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Friday, 22 January 2010

Courida a Corda: Running from Bulls on Terceira Island, Azores - Page 3

Written by Andrea Calabretta
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Terceira Island sits in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, among the isolated archipelago of the Azores. Its origins are humble—Portuguese farmers and fishermen settled the island in the 14th century—and it’s still a place without pretension, where people rely on agriculture and artisanal traditions such as cheese-making for their livelihoods.

 

 

“When a bull hurts someone, its value increases,” Mr. Borges said. Indeed, we’d seen the heads of famously aggressive bulls mounted on the walls at the Quiejo Vaquinha cheese factory and at the Bull Club in Angra. Video of the courida was also playing everywhere we went, from local bars to shops and even the airport. It was a highlights reel of victories for the bull—in which he leapt over barricades or charged into the ocean amongst hapless swimmers. In one scene that was repeated over and over, a bull’s horns tear away a man’s jeans, leaving him in his underwear, grasping at the shreds of denim that remain. It always got people laughing, including me.

Perhaps partly because of how much it celebrates the triumph of the bull, Mr. Borges insisted that Portuguese bull sport is much more humane than the Spanish tradition. After a courida, the bulls are not killed but are instead returned to their idyllic island pastures, where they can chew grass and romance the female cows. And when Spanish-style bullfights in the ring take place on Terceira, as they do during the festival of St. John, Azoreans never kill the bull in the arena as is done in Spain. Instead, the killing happens in the slaughterhouse later on, away from the eyes of the crowd. Whether this can be called humane is debatable, but if you have ever watched a bull suffer a long and arduous death in the ring, a quick finish does seem preferable.

No one knows exactly how the tradition of courida a corda began, but it appears particularly well adapted to the island of Terceira and the tastes of the spectators. As I watched in Porto Judeu, it was easy to get caught up in the excitement and revelry of the crowd, and likewise easy to imagine the event occurring relatively unchanged for hundreds of years in this tiny, agricultural community.

Courida a Corda: Running from Bulls on Terceira, courida a corda, bull-running, a tethered bull is let loose in the middle of a village, pastores, shepherds, the Black Mysteries, lava rock mountains of the interior, colorfully painted chapels, Brotherhood of the Holy Spirit, traditions of the Azores, Angra do Heroismo, Porto Judeu, Portuguese bull sport, Andrea Calabretta On the night I watched, the bull roamed the streets of the village for thirty minutes, sometimes dragging the pastores behind him like rag dolls. He provided a spirited show, charging and snarling for the spectators who cheered him. And then he returned rather peaceably to his pen. A succession of firecrackers signaled the end, but still the energy of the crowd was high. As we spilled into the street with the rest of the spectators, we felt invigorated and excited, ready to party. We were shocked to learn that the courida takes place about 270 times a year on Terceira. So all the elaborate preparations we had noticed, along with the exhilaration of the crowd, were practically a nightly event.

“What’s the American equivalent of this sport?” one of my companions asked as we walked toward a restaurant called Adega Lusitania for a lively dinner and drinks to celebrate our first courida. “Something that happens regularly in a rural place, that’s really festive, and that sometimes kills the participants?” We decided it was demolition derby.

©Andrea Calabretta

(Page 3 of 3)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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