Victory over what?

Photo essay: A bullfight in Mexico City

by Sid Sarshar
I generally don’t like to talk about my photographs.  It’s best when viewers have their own take on what they see, but in this case I would like to share an observation. I have been looking at these pictures for some time and there is something unsettling about them.  There are two forces at play in my mind. One is the history of bull fighting.  The other is what I actually observed during this event.  Let me explain:

The history of bull fighting:

I am not a historian, but based on what I gathered  from my conversations with the guide, the roots of bull fighting go back to the 11th century when Moorish forces invaded Spain. The Moors stampeded bulls into enemy front lines shouting, “ALLAH, ALLAH, ALLAH”. The Spaniards quickly learned they could manage the bulls by using a red cloth, hence a sport was born. As you have probably guessed, the word, “ALLAH” evolved into the word, “OLE”.  During the Moorish occupation of Spain, bull fighting was banned, but was enjoyed privately by the Spanish aristocrats.  After the Spaniards kicked the Moors out of Spain, Bull Fighting became more popular and it is now a prominent aspect of Latin life.

What I observed:

Three or four bulls are  killed during each event. The process is much the same each time.

Act I - Warm Up: A bull charges out of the gate and into the ring with awesome power.  It runs from side to side looking for something to attack.  This excites the fans.  For the first 10 minutes, the Matadors’ assistants play with the bull until he is tired.  At this point another assistant shows up on a padded horse holding a lance and cuts the skin between the shoulders of the bull.  This allows the matador to stick knifes into the bull’s back.

Act II - The dance:  At this stage the matador enters the ring and for about 20 minutes uses his cape to dance with the bull. Every time the bull charges and misses, shouts of “Ole” arise from the crowd. After a while, the bull is too tired to chase the Matador. This signals the final act.

Act III -  Death:  The matador taunts the bull into charging him one last time, and then drives a long and narrow sward with a bent tip between the shoulder blades of the bull into his heart.  This requires some skills. The bull stands still dazed for 2 minutes while it experiences massive internal bleeding. The Matador walks around the ring basking in cheers from the crowd. Occasionally, he bends down to pick up a bouquet of flowers thrown to him by the fans and strikes macho-ballerina poses for them, The crowed goes wild. The bull drops to its knees. After another minute or so of struggling for his life, his head hits the ground. He is dead.

If the beginnings of this sport were based on a tactic for resisting foreign invasion, then the whole thing could be seen as a kind of a victory dance, but seeing the pain and humiliation of the bull, I had to wonder, “victory over what?”

This bull fight took place in Mexico City.

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American Wife

I too took a pass at looking at the photos.

by American Wife on

It's not something that I think I'd enjoy either.  So many ancient traditions that are so archaic.  Sacrificial lambs and worse!  But you can see that civilization has progressed.  NO COUNTRY or land of people are innocent of what we consider atrocities today.  I'd just like to think we've learned something.  On the other hand, I'd have to say I agree with Camacho... is it really right to criticize or judge any one else's cultural traditions?  It's not done here... well, at least until Michael Vick gets out of jail.  I'd rather focus on the issues facing OUR country.

M... frog legs?  I've never been able to force myself...LOL.  Let me tell you about a charming little delicacy from the South... pickled pigs feet.  I swear it's true!!!  And no.  NEVER...LOL 


Dear IRANdokht,

by Killjoy (not verified) on

One piece of advice from a non-professional cook and wine-lover:

Never try to kill the taste of any food with wine, it spoils the joy of wine drinking.

It wasn't until I met these professional and non-professional wine connoisseurs that I became convinced drinking wine was, indeed, and art.

When drinking wine, the company and choice of food are extremely important.

Sorry for the diversions, guys!


Killjoy aziz

by IRANdokht on

I think the wine helps the taste! I couldn't even eat half of it and pretending it was chicken didn't help much either.  ;-)  



Dear IRANdokht,

by Killjoy (not verified) on

It wasn't for the frog she ate that she needed ablutions. She had too much wine that night.


