Looking back on the recent Sanfermines, we thought it’d be fun to publish a couple of articles on the subject. One, to reflect the current views on this ancient festival that has been keeping the world audiences on the edge of their seats. The other, a reprint which was written in GUIDEPOST by Neil Dougall 56 years ago. It seems only yesterday! And in fact if you read Neil’s you’d think he wrote it if not today then, indeed, only yesterday. Amazing how the party spirit of the runners has changed practically nothing since 1959.
Back to back with Neil’s “THE HORNS OF PAMPLONA San Fermin: Party All Night, Run with the Bulls at Daybreak” you’ll find Leanna Carroll’s “The Running of the Bulls: From Culture to Controversy.”
Gora San Fermín!
By Leanna Carroll
In Spain, the month of July notoriously marks the beginning of the San Fermín Festival or, in English parlance, the Running of the Bulls. The week long festival (6th July- 14th July) that takes place in Pamplona has evolved to such an extent that it is now equated to Spanish culture. Despite this seemingly commendable association, the Running of the Bulls has recently been the center of both scandal and controversy. Many people throughout Spain, specifically the younger generations, have called into question the ethical and moral standards of bull running which, they say, can be detrimental to both humans and animals alike. The resulting debate is now forcing people to evaluate and reconsider the cultural, economic, and ethical consequences of bull running.
As the name suggests, the San Fermín Festival was originally created in order to honor San Fermin, the patron saint of Pamplona. The festival used to be held during the month of October and, at the time, only lasted a few days. The (hazy) origins of the festival could be traced back to the 13th century and that which is now known as bull running was simply a means of transferring bulls within cities. As the bulls moved down the streets people would use sticks to help herd them along. Over time, the practice became intertwined with the festival itself.
In 1592, the San Fermín Festival was moved from October to July, presumably reflecting the change in nature and tone of the festival, from religious to gung-ho summer celebration. Today, thousands participate in the less than three minute run through the streets of Pamplona.
However, interacting with a wild animal obviously has its cons. Every year, runners risk being impaled by the bull, as well as being trampled by other runners as they scamper through the crowded streets. Additionally, because the festival often includes hours upon hours of drinking, runners can often be intoxicated. This is extremely dangerous as it impairs the capacity of runners for rational behavior and can drive them to try and grab the bull.
In 85 years (1924 – 2009), an estimated 15 people have been killed, all but one by goring, and countless injured. In 2015, a French citizen was gored to death by a bull.
The Festival of San Fermín has gained worldwide attention not only for its treatment of humans but also of the bulls. Recently, various animal rights groups, not least PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), have launched protests against the festival which ultimately ends with a matador severing the spine of the bull.
According to PETA, tourists are to blame for keeping the festival alive as the majority of Spaniards do not support bull running.
But tourism, where San Fermín is concerned, cannot be all that negative. Each year, during the festival, Pamplona welcomes roughly 500,000 tourists, more than double its population. This directly benefits the economy of many business owners in the place. Additionally, those who breed bulls are positively impacted; they are able to sell their bulls for fights at much higher rates. For example, a bull sold to a butcher can go for some $750.00 whereas a bull sold for a fight can go for $1,350 to $20,000.
The future of bull running in Spain is, in one word, uncertain. Over the years, several countries (Argentina, Canada, Cuba, Denmark, and Italy) have banned the practice due to its obvious dangers. The San Fermín undoubtedly has both its pros and cons but much of the future of this ancient festival depends on the ever changing opinion of the world.
> Featured image, Mike Brice via Flickr Creative Commons (https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebrice/)
> Bulls and runners via Creative Commons
> Huge crowd during the chupinazo, Abir Anwar (https://www.flickr.com/photos/abir82/), CC BY 2.0
> “Zero Agresiones” march, www.ekinklik.org, CC BY-SA 3.0