Bull fighting is a highly popular craze in Bududa, Eastern Uganda.
It is without doubt one of the Elgon regions's most unique tourist attractions.
Namasho playing field near Bulucheke secondary school is where the fights happen, though places like Nabukasala in Bushika subcounty have also recently instituted their own bull fights.
The day designated for the fights is Saturday but fortnightly.
Perhaps as a pointer to the grueling bull fights that have unfolded in Namasho, there are apertures all over the playground.
I braved the chilly and misty weather on the 28th of March to stand a free treat of the spectacle.
Bull fighting enthusiasts from different parts of Bududa had gathered in droves despite the cold weather. No one seemed to care about a seat. You either stand or you miss out on the action.
The enthusiasts sung traditional war songs and hoisted their twigs as they waited for the fights to commence.
Over 10 tough looking local, fresian, and cross breed bulls, weighing up to 150-500 kgs, were slated to square off.
“The bulls involved in the fights are from 4-7 years and they are brought in from different villages. They are trained and fed well before the fights. We feed them on kamasifwa (malwa residue) and banana stems. We also assign them names. This spawns the much needed dynamism in the rowdy bulls as they battle. After malwa or money bets are laid on which bull comes out victorious, the grueling spectacle begins,” explains John Nakhokho, one of the bull owners.
Once the spectacle began, everyone excitedly moved towards the focal point. The owners of bulls engaged in the fights kept close distance. Most of the bulls are given interesting names, ranging from Nakhakambila (outlaw), Nabuminyi (rebel) and Namani (the powerful one).
I watched in aghast as one frail looking bull was towed away by its owner after its adversary ripped part of its skin off.
The frail Bull was clearly in pain but nobody seemed to care. Whilst it is a good activity, more should be done especially as regards treating the bulls injured in the fights.
I also watched as Mzee Antonio Kipoi’s bull vanquished its opponent.
Kipoi’s black bull has become notorious for defeating its opponents.
It is the reigning champion in the whole of Bududa.
John Mayeku, a bull fighting enthusiast says once the fights begin, it is do or die.
“There can not be a cessation once the bulls lock horns. If one bull kills the other, there is no case the owner of the dead bull can bring up. It is only when a defeated bull runs off that the fight can be called off,” Mayeku says.
The bull fighting traditional in Bududa began in 1956. Long before the bull fights became a fascination, locals were engaging in infamous pastimes. It is said locals used to gather and watch men wrestle and pierce each other with spears.
“I lost my grandfather as a result of an altercation he had with another man. The other man pierced his chest and stomach. He died after losing a lot of blood. This place was like a ring for people who had bones to pick with each other. The chiefs then encouraged men to fight out their differences and whilst no one was supposed to kill, there were many cases of terrible injuries. The infamous fights were however stopped after the intervention of colonial government officials.” Nakhokho says.
Bull fighting as a custom has come a long way.
“From the mid 50’s to the threshold of the 70’s, the fights were not taken seriously. The practice was more of an occasional and casual pastime for local herdsmen especially in Namasho. In the course of grazing, they would let their bulls engage in fights for fun. Fights often broke out between the male bulls when the females were brought for mating. The owners of the bulls reportedly gave them intoxicating local herb leaves to spark fights,” Nakhokho says.
There also runs a tale in Namasho that a veteran bull fighting connoisseur going by the names of Wansolo Kundu was in many ways the reason why the custom grew.
“Whenever Wansolo’s bull lost a fight, he would plan and buy a bigger one. He always wondered why his bigger bulls lost fights pitted in battles against smaller ones,” Nakhokho says.
Rattled in confidence and looking for ways to redeem his image, Kundu reportedly went out and bought four well known tough bulls. The bulls brought him victories and fame.
At length, the whole village caught wind of the bull fights.
Word quickly spread in the village of the phenomenon, and soon all the surrounding villages picked a fancy for the sport.
Wambuteya Moses, a resident of Namasho says as the activity gained favour, many locals started rearing bulls so they could participate.
The bull fighting custom grew by leaps and bounds after Kundu’s exploits. In Namasho village, everyone talks of an infamous bull owned by Kundu. It reportedly bit off the ears of more than 25 other bulls after subduing them in fights.
Namasho was eventually chosen by village committees as the place that would be hosting the fights.
Namasho already enjoyed a reputation for its stone shaped salty underground water wells, which the locals believed made their cows produce more milk.
Watira muwombi, an elder in Namasho says the bulls brought to drink the salty water could be instigated to fight over anything to show forth their prowess in the presence of females.
Few days before the bull fights kick off; the bulls are kept in kraals and are fed for 24 hours.
“Some bull owners keep their bulls in kraals for a year and only let them out, only when they are going to be slaughtered, sold or when they are going to engage in fights,” Nakhokho says.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING THE FIGHTS
Before the bulls engage in battle, they are bathed in the nearby Manafwa River.
According to local folklore, the water is an antidote for stress.
The bulls are pitted in battles against each other for 5 to 15 minutes, depending on how aggressive, agile and tough they are.
In the course of the grueling fights, the bulls are not given leeway to rest or catch a breather.
They are constantly lashed by the owners or the judges to taunt them to fight harder.
Mayeku says this makes the bulls summon the courage and strength to fight even harder.
“Once the bulls get lashed they get exasperated and that is when the fights intensify,” Mayeku says.
By standers have on occasion bore the brunt of the raging bulls. There have been reports of bulls charging at people in the thick of the fights.
Four people were reportedly harshly bruised by about three wild ragging bulls, in the second week of august, last year.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER A BULL EMERGES VICTORIOUS
The victorious bulls are pampered after the fights. Their triumph spells prestige for the bull owners and the villages participating. The owners of the losing bulls have to part with either malwa or money as agreed upon prior to the fight. The owner of the victorious bull takes home the money or malwa.