My dear Killjoy

by IRANdokht on

I am not a vegetarian and although I find meat less and less appealing, I have not written it off completely yet . My issue with the bullfighting is not just the killing of the animal , but the glorifying torturous nature of it. Thousands of people watch it as entertainment, now that is what I have a problem with...

The reality is that people grow animals for food whether some of us approve of it or not. Without that source of food available, the resources would probably not suffice the human population's needs.

I also have tried frog legs and all sorts of seafood...  but I draw the line at abusive behavior, that's just not humane.

why did she have to take a bath after eating frog legs though? that could also qualify as cruel and unusual punishment! :0)



Dear IRANdokht,

by Killjoy (not verified) on

I haven't seen the photos, either. Many of us have known about bullfighting since we were kids. I first learned about it in more details in Hemingway's books. As kids we used to joke about bullfighting and never thought about the sufferings of the poor animals.

Accepting a sport as brutal as it may be is not the same as approving of it. I hardly ever watch violent sports such as boxing, kick-boxing, professional wrestling, etc.

Do I approve of sacrificial lambs being slaughtered in millions every year? I don't. I've had pets who were more intelligent than many people I've run into in my life. I love animals, but there are people who eat dog meat, rabbit, horse meat, etc.

My non-Iranian better half has eaten frogs and she liked them. Did I approve of that?

When she asked me if she could try them, I told her she was old enough to decide for herself and she went ahead and ordered some. She didn't offer me any.

For ablutions I forced her into the bathtub as soon as we reached home.

One of my friends owns a restaurant which serves horse meat and she invited me several times to eat with them, but I had to refuse, politely. We've eaten at her other restaurants, though.

According to those who have tasted(for free) the dishes I've prepared, I'm a great cook and I make very delicious Chili Con Carne or Moussaka which require meat.

There are tons of things I don't approve of, but as a social being, I see them as facts of life. And there are many things I would love to see, but I have to do without.

The 1,400 figure was in reference to someone else's comment who tried to politicize this photo essay.


I hope when some day we're invited for dinner, you won't serve ME meat.


Killjoy aziz

by IRANdokht on

In the ancient times they used to throw Christians and other prisoners in the big arenas and watch them get eaten by animals too. They didn't think it was barbaric either.

Not everything that ancient people did should continue as an accepted ritual and usually they don't if by today's standards deemed offensive or criminal.

A lot of people are even against animal abuse for the advance of science, nevermind the merciless killing of a bull for entertainment values alone.

I just think the Spanish should accept that their tradition of bull-fighting as glorified as it has been in the past, should be left to the pages of history.


PS: I didn't look at these pictures and later, I won't be looking at JJ's photos  either.



by Killjoy (not verified) on

This is a sport and should be seen as one. It's as barbaric as boxing or other sports which abuse animals, but it's about 1,400 years old and the majority of people where bullfighting takes place don't see it as barbaric simply because they are used to watching it.


I suggest reading Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises," if you haven't yet, before going to a fight. It may help you deal with some of its barbaric aspects.

Drink lots of wine. That may help, as well.



by maziar 1958 (not verified) on

FYI, En la proposicion articular,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
OOH hell who cares we did not (I) personally did not intend to insult the great catalones & castill & Aztec's Beautiful culture with a lot of similarity to ours..........
Isn't that nice to have 1000's of peoples enjoying their time under the sunny Mehico's
watching bullfight ? And we just have to get to see the pics. BUMMER !


