Running with the bulls: The most deadly and dangerous tradition

Ed Angeli

July 7th-14th, normally the period for summer festivals – the unification of genuine hippies with others who want to be seen as *that* person who have daisy chains balancing on their foreheads, and rep some cheap pair of dodgy sunglasses.

Not in Spain, though, with the Basque region having other ideas: let’s continue a tradition where you might not return home following arriving at the festival: “Running with Bulls”.

Bull fighting, the frowned upon ‘sport’ banned across most Spanish regions. But, San Fermin Festival still stands. A tradition that dates back to the 13th century, a tradition where many have died running away from bulls. Deadly, dangerous and a little bit daft.

2016, San Fermin Festival - Image Source: Twitter
2016, San Fermin Festival – Image Source: Twitter

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Why participate?

At face value, the tradition seems a cruel death wish for either bull or runner; since 1925, 15 fatal – human – casualties have been recorded. Although this is too many, it is still a number which is a scratch on the surface for an extreme sport such as base jumping.

The tradition of the festival started with runners initially trying to get the bulls into their pens, daring butchers and cattle herders charging down the streets in order to get the bulls to the correct destination. And since then, the activity turned into mapped out courses, a spectacle, as well as routes being guarded to keep the bulls off the streets.

8am the carnage ensues. The first firecracker goes off, hundreds start running down the street, followed by six bulls. As Joseph Furey writes, who was present at the festival last summer:

“A glancing blow from one of these horns will open you up like a present.”

Furey, the Telegraph

Each morning of the festival the same process will be carried out, however the 0.51-mile run draws a different conclusion for the runner. But, a predictable ending for the bull: three minutes of a charge, the beasts conclusion being the bull ring, and then the slaughter.

Animal rights activists aside, the tradition has a huge following; with over a million visitors a year during the festival, the festival is a huge celebration of a Saint whose supposed death was brought about by a bull itself.

'A bulls eye view' - Image Source: Twitter
‘A bulls eye view’ – Image Source: Twitter

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The run is predominately made up of Spanish participants, however, the most famous foreign runner was American, Matthew Carney. He passed away in the 1980s, but his daughter now takes part in the bull run, and had this to say on the festival:

‘This is not a fiesta for “brave young men”. ‘It’s a fiesta for everyone – the elderly, kids, mothers. This is a celebration about being alive, a play of chaos and ritual that everyone enjoys.”

Deirdre Carney

A celebrated festival it would seem. But a festival that has its severe critics on a morality level. Is this fair entertainment on the bull? Is the slaughtering for the spectators something that should be celebrated with high spirits, in the sense of both alcoholically and euphorically?

Some come immediately to the defence of the festival, the usual arguments of tradition, and cultural values making a worthy argument that pleases the traditionalists amongst us. But, others come from the seemingly rational point of view: is the slaughtering of mammals behind closed doors for the sake of entertaining our food palate, not the same sort of ‘natural’ process that happens every day?

It is a tough one to argue against, but the tradition and historical values of the bull run, although highly dangerous, look set to remain for many years to come.

Watch the 2011 festival here:

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