Bulls of Fire: A Cruel Tradition Persists in Spain


Bulls of fire is an extremely cruel Spanish bloodsport. In it, torches are tied to bulls’ horns and then set on fire, all for the entertainment of the crowd. This atrocious physical and mental torture, considered a tradition, takes the name of ‘Toro Jubilo’ or ‘Bou Embolat’ and is still practiced in two Spanish regions, namely Catalonia and Valencia.

Because of its characteristics, in ancient times in these regions, the bull represented the ultimate totemic animal. According to some anthropologists, the ritual of Toro Jubilo was a sacred celebration of Iberian people during the Bronze Age that took place on the solstices and Spring equinox. After the ritual, the bull was sacrificed and his meat was consumed by the community, and understood to strengthen their bodies. Others date the ritual back to ancient battles, when bulls of fire were used to scatter the enemy.

A more popular version sees a connection between this ritual and the arrival of the relics of the holy bodies in Medinaceli, transported by a bull with burning torches on its horns. The first records of this practice date back to the mid-16th century, while at the juncture of the 18th and 19th centuries, the 13th of November was set as the date of the Toro Jubilo celebration.

Catalonia has tried to ban bullfighting, however the Spanish Supreme Court refused, on the grounds that it is part of their cultural heritage. The same thing happened when the Balearic Islands attempted to ban the practice and were blocked by high court ruling. One origin of this problem is that Spanish law considers animals objects. From a legal standpoint animals are currently considered assets, similar to refrigerators or a TV set.

During the Toro Jubilo ritual, the bull is tied to a pole in the middle of a square while hot ashes are scattered around the floor of the arena. Five bonfires, one for each of the holy martyrs of Medinaceli, light up the ring where the ritual takes place. The torture begins as a wooden frame is forcibly attached to the bull’s head. Either sides of the wooden frame are then set on fire, giving the impression that the bull has flaming horns.

The poor animal is then released and can do nothing but run around in pain at extremely high speed with the risk of crashing into walls or obstacles, in an attempt to escape the flames and avoid the five bonfires. Some bulls are blinded by the fire burning their corneas, and some bulls hit their heads so hard that the impact kills them.

All this suffering is only the beginning, as the following day the bull will be killed in a slaughterhouse.

The event also represents a huge risk also for humans that are watching. A few months ago, a 71 year old man was charged by a bull on fire in the town of Jerica and died, for instance. Those in charge of organizing these festivals refuse to accept the danger to humans and insist that it is not that painful for the bulls.

Featured image: The Toro Jubilo ritual. Image credit Partido Animalista, CC BY-SA 3.0. All other images in this post via OIPA International.

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