News: 18 Sep 2010, Bullfight












The bullfight was supposed to start at two, its an hour or an hour and a half from Kervan Saray, so we left at 8:30. Purpose: to film us driving along the road; a tedious business where the film crew drive off and call us some time later that we can come now in our car.

The first part of the drive was on a very rough road lined by mud and makuti houses reminiscent of central Africa until we reached the beginning of the forest where we were told to stop and wait. Matthias noticed someone climbing a very tall tree, but it wasn't interesting to the film crew who disappeared off up the road. Our driver Saieedy told us the man was collecting Bungo fruit. This seemed like an excellent thing to investigate, as we entered the forest a thin black snake crossed my path a couple of metres ahead. It was probably just getting out of my way, but when it comes to snakes I think there's some sort of short circuit between my eyes and legs and in a flash I was far away. After a good look around, and stamping heavily to warn any other fauna of my approach I moved forwards to a small clearing; there were actually a couple of people balanced precaiously 20m up trees armed with a stick to knock the fruit down to their mate and a small boy on the ground. Bungo fruits are the same colour and a bit smaller than an orange and grow on a vine high up in trees like passion fruit, and are used for their juice. We tried one, quite sour, I was not convinced the risk of getting them was worthwhile, we gave the fruit collector 1000 shillings (50p) for the fruit we tried, he looked pleased, it probably doubled his earnings for the day.

Saieedy turned out to be quite a mine of information about the flora but all too soon the film crew were on the radio to tell us we could come. In the next hour or so we had to do several things again, please. The mitigating factor was that it is a nice forest with very tall trees, Saieedy told me it had belonged to an Indian but independence came before he could flatten it, it was nationalized, and has been preserved ever since. An unusual thing for a place which can be quite corrupt and as relatively densely populated as Pemba.

After the forest the rough track became quite a good tar road. I asked Saieedy to point out Cloves, Nutmeg, Pepper, Vanilla or anything else interesting, these are spice islands after all and I was keen to see what they looked like. I'd read in a brochure at the lodge that there are 3 million Clove trees on Pemba, which seems a lot for an island only 40 miles or so long and half as wide, so there must be masses of them about. He said there wasn't much of them at this end of the island, but eventually said "Cloves" and stopped on the side of the road. We walked to an unremarkable looking tree thirty or fourty feet high, Saieedy poked about in the foliage, picked off a small bunch of reddish coloured buds, and then did a sort of magic trick so they all separated off their stalks into the palm of his hand. "Second quality" he said. The film crew arrived but since there is nothing about spices in the script they weren't terribly interested. I said they should be interested, this is the core of why this place is like this, an important reason (after slaves) why the Arabs came here bringing their religion, and why the Portuguese came here, bringing bullfighting. After a bit more poking around Saieedy found another bunch, green this time, and "first quality", he said. He did the same magic trick to separate them into his hand but the film crew still weren't much impressed; no time now, maybe another day.

We stopped at Tembe to do a quick recce and get permission to do our stuff from the village Mzee (old man - head man). It's the fishing village I'm supposed to land at, hitch the FIB onto an Ox cart and tow it somewhere to be repaired. An ox-cart man was laid on but the only suitable destination for repairs was the bicycle repair man and he was right at the other end of the village at least half a mile from the beach. At ox-cart plus film-crew speeds it certainly wouldn't take the couple of hours they thought, it will take all day, and there's nothing wrong with the FIB anyway, the nosewheel is such a simple thing I still can't really think of a convincing problem I can have with it. Never mind, I expect something interesting will happen.

We then stopped to change drivers. Saieedy was replaced by Eddie, who was waiting on the side of the road, because Eddie was somehow involved in organizing the bullfight. While we hung around waiting for something Saieedy showed us a plant on the verge "good for unblocking the ear". You put the stalk in a fire, I suppose to reduce the viscosity of the sap or perhaps to effect some chemical change, and there you have your medicine. It was a shame to lose him because Eddie didn't seem very knowlegable about these things and was much more interested in the fortune he was going to make once he'd got enough money together to buy his own car, so I never did get to see any other spices.

After a while Eddie turned off the main road and we came to the secondary school at Chwale, three long buildings containing ten or so classrooms set around a rectangular space about the size of a football pitch. Each classroom was equipped with a blackboard (a patch painted black on a wall) and nothing else, just a bare floor for the students to sit on. On the open side of the space a sort of three sided cage had been erected out of mangrove poles in the shade of a big mango tree. I had no idea what to expect, but it looked a bit small to contain a bullfight.

There were quite a few people about, and once we'd arrived someone started beating a drum and a group of men bunched up into a tight group and sang a sort of short chant, I was told the purpose of this was to annoy the Bulls, but where they were I had no idea. When they'd finished their song, they would all run off and surround someone, or something else (eg a telegraph pole) and do it again.

The three-sided cage started filling up with women and children, I realized the cage was for their protection, the bullring was actually the whole football ground; not exactly a 'Plaza de Toros' in the classical style. I wondered what stopped the bull from just running away. A man with a sort of Vizuela trumpet but with a reed and played like a recorder joined the man with the drum, quite a crowd was gathering, some people clapping and dancing about, loads of children, the tempo picked up.

After about half an hour of this, at some mysterious signal everyone ran off round the back of one of the schoolroom blocks, the women and smallest children stayed in their cage, I followed. They were going to get a bull from about half a dozen in a small stockade. Thomas was running around trying to get Matthias or I to ask someone on camera why the stockade was so far away (which it wasn't), we were more interested in going to watch the proceedings, which we did.

