of the animals and the need to keep one’s balance make it no easy task.
Another of these versions takes place in Vietnam also with the animals in pairs. Here there is no cart, nor even a board, as if they only stood on an axis. There is a parallel piece of wood hanging down between the animals from their heads to the ground and the valiant driver must grasp this as best he can. And this race is not just run over ground, but also through rivers and country paths. In spite of the terrain, the animals also reach very fast speeds here.
Hauling, Idi Probak
Here it is not speed but rather strength which counts. This is a Basque tradition where two oxen haul blocks of stone over a paved surface in a contest against the clock. Whoever crosses the finishing line in the least time, wins. Here haulage oxen are used for this sport and the knowledge, about their strength and capacity that the drovers or minders have from working with them, is made use of. It works out as a kind of challenge between the oxen drovers who will often believe that their own animal is the best one. In the competition there is usually some betting going on, be it for money or some other thing. The spectators will also often place bets and make their predictions about the possible winners. The stone slabs vary in weight between two and four tons.
The slab in Tolosa weights 4,000 kilos, the ones that are found in Guernica and Munguía are 4, 500 kilos. And in the town of Berriatua there exists a slab of 5, 250 kilos, which has not been used in a race since 1950.
Bull against bull in Kafkasor
The spectacle of a bull competing against a bull is also common to different cultures around the world. While it is not a running of the bulls, it is yet another reference to the relationship between Man, Bull and Festivals. This one brings us to Turkey, where in the town of Kafkasor some well-known festivals are held where a bull faces another bull and the bullfighting is literally between the two bulls. They charge head to head against one another and the stronger bull is declared the winner. The bulls are chosen for their strength and their horns are kept small so that they don’t cause death wounds with them. A very similar rite is practiced in Korea with very similar rules. They charge against one another and whichever can push back the other bull is declared the winner. Again their horns are shortened so as not to cause wounds.
Last year some residents of Deadwood (South Dakota) tried to promote a type of running of the bulls, using their local animal which is, in fact, a buffalo. The proposition was a serious one in which the proposal was appraised by the Deadwood City Authority which studied the case, but finally rejected it. The promoters hope to renew their efforts as it could be good for local tourism and also allow the people to enjoy themselves even more than they do at present.
This idea would seem to have been copied from the TV announcement filmed where Bison were raced through the streets of New York in a running made for a San Miguel beer spot. But that was a once-off only for the TV spot and for the moment there is no question of creating a tradition from it.