June 20, 2008

Bullfight World
By Lyn Sherwood

California Bloodless Bullfights

Bullfight World is proud to announce that Jim Verner has been appointed the new correspondent for California and Tijuana bullfights. Verner is an excellent aficionado práctico and most knowledgeable about all things taurine. The following is his inaugural column.

With the confusion regarding the Tijuana bullfight season, Southern California aficionados may want to look into the bullfights held by the large Portuguese community in California, where attendance often surpasses that of the corridas held in Tijuana.

Of course, in keeping with California laws, the corridas are bloodless. There are no picador lances or barbed-tipped banderillas. Velcro-tipped banderillas and “ferros” (the Portuguese equivalent of rejones and banderillas, used by toreros on horseback in Mexico and Spain) are stuck into a Velcro mat, glued to the shoulders of the bulls. Yet, the bulls are of genuine fighting blood, born and raised in the Central Valley or imported from Mexico.

Pega do Michael Lopes. Fotos by Jose B.Avila de Tribuna Portuguesa.

The bullfighters are some of the best that Portugal, Spain, and Mexico have to offer. Most California bloodless bullfights have six bulls and a mix of bullfighters on foot, “matadors,” and bullfighters on horseback, “cavaleiros.” The matadors in these corridas (even though they do not kill the bull, are still called by this term, which means “killers”) perform with capote and muleta in a fashion similar to what is seen in Mexico.

But there are many other differences between a bullfight in Mexico and one in Portugal or California. For one thing, the Portuguese’ preferred form of bullfighting is from horseback. These cavaleiros are skilled horsemen, accomplished in the equine art of dressage as well as the art of bullfighting. It is also a Portuguese custom to put leather sheaths over the bull’s horns, to protect the horse in case it should be caught by the bull.

Another big difference is the “forcados.” These are men who “grab” the bull once the cavaleiro has finished his performance. It is a unique Portuguese form of bullfighting that is always done with animals that have been fought by cavaleiros. While many think the only qualification for being a forcado is dumb bravery, the fact is that these men have to understand bulls as well as any torero.

Eight forcados form a line in front of the bull and the one in the first position, called “caras,” cites the bull with his body. He then gracefully measures the charge, backing up as he waits for the bull to lower its head. At that moment, he leaps between the horns to hold on to the animal. The other members of the team provide support, so that the bull is stopped.

One of the team, the “rabejador,” then holds the bull’s tail so that the other forcados can move away from the bull. He will then coax the bull to charge as he holds on to the tail so that the bull spins in a circle, much like a dog chasing its own tail. Then, at the proper moment, the rabejador releases the tail and walks away from the standing bull.

Of course, this is how it works when it all comes together. But, many times it doesn’t. Forcados are often tossed by these strong bulls, flying through the air like leaves in the wind. And if the rabejador doesn’t get it right, he will be dragged or chased by a bull that was not ready to stop.

Anyone who attends one of these Portuguese festas will participate in a true cultural event. The Portuguese are friendly people, proud to be Americans, but also proud of their traditions and religion. The corridas, usually held in the evening, begin with a parade of the local queens and officials who organized the event. While announcements are in Portuguese, if you don’t understand the language your neighbors in the stands will be glad to translate.

And don’t forget to try the Portuguese food, served at stands outside the plaza. For information about future events, go to www.californiabullfights.org. And for even more details about what is going on in the Portuguese community, get a copy of the Tribuna Portuguesa portugesetribune@sbcglobal.net. While the bulk of the biweekly newspaper is in Portuguese, there is also an English language section.

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