The bulls are not related in any way to the great black beasts they have in Spain which are bred specially for just one thing, the Plaza de Toros. These ones are the local cattle, related to the Buran, with a big hump, hornless or almost so, not very big, and naturally rather docile. Apparently, for a bullfight they starve them for a couple of days to get them irritated, but whether the singing added to this I couldn't tell, but it was all good fun. Saieedy told me they sometimes feed them a bit of Ganja, though whether this is true I'm not sure, I'm more inclined to think this would be prone to slowing them down. Anyway, a bull was selected, a long rope held by a few men and lots of children was tied around its neck and the short rope which has the same purpose as a nose-ring in Europe and which normally goes through their nose and back around their ears is removed. A second rope was tied around one of its back legs to control it on its short journey to the football ground. The moment it is let out of its stockade it gallops foward towards the long rope, the crowd scatters, but once it comes tight, and has been unwrapped from a telegraph pole or two, it is guided to the corner of the cage containing the women where it is brought to the ground, given a few slaps to further infuriate it, and the foot rope removed. The long neck rope is retained, this is to prevent it galloping out of the arena altogether, but it is usually kept loose and controlled by one or two men. The bullfight is now on.

The bullfighters are a dozen or so of the local young studs waving a sack, red seems to be optional, certainly no 'suit of lights' here, in fact animals here are far too valuable here to be killed or injured for sport so there's not much relation between the whole proceedings and what goes on in Iberia apart from the central proposition that bull is supposed to charge man, man is supposed to avoid being struck by bull. They surround the bull at a distance of 15 metres or so and try to get it to charge them. The drums and the man with the Vizuela increase the pace, the bull looks around, confused.

Several things can happen next:

- Bull trots towards the crowd, crowd screams and scatters, man pulls rope to turn it around, with variable effectiveness.

- Bull makes a bolt for freedom and either comes to the end of the rope and stops, or the rope is pulled out of the man's hand and the bullfighters all dive for it as bull heads off to freedom; everyone laughs. If it does get away it stops in the relative serenity behind the classrooms and someone graps the rope and leads it back.

- Occasionally, bull charges a bullfighter as intended, bullfighter leaps out of the way at the last second and crowd roars.

After a while, someone decides the bull is tired, it is hauled in on the rope and its nose string re-inserted. Now under the sort of control it understands it is led off at a trot, probably gratefully, to a bit of grazing round the back. The crowd all dash to the small stockade to watch the next one being selected.

The whole thing is completely chaotic in an African sort of way, and tremendous entertainment.

On about the third bull, Matteius and I realized we were in a slightly vulnerable position, plenty of slack rope and the bull staring straight at us. It then started trotting towards us and we scarpered. The film crew behind us weren't quite so quick, the bull broke into a gallop, Jorg went one way with his expensive camera, the unfortunate Sascha the other, until his sound cable to the camera pulled up tight, he stopped and the bull got him dead centre. Over my shoulder I got a fleeting view of him almost riding the bull, backwards, with furry microphone and stuff flying in all directions until he fell to the earth in a cloud of dust. The crowd went wild, it was the sensation of the day, bull gets Muzungu (white man).

Fotunately there was no lasting damage; some shock and wounded pride, a broken cable for which they had a spare, and next day, Sacha had a bruise on his thigh to be proud of. Somehow, Matteius got rather a good shot of him being tossed by the bull, but unfortunately I haven't got a copy, maybe later.

The daily Coastal flight to Pemba doesn't arrive until about 3:30 so I knew Eve would turn up late. I was expecting a call so we could explain where we were but our mobiles weren't working. At Chake Chake airport she asked a taxi driver in her bestest Swahili to take her "to the place where men play with cows". The driver understood this, but she turned up quite close to the end when they brought on a couple of very small bulls, large calves really, for a great mob of children to chase around. Perhaps this was some sort of training for future events, but it wasn't much of a spectacle, and didn't last long. I thought they might have been saving a much bigger bull tied to a tree not far away until last, but it was just tied to a tree, so she missed the best bits.

On the way back to Kervan Saray Lodge Matteius sat in the back of the pickup so he could photograph people we passed. He's really a portrait photographer, what he is looking for is images of people which somehow give you an idea of what their lives are like in the place they live, and he's very good at it. He's not very interested in landscapes, aerial or otherwise, which on the face of it rather spoils the whole point of what we're here to do, but here in Zanzibar people are extraordinarily shy, particularly the women, and everyone normally refuses outright to have their photos taken. However, if you provide some sort of entertainment like the bullfight (which was actually laid on for us at a very reasonable price), or a fly-past and landing in the FIB, then some sort of quid-pro-quo kicks in and people generally don't seem to mind having their photo taken, Matteius gets the shots he wants, and everyone is happy, except us when we're made to do it again, please, because they didn't get it the first time.

Back at the lodge, Raff took Eve to task. Eve's primary responsibility at Coastal is chief safety officer. It turns out Raff has had several run-ins with Eve at Dar when she's stopped him or his customers taking masses of extra stuff to Pemba which would have overloaded the aircraft and is her job to prevent. Eve acknowleged that divers were always overweight with their equipment but safty was paramount and it would always come on the next available plane, or they could buy extra seats. Raff said he now usually uses a competing airline who were 'more flexible'. Eve said he was welcome; but perhaps take a look at their accident record too.

For some reason Kervan Saray Lodge has run out of beer. Crisis!

Tomorrow we're supposed to be going to Tembe to do this silly ox-cart thing. Thomas is worried there won't be many people about. It's quite a big village, I assured him a crowd is guaranteed, though it might be difficult to get them to do it again, please.

Micro Avionics - Suppliers of pilot intercom and radio equipment to the expedition
Joint Aviation Services, suppliers of insurances to the expedition
Polaris - manufacturer of the FIB
SKYDRIVE, the UK Distributor of ROTAX engines
Articole Studios - GRP mouldings
Cam-ARA - Suppliers of video equipment to the expedition