Bullfighting wants to gain a place in the Kenyan tourism circuit


The place

KAKAMEGA, Kenya – A group of fans place their bets on the sidelines ahead of the big fight. The sunny Saturday morning provides the perfect weather for the main event in Mukumu Mwitanji, one of the sacred bullfighting areas in Kakamega, Western Kenya. Hundreds of others seek the best vantage points to watch the highly anticipated clash between Dragon, the local champion, and his opponent named White.

The crowd goes wild when Dragon is escorted to the grounds by his escorts in a loud procession. Traditional Isukuti drummers help set the stage, beating their drums with fervour. Finally, the two bulls lock horns, surrounded on all sides by handlers and excited fans.

Evans Chris Shikuku/SemaforEvans Chris Shikuku/Semafor

Evans Chris Shikuku/Semafor

The age-old tradition of bullfighting among the Abaluhya community of Western Kenya has been kept alive in modern times. The fights, which last until one bull runs away, are even starting to gain fame as a tourist attraction. Some travel agencies are now including bullfighting in Western Kenya tour packages, while online platforms such as Bullfighting TV building a community of fans.

But experts and locals say not enough has been done so far by policymakers, despite the potential benefits for the local economy and tourism. The mainstreaming of the sport has also been slowed in part by animal welfare groups, who have done so several times fought to stop major bullfighting events in the capital Nairobi. Brian Nzioka, whose travel agency offers bullfighting tours, told Semafor Africa that the western part of Kenya offers several attractions, including Lake Victoria in Kisumu, which if properly supported would open up a new market for the Kenyan tourism industry.

Knowing more

Traditionally, bullfighting was an important part of commemorating life events such as weddings and funerals among communities in Western Kenya. Today, bullfighting events are also credited with strengthening social bonds and bringing people together. “It’s our culture, so we have to preserve it,” said Kennedy Mangotsi, one of Dragon’s supervisors. “We saw our grandfathers do it, and the next generation will do it too.”

Evans Chris Shikuku/SemaforEvans Chris Shikuku/Semafor

Evans Chris Shikuku/Semafor

Room for disagreement

Research presented to the Kenya Veterinary Association raised concerns that the fighting is “marred by need and suffering of bulls“, adding that the events violate legislation aimed at preventing cruelty to animals.

The 2016 report called for bull owners to receive education on animal welfare and better enforcement of Kenyan laws to prevent cruelty to animals. “Bullfighting is an outdated and cruel practice that has outlived its time,” the report concludes.

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