Bullfighting generates heated controversies in many areas of the world, and this includes Thailand, where an Asian style bullfighting is quite a popular past time, especially in the south of the country. This variation from the classic Spanish bullfighting is the clash between two bulls without the presence of a fighting matador. During these fights, two specially trained bulls lock horns inside an arena until one is called or decides to quit and runs away. Each bout has no fixed duration and can last from a few minutes to hours, though 15 to 30 minutes is the norm. Love it or hate it, bullfighting is an important tradition and cultural event that takes place in the country, hence I decided to give it full coverage so as to bring this event to light for our readers.
I headed out from Songkhla town on a summer day, intending to obtain full coverage of the local bullfighting, and after a few inquiries I was diverted by resourceful locals to an arena where 100 Thai Bath ticket earned me an entry to the stands. My journalistic fervor won me a hot spot right inside the dusty sand arena.
An increasing curiosity descended on the auditorium as I was an obliviously foreigner, and the only one at the event. I began taking pictures of the crowd in the surrounding stands and of the empty arena. The air was charged with infectious vibes; as the bulls made their entrance into the ring led by their owners, the atmosphere shivered with high voltage and the excitement of the crowd became tangible.
I was asked to move to the edges of the ring and to maintain a safe distance as I tried to move closer to the bulls in order to get better shots.
A midday sun shone in Songkhla as I stared at the huge beasts in front of me. They weren’t particularly angry, pawing the ground or snorting; nevertheless, they were bulls and I was in the arena with them driven by a sense of duty.
Hundreds of kilos of muscles rippling with testosterone concentrated into two gleaming and frightening sharp horns. The bulls were first taken to different sides of the ring and their faces, necks and horns smeared with mashed yellow bananas in preparation for the fight; apparently this is to disguise the age of the bull to its opponent. If a bull senses the opponent to be an elder, it will refuse to fight him as a sign of respect. They were then brought face to face in the center of the ring and finally, pitted against each other, locked horns. The animal’s survival and territorial instincts unavoidably kicked in – the wrestle had begun.
The presence of playful smiling kids and wise elderly women watching the fight reassured me of the traditional status of the sport and contradicted somehow the rumor that the bout is back-staged by betting fanatical, or ‘backstage matadors’ as some critics call them. Huge amounts of money are wagered on each Thai bullfight bet.
By now the sun had begun beating mercilessly, still the two bulls locked horns in the open air arena, unwilling to concede defeat. This somehow made the audience susceptible to oblivious excitement at times and sheer suspense at others.
After what seemed like an eternity, one bull suddenly turned its tail and beat a hasty retreat. It had been an awe-inspiring fight, judging from the way the winning bull was cheered by the crowd. The winning bull was paraded around the ring, then the owners secured the beast to a post with a rope and proceeded to cuddle him, feeding him bananas, patting him and washing his bleeding wounds down with buckets of water. His star status was further enhanced by red woollen caps, resembling baby mitts, pulled over his horns.
It was time for me to leave as I had accomplished my task. Plus, bullfighting is not my preferred way of entertainment. Stepping out of the stadium, I bumped into a large crowd gathered around another bull, sizing him up for his potential to win the next fight, and obviously looking forward to the next outcome.