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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 February 2019

Bullfighting tradition in Fujairah divides opinion but delights its fans

Little-known UAE tradition still stirs passion and controversy

Fujairah cattle breeders enjoy a little-known tradition that has been taking place for more than half a century – bullfighting.

The breeders gather each week to stage the fights and ­determine which of their animals is the strongest.

Owners say the brutal clashes are not nearly as bloody as the fights that take place in ­places such as Spain or Portugal, where matadors or toureiros typically kill their bulls.

But animal rights campaigners have condemned the bouts, saying that they are unnecessary and cruel.

Each fight typically lasts around four minutes. Leslie Pableo / The National
Each fight typically lasts around four minutes. Leslie Pableo / The National

Speaking to The National, Hind, an animal rights campaigner from Sharjah, denounced the contests - which are held on the Fujairah Corniche - and hopes to put a stop to them.

But organisers insisted the practice was a much-valued part of life in the emirate, and that the fights were “less about bloodletting” and “more about the animals' strength and the owners' pride".

“At first I didn’t understand why there were always bulls beside the Corniche on a Friday,” said Hind.

“Then a few of my local friends told me. They said the fights had been going on for years and they didn’t know how to stop it.

"We need to put an end to this horrendous act. It's not a sport or a hobby, it's a disgrace."

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The bullfights take place each Friday afternoon in a wide, fenced off ring.

Crowds, often with young children, gather in groups around the perimeter or watch from their vehicles as the animals are led into the arena.

Organisers check each bull's weight to ensure they are evenly matched against an animal of similar size.

Each fight typically lasts around four minutes, with the bulls goaded into head butting each other from close quarters.

The winner is the animal declared to have faced down its opponent, successfully driving it away with its head.

No prize money is involved, although a successful fighter can often cost more if sold on later owing to the animal’s perceived prowess.

Bullfighting in Fujairah. Leslie Pableo / The National
Bullfighting in Fujairah. Leslie Pableo / The National

On Tuesday, Hind said she had contacted the Ministry of Climate Change and the Environment to complain about the fights, but had yet to receive a response.

The 35-year-old said she was determined to continue pushing the issue, believing the weekly bouts inhumane.

"I've been trying to reach the authorities to discuss this but I've heard nothing back," she said. "The police in Fujairah don't seem to want to interfere."

Speaking to The National, however, Harib Al Nuaimi, 75, an Emirati breeder who owns 20 bulls, said his animals were always well cared for.

He insisted farmers took immense pride in the strength and vitality of the beasts, treating them as they would family.

“The contest is part of our lives and we care about our bulls like we care about our children,” he said.

“We feed them the best food, including even honey. And we provide them with the best medical care.

“I don’t think that anyone else treats their animals as well as we do.”

Mr Al Nuaimi went on to emphasise that the fights, which have been a tradition in Fujairah for some 70 years, were not about winning or losing.

He said raising the animals was a way of life for many in the emirate, and that he was anxious to keep the tradition alive.

An owner leads his bull into the ring. Leslie Pableo / The National
An owner leads his bull into the ring. Leslie Pableo / The National

“It’s a head butting contest not an actual fight,” he said. “There’s no blood and we don’t let them hurt each other as this will affect the bull’s performance in the next contest.

“It’s part of our tradition and one that we intend to pass to the next generation - teaching our children and grandchildren the rules and morals of the game.”

Saeed Hassan, 39, one of the fights organisers, said it was commonplace for families to bring their children to watch the bouts.

“The competition isn’t like other bull fighting events in the world,” he said. “It’s like the rope pulling game.

“Some small cuts do occur but it’s very rare and gets taking care of immediately. Neither the breeder or organisers allow injured bulls to fight.”

Saleh Ali, a 16-year-old Emirati who attended his first bull fight when he was seven, said: “It’s something we look forward to every weekend.”

“The fight isn’t scary at all. It’s fun and entertaining. It’s become part of our family tradition to come and watch.”

Updated: January 23, 2019 09:57 PM

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