Khayega - In a football stadium tucked away in western Kenya, the contenders pace and snort under brilliant blue sky as gusts of wind carry the cheers of thousands and trainers fret in pre-bout rituals.
Oblivious to the noise and bets being placed, “Iminyi” and “Ingwe” prepare for battle, racing up and down the pitch as if possessed before the match begins with a sharp command. They charge in a cloud of dust and lock horns. The fight is on.
This is bullfighting, Kenya-style; an altogether different version from the better-known and more controversial man versus toro Spanish bloodsport, that is drawing huge crowds to this town about 500 kilometres from Nairobi.
One weekend a month, members of the Idakho and Isukha communities of the Luhya tribe march their prized fighting bulls to Khayega for the matches some local leaders hope to turn into a draw for safari-going foreign tourists.
Thousands of spectators troop to the bullfights to see the spectacle and place small wagers on the fights, a Luhya tradition for time immemorial.
Bulls Duel In Kakamega, Khayega.
Bulls Duel In Kakamega, Khayega.
Bred for battle
The younger the bulls, the longer the fight, with a match between adolescents lasting as long as a half hour and a contest between older veterans usually over after four minutes, according to owners and trainers.
The beasts are bred for battle, fed with molasses-spiked grass and isolated from heifers at age three — when they are ready for the ring — to prevent them from mating and supposedly preserve their energy.
On the eve of a fight, they are psychologically prepared by dieting on remnants of a traditional brew and other special concoctions believed to increase their aggressiveness.
Great caution is exercised and the bull is guard all night to keep opponents from “bewitching” it, otherwise it will be defeated in a very short time as it is claimed by one bull owner.
Mixed opinions about 'tourist attraction' and Culture
Iminyi's owner, Bonny Khalwale, a local member of parliament and staunch supporter of the Luhya bullfighting culture known as "mayo", sees the matches as a potentially lucrative tourist draw and is seeking government funds to help promote it.
Mr Khalwale has requested the construction of a special arena, tarmacking of the roads to the stadium and larger hotels and lodges so tourists can access the area with ease.
Khalwale's efforts to obtain a one-million-shilling grant from Nairobi, though, are currently stalled and not everyone shares his enthusiasm for the fights.
Jean Gilchrist, director of animal welfare at the Kenya Society for the Protection and Care of Animals, is particularly concerned at the rising popularity of the events.
The organisation is trying to persuade people to get away from cruel animal sports and yet Kenya seems to be going in the opposite direction. She lamented the increasing crowds at the Khayega stadium, stating it was hard to stop it as people consider it a tourist attraction.
Once again there arises conflict over culture, animal welfare and tourism. Is it really sustainable or not?
Recently CAS International was informed on the plan to build a bullring in Western Kenya. In this part of Kenya (especially in Kakamega) bullfights are already organized in the fields. CAS International already campaigned against these bullfights. In December 2008, they managed to prevent a bullfight that was about to be organized in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
In Kenya, they do not organize bullfighting Spanish style (with a matador killing bulls), but they organize fights between two bulls, surrounded by hundreds or even thousands of elated men with sticks.