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Updated Jun 9, 2024, 6:40am EDT
africa

Bullfighting wants a place on Kenya’s tourism circuit

Evans Chris Shikuku/Semