Almost everybody who, having been born and brought up in the rural setting and looked after cattle, has at one point or other psyched bulls to fight.
Bull fighting has for years been and remains a major cultural activity as well as now a community tourist attraction in Bududa District.
Bull fighting starts with young bulls being specially identified and put on special diets to make them strong. They are then trained for a period of up to three years and then, allowed to engage in a very exciting-to-see combat cheered by very enthusiastic crowds.
Bull fighting is a very old cultural tradition in Bugisu sub-region [Sironko, Manafwa and Bududa districts]. Stories have it that, in the olden days, the ceremony was for cleansing those who had fought in wars in bid to detach them from evil spirits of those they had killed. The climax of it was bull fighting.
The community that breeds champion bulls is highly regarded here. These ceremonies have now become popular cultural events that attract thousands in Bududa.
The sport thought by many to be an unpopular or as a primitive activity that should have been discarded or left for young people looking after their parents’ animals, still attracts thousands of fans especially among the traditional Baduda in Bakigai, Bashika and Balucheke sub-tribes of the Bududa District communities.
Although the people are aware of the hazards that come with it; the game still attracts huge crowds, most of them drunk while others are more or less possessed by the fanatics that goes with bull fighting.
Bull fighting is an age-old practice in Bududa and the events are held every Saturday in play grounds of Bududa [Nashinde], Bulucheke [Namsho], Buwagogo [Nabalosi], Bubiita [Bubiita grounds and Bukigai in Bukigai grounds.
Although Bull fighting sport is associated with countries like Spain, South America and France, the bull fighting sport is slowly gaining tourism importance in Uganda.
At Namasho, Nashinde, Nabalosi and Busanza grounds in Bududa district, places known in the media for landslides, the tradition is alive and it is a great experience. From as early as 9.00am every Saturday.
The sport, thought by many to be a primitive activity that should have been discarded or left for ignorant and illiterate young people looking after their parents’ animals, still attracts thousands of fans.
The sport brings the old and the young people arguing about which bull will emerge victorious while staking money. The bulls, mostly cross-breeds, are slowly led to the ground that is also the battlefield. On arrival, they start charging by forcing their horns in the ground.
Unlike the bullfighting in Spain and Mexico where the beasts [bulls] challenge matadors, the bulls in Bududa fight against each other.
Mr Nicholas Kutosi, an elder in Bushika is a staunch supporter and participant in this sport and owns one of the bulls named Ikhonge. He usually attends the events and sponsors prizes for the winning bulls.
Mr Kutosi says the bull fighting event is an ancient tradition and that it is held throughout the year in almost all parts of the district.
He said on the eve of the event, the bulls are prepared for the fight with exhortation and honour, which villagers strongly believe the bulls appreciate.
“Villagers are awake and out of their houses in the wee hours on the day on the day of a fight, especially Saturdays and some public holidays to prepare for the event, the bulls are first charged at home before they are taken for the fight,” said Mr Kutosi.
Frenzied local traditional dancers [Imbalu and Isonja dancers] willingly trek for as long as ten kilometers to the venue with the bulls for the fight.
Crowds with sticks and twigs dance and sing as they escort their favourite bulls. The bull is usually in the middle of the crowd. The contest is between villages since the bulls belong to individuals, who in turn belong to the villages.
“The favoured bulls are then escorted the venue of the event with dancing and jubilation and the fight ensues as villagers keep shouting.
“Awo, oyo, oyo, umomitsa, umomitsa,” loosely meaning there, that one, that one be strong and hold him tightly.
More often than not, overpowered bulls would charge at the crowd while fleeing to safety, sparing nobody including the handlers who scamper for their dear lives.
Mr Kutosi says triumphant bulls at times kill their opponents if they don’t run away or if the crowd doesn’t separate them.
During the bull fighting days special guests at the bull fighting grounds are protected by local security and recently the guests had to flee after the bull went berserk and charged at them.
“The bulls have to be psychologically prepared for the fight on the eve of the fight,’ says Benedict Nakwekwe, an elder in Bulucheke sub-county.
Mr Nakwekwe says that bulls before the fight are given remnants of a traditional brew (Kamalwa), known as Kamasifa and a special concoction of herbs to increase their aggressiveness.
“The bulls that are bred for battle are fed with molasses-spiked grass and isolated from heifers at the age of three years, when they are ready for the ring to prevent them from mating and supposedly preserve their energy,” added Mr Nakwekwe.
The fighting bulls are zero-grazed and prevented from mating with cows. However, a cow is placed at a strategic point where the bulls to fight would struggle to get to it.
“It is during this time that the bulls turn wild and ready to lock horns with any other bulls nearby. At this point, only supporters can control the bull,” says Mr Nakwekwe.
“The fights can be fatal if owners of the beasts don’t intervene when one bull appears to be overwhelmed,” Mr Nakwekwe explains.
The victorious bulls are usually escorted back home by villagers, singing praise songs with a wreath of intertwined flowers or leaves put around the neck as a sign of honour.
The traditional leader of Bamasaaba/Bagisu Umukukha Bob Mushikori says that the bull fights are meant to bring people from different villages together and not cause disharmony.
The Umukukha Mushikori says bull fighting is not a game for women. “This is not our place. These animals can hurt anyone, despite the fun they come with but adds this is the biggest tourist attraction in Bududa,” Mr Mushikori said.
According to Umukukha Mushikori, the sport started as a result of fights between communities over a salty water source in Namasho.
Importance of the fights
According to Mr Constant Mututa, the chairperson Bullfighting Association, who doubles as a bull trainer, from the 1950s, bull fights have been held for entertainment and enriching the animals.
“The fights improve their appetite, build their necks and chests, and help them work off excess energy, thus stopping them from being destructive and hostile. This game was just used for entertainment but during the battles, it became an advertisement forum where they used to spot the biggest animals and buy them off,” Mr Mututa says.
Ms Aidah Wetungu, the Chairperson Eastern Uganda Tourism Forum, says the animals are first trained from as early as two years.
Ms Wetungu noted that there are rules they adhere to as they plan for a fight. “I have to write to my opponent requesting him for a challenge. If he accepts, then we set a date,” he said.
In the letter, the amount of money the winner takes home is indicated. Fans from the village then hold a small fundraiser for the event’s prize.
Bull fights are fast becoming a commercial venture, with the champion bull’s owner winning money.
“People used to fight and kill each other but after some years, they resolved to share the little available water but left the animals to fight for entertainment,” she reveals.
The referees normally gauge the sizes of the animals to fight depending on the size of the bull.
The sport is also part of the Bamasaaba’s cultural heritage that has been in existence since the 1950s. Spectators carry containers of local brew, which they take while watching the fights. Elders pray to their gods before the fight as a symbol of respect to the forefathers, who they believe initiated the sport.
The bull that emerges the strongest is named after the strongest leaders in the world and its owner gets small cash prizes from the community bets. Winners receive between Shs10, 000 to Shs30, 000, depending on what has been availed. On good days, local politicians stake as much as Shs 500, 000 for the winners.
The animals, according to Mr Nakwekwe, can be a danger to their owners and could destroy the place where they are kept should they remain idle for more than two weeks.
Mr Nakwekwe says a fighter bull can weigh as much as 400kg to 500kgs.
“We want to promote the sport as a tourism product to attract tourists so people in the community can earn a living. This can be a community tourism event in Uganda. In future, we want to set up an arena and charge entrance fees for the bull owners to fully gain out of this sport,” Mr Nakwekwe added.
The fights are held every Saturday at Nashinde, Nabalosi, Busanza and Namasho grounds in Bushika, Bududa, Bubiita and Bulucheke sub-county Sub-county in Bududa District.