Regulars at Fujairah’s Friday afternoon bull butting extravaganza will have noticed that in recent months there have been some renovations.
Thankfully they haven’t made huge changes to bring it into the 21st century with Disney-style organization. There’s still a rustic feel to the experience and a sense that things are muddling along as they have done for the last few hundred years.
Earlier bulls were tied up to trees but now there are lines of poles to hitch up your beast.
Formerly, there weren’t any fences around the arena. The crowd that gathered formed the boundary line as well as their vehicles. Sometimes when a bull went on the loose the crowd scattered and this was one of the things that held your attention and got your adrenalin pumping. Now there are fences against which people can lean but there’s still the opportunity for the hardy to go inside the fence to stand or sit.
Some shelters have been created from date palms to give shade from the afternoon sun. These are in keeping with the traditional feel of the experience. The grandstand seats are where people sit on the roofs of their cars to obtain a higher vantage point.
There have been some changes in how the bull butting bouts proceed but not enough to turn it into an event with military precision. This Fujairah experience is still veiled with a high level of mystery. Who knows what is going on and which bull is winning?
The caller (MC/DJ) has a microphone and amplification. He gives the welcome and offers an excited commentary in Arabic. An amplified siren after 2-3 minutes indicates that each butting round is over.
Plenty of Bull
Two trainers, each with ropes, lead their bull near the middle of the arena. As in a rugby scrum, there is a moment when the bulls engage and their primal instincts take over. The butting is not severe although sometimes the bulls return to their posts with the odd spike of blood on their heads. The winning bull appears to be the one that has pushed the other further back from the starting position but even as the bulls ebb and flow, the length of the push is never measured as players do in lawn bowls.
When the siren sounds the trainers move to their bulls to pick up the ropes and draw their beasts apart. If their attempts are unsuccessful, tow teams of half a dozen guys in their dishdashas will move to each bull and pull on the ropes like a tug ‘o war. Once the bulls are separated they usually seem happy enough to take a breather under their tree.
There doesn’t seem to be any clear declaration of winners or an award ceremony.
The bull butting and the competition are not the only purposes of the afternoon. The farmers are keen to show off their bulls, which they feed on milk and butter to increase their bulk and give shine to their coats. This is partly a beauty parade for the bulls, again without a contest.
Central to the weekly event is the chance for farmers to get together, exchange their salaams and rewarm their relationships—the sort of thing that happens in rural communities around the world where farmers get together at the sale yards.
For the many expat workers who live in the emirate, the bull butting activities provide some free entertainment to enliven their days.
For the UAE expats and tourists who attend, the bull butting is something of a novelty and an opportunity to take some photos with which to remember their time in Fujairah.
The bull butting tradition is a regular reminder that Fujairah is essentially a rural town where growing crops and keeping livestock have been foundational to life in these parts for centuries. The new fences, microphones and shelters are small innovations to a unique practice that has brought people together and nurtured the community for hundreds of years.
Go down Fujairah’s main street as far as you can go (beyond the incense burner roundabout) and when you hit the Corniche Rd you have to turn right. After a kilometer or so and just beyond a horse farm and a coffee shop, you will see lots of cars parked on the road. The arena is set in a hundred metres from the road.
The bull butting event starts around 4.30pm on Friday afternoons. Sometimes if there is a bereavement in the community the show is cancelled without people being given adequate notice.
Bull butting takes place all through the year but the number of people attending increases noticeably in the cooler months.
Take a Look
Some photos of bull butting in Fujairah have been posted in this photo album.
More Fujairah news, resources, information and photos are posted in the Fujairah in Focus Facebook Page.