Korida – Bullfighting Bosnian style

When I hear of bullfighting, I am immediately associated with the activity’s negative connotations such as animal suffering, sadism, and the killing of a bull by an exquisitely dressed matador in an unequal contest. Images that come to mind are of a beautiful bull, stabbed multiple times by swords decorated with colourful flags (tercio de banderillas) and the animal’s black fur soaked in red blood. I also, however, consider that this is a part of an important tradition for many people around the world, Spain in particular. Also, as a fervent meat eater whose consumption contributes to mass farming and animal suffering and killing, I feel I have little to zero moral ground to stand on when judging this practice. Luckily, the bullfighting I am to tell you about does not result in bloodshed.

Bullfighting is very popular in parts of Bosnia. Thousands of people attend multiple bullfighting events across the country. The most famous one is in Čevljanovići, a village just north of Sarajevo. It is held annually on the last weekend of July and it gets the most attention in the media. Photographs of beer drinking “rednecks” sitting around tables on which scantily clad women dance to folk music form the general image of the event. Some Bosnians are ashamed of this. They perceive it as a gathering of primitivism and uncivilised debauchery that is damaging the image of the country. The truth, or perhaps just my opinion, as often, is somewhere in the middle.

I had the opportunity to attend a korida, as bullfighting is called in Bosnia, elsewhere. The name is derived from the Spanish word for a fight between a man and a bull (corrida). I have since learned that the original Bosnian name for bullfighting was badlja bikova, loosely translated as stabbing between bulls. This term indicates that men do not take part in the struggle. Purely by chance, by just driving near Donji Vakuf in Central Bosnia, I stumbled upon the korida in the village of Babin Potok (Grandma’s or Father’s Stream) organised by certain Dervišić brothers. I had always wanted to visit a korida and this was my chance.

As I walked in I saw trailer cars in which the bulls are transported and a number of owners petting their bull in order to calm them down after a fight. Other teams were getting prepped to enter the arena, basically a meadow with a weak fence around it. I had just arrived in between fights, which allowed me to explore what else was on the offer for the 5 euro entrance fee that I had paid.

Football shirts and ice cream, what more does one need?
Oh yes, a beer would be nice too!
And if you’re hungry, there is lamb and chicken being roasted in a trailer.
I think this gentleman knows what he is doing.
There is some live music too.
But everyone was really waiting for the bullfights to continue.
The crowd in the improvised stands was ready.
So after a while, first bulls were brought into the ring.

I was not sure what to expect as a pair of bulls entered the arena. I did not know what the bullfight would be like, whether the bulls would get injured, pierced, or run into the crowd jumping or running over the fragile fence. I had no idea about the rules. I was going to get the answers to these questions very soon. The crowd was getting excited but there was an anti-climax. The first two bulls did not feel like fighting, despite being “encouraged” to do so by their “coaches” (owners) who hit them with a stick to, supposedly, anger them. The fight was called off and the bulls left the ring without ever touching. The same thing happened with the next pair, except that this time, one of the bulls also tried to get out of the ring by climbing the slope at the edge.

This bull did not feel like getting into a brawl.
Not in a fighting mood either.

However, soon enough, the third pair of bulls did lock horns. I was relieved to learn that the bulls’ horns are usually filed before the match so that the bulls do not wound one another. I was also gladly surprised to hear that a bull wins by forcing his rival to run away, by pushing him. Nothing further was required. And that is exactly how each of the fights I observed ended. It was more like wrestling than anything else. And while these animals are surely put in a stressful situation and even hit, they are also loved and deeply cared for. An additional reason for the good care is that a good fighting bull is an important investment as the winner of the tournament could win several thousand euros. My consciousness was put at ease knowing that the animals were not exposed to (very) serious injuries or suffering. For me, the balance between animal rights and preservation of a tradition clearly tipped in favour of the latter in this case. Some will surely disagree.

Bulls lock horns under the watchful eyes of their coaches and the public.
A close up of the action.
The point was to push the rival and force him to flee.
The wrestle lasted between 5-10 minutes.

Koridas are one of Bosnia’s longest lasting traditions. There are apparently records of the events going back to two to three hundred years. In the past, bulls were smeared in bear fat in order to fool the opponent into thinking that he was fighting a bear. They were also given rakija (brandy) to make them more stubborn or aggressive. Today there are doping controls at major events. In essence, koridas were, and still are, major social gatherings which enabled people from remote villages to come together to trade and socialise. Usually, traditional dances would take place at koridas as well, but not at this one sadly. Surely, many a romance started at these events too. People I met on this day were all friendly and enjoyed themselves. To me, it was like any other festival, obviously with a specific theme and crowd. I took a few more pics of the folks who attended and hit the road.

Let me tell you something my friend.
Are you cool?
I wonder how many koridas he has attended.
Watching the match.
Serving and protecting, and no alcohol while on duty.
The fight was over.

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