I confess to thinking twice about reporting on Gaucín’s Toro de Cuerda not wishing to alienate readers but eventually decided that the purpose of this blog is to create a sense of place and therefore by leaving out an event that is so central to the village’s calendar I would not be true to my aims. The Bull Run may be controversial but it is an important festival, so here goes…
After the solemnity of the Semana Santa events, Gaucín goes a little loco on Resurrection Sunday as the annual Toro de Cuerda (Bull Run) marks not only the Resurrected Christ but also the start of the bullfighting season.
Andalucíans don’t need much of an excuse to party, and it´s been a long time since Los Reyos signalled the end of Christmas. Three young bulls run the streets on Easter Sunday and now it’s the turn of the younger Gaucíneros to join in. Although it appears a somewhat chaotic event, the Bull Run actually follows very prescribed steps starting with the commissioning of the bulls; through the release (always signalled with a rocket); and the display of skills and arts in deception by the runners, to the closure an hour later.
Villagers and tourists turn out in great numbers to watch as the first bull is released into the corral on the edge of the village where a crowd of [mostly younger] men wait in eager anticipation – dressed in red with one or two of the flashier ones sporting the traditional pink and yellow cape.
There is one such man whom I first spotted at the Cortes’ Bull Run many years ago due to the swaggering swirls of his splattered and battered muleta (cape). He runs with the bulls each year but I’ve never seen him in the village and wonder if he is a Gaucínero or a campesino?
The racket is extraordinary – whooping and shouting, klaxon´s blast – and the atmosphere is opaque with expectation.
When eventually the bull charges from his box, the men wind him up during ten minutes of face-to-face challenges. Then the barrier is raised and the bull heads for the streets sending the onlookers scattering either to dive behind strategically placed safety barriers, or to climb nearby rejas [window bars] out of reach of the bull´s deadly horns. With much commotion, the rest of the crowd follows the bull into the village.
After an hour of running the streets, the bull is cornered and forced back into the corral for more ‘displays of skill’ before being dragged back into his crate and transported away, almost certainly to be slaughtered. A second bull is released around midday and the final one at four o´clock in the afternoon. This last bull is often the messiest as the villagers have spent the intervening hours in the bars and are consequently sloppy, less nimble on their feet and take dangerous risks.
There have been some casualties – and even rumoured deaths – over the years and this one is no exception. The first bull of the day wanted no part of proceedings but the second bull was a feistier beast who apparently gored one of the runners through the leg. “Good” say many, “the runner got his just desserts!”. Ultimately it is the innocent bull who pays the highest price. His feet and knees bleeding from where he has gone down on the slippery tarmac, he is exhausted and fearful eyed with saliva frothing from his gaping mouth. It is sad to see such a magnificent creature reduced to a panting wreck.
At the very least, the history of Gaucín’s Bull Run can be traced back a couple of hundred years. Unfortunately, town records were destroyed during the French invasion in the early 1800s but some believe that the Toro de Cuerda may even date back to Roman times. In his book El Toro de Cuerda de Gaucín author Miguel Vázquez González says
“The origin of the popular festival of Toro de Cuerda de Gaucín is lost in the night of the times, many testimonies of oral tradition that so credit. The event is very old because it counts on the tradition that in time of the guilds each one took out its bull, being the case of being until three on the street that day”.
There are abolicionistas in the village who would like the Bull Run stopped. Tourists are divided but many still enjoy the spectacle from the safety of their terraces. Some ex-pats boycott the event or host alternative parties.
But do we ‘guests’ have the right to impose our sensibilities on a cultural event that is so deeply rooted in tradition?
Andalucía is a melting pot: often described as real Spain, the region is suffused with both Moorish and Gitano influences. The Bull Run’s almost primal nature seems in stark contrast to the piety of Semana Santa, yet both are rooted in a culture where life can be harsh and emotions are never far from the surface.
I try not to make a case for either camp but leave you with this thought: little boys around here do not dream of becoming football stars, their sights are firmly set on the bullring.
All images © Pip Art