Friday 11 April 2008

Oman: bulls in Barka

Acting on a tip-off from a work colleague, we headed to the bull ring in Barka. Crowds of men were taking their seats on the white concrete stands while others with slightly less concern for their safety sat on the sand inside the ring. The elders carried traditional sticks; the younger men carried the modern equivalent, the mobile phone.
Between the concentric layers of spectators stood an assortment of black, brown and grey bulls tethered to posts. There was even one black and white spotted bull which looked like it had come from a Pantomime. These are highly valued animals, specially bred and nurtured for competition and treated to special diets like pampered family pets.
Half-an-hour later, the master of ceremonies announced the opening of the event using unintelligible Arabic broadcast through a megaphone which would occasionally release a burst of teeth-shattering electronic feedback. The first two bulls were led to the centre of the ring where the handlers struggled to get the two contestants to face each other. When close enough, the two bulls locked heads and pushed….and pushed. They continued to push, moving slowly round in circles. Suddenly one decided it had had enough and wandered off, giving the result to the remaining animal, which looked a little surprised at the ease of victory. The referee’s left arm stretched out to indicate the victor. It was all over. The losing animal crept back to his station with minimal fuss, perhaps embarrassed by his poor performance.
Much excitement was caused when one of the bulls decided to let off steam by running through the ring of spectators. Men would scatter in all directions to avoid being trampled upon. The bull made his way to the car park before being hauled back into the arena. I wondered if we were covered for bull damage on the car insurance – I'm guessing not.

When we left in the early evening, the sun was setting behind the stands casting an orangy hue over the arena and the mosque behind. A memorable day.

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