It is a marvelous spectacle

by La CAMACHO (not verified) on

It is a marvelous spectacle to behold. Those of you who have not witnessed it should refrain from your PETA-mad comments and respect a culture that is not yours. The roots of tauromaquia are Roman not Arab though the first recorded corrida was under the Arabs and organized by Christians in León in 815. Aside from this bulls were sacrificied as religious tribute in cases of weddings, baptisms, coronations and the like. Check your sources that though it may be true that Olé may come from Allah it ends there. Read up on the topic and then enlighten us with your Fiesta Brava knowledge.


don't get too carried away now...

by Anonymouszzzz (not verified) on

I didn't know the history behind bull fighting, but it sounds like it's a matter of national pride.

Their adversary used an aggressive beast to stump restless people who managed to add good hand eye coordination with good footwork to a peace of cloth inorder to save themselves from a hostile enemy.

You kabob eating hipos should enjoy the grace and beauty of their sport and let them bask in the joys of their accomplishment.


ole !

by maziar 1958 (not verified) on

Of all the tall tail I really liked the mexican guid's one: Allah,Allah and it become ole ! good story and real funny .
have you seen the khomieni's mummy next to hitler in the wax museum in down town D.F. ? khoosh behalet.


victory over...Bullfighting

by Kurush (not verified) on

This is definitely an exercise in barbarism. Like foxhunting in UK, it is indicative of how blind the West is with regards to the spiritual realm. The sadistic slaying of the bull is of course condoned by that great institution of probity and morals, the Vatican which should have long ago set out to repaire this glaring flaw in the Western civilizations-but that would be asking for too much the Vatican is as much about cupidity and materialism as any other aspect of the diseased West of which bullfighting is a symptom. But tracing the historical roots to the Moors is gratuitous. Rather, it should be traced to the Romans. The Romans had a deep passion for witnessing the suffering of animals and humans in death throes. For example, after his conquest of Asia Minor and Palestine, Pompey Magnus built a magnificent stadium and during its opening ceremonies the frenzied and totally wild Roman spectators witnessed 5000 African elephants, lions, leopards,etc. slowly and methodically slain by the gladiators. It was said that the shriek of the suffering animals could be heard in every corner of Rome. It was also said that the violent death of Pompey during the Civil War was a vengeance by the spirit of the animals. The Anglos-Saxons singlehandedly decimated the whole population of the great Whales, the bears of the Rockies and wolves in the northern Plains. No civilization has been so deeply blind to the suffering of others, including animals. No wonder Americans go about their business oblivous of the suffering their military occupation has caused daily in Irq and Afghanistan.

Jahanshah Javid

I want to watch

by Jahanshah Javid on

Great pictures Sid! I so feel for the poor animal.

I'm going to be in Mexico Sunday night and will be staying for a few months in Chihuahua. I believe there is bullfighting there too. I've always wanted to see a bullfight, more out of curiosity than anything else. If it was up to me, I would ban it. It's a bloody, cruel and quite cowardly sport since the beast is always in a weaker position. Give him a few spears of his own then we're talkin. But this is something I have to experience once. My photo essay will be far more damning than the few dollars I will pay to support this inhuman spectacle.


notes from Mexico

by Aziz (not verified) on

I am in a fishing village in Mexico planning to go and fish (kill) some yellow tail that are minding their own business and not bothering me in anyway. This is my friend's passtime and bobbing up and down on a small boat is my relaxation. I do not like pulling the fighting fish out of the ocean. I watch.
I do however enjoy the fresh fish on the dinner table just as I enjoy the BBQ meat often, more often that I want to admit.

All the same - bull fighting strikes me as horrible soprt practiced by the "low end" of the European culture, one reason I dislike Spain and like Holland when I travel.

I hope we humans one day cure ourselves from cruelty to animals.


What the HELL . . .

by Javadagha on

What the Hell . . .

Can you imagine if this happened in Iran what would Eye-ranians say?  Oh, Mullah’s this, Oh, Mullah’s that, and the U.S. is great country.  Can you imagine what so-called freedom loving people say?

The U.S. is great country because its people stole lands from Indians and slaved many people including Mexicans to build it.  Now the U.S. is using freedom bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan to take over their natural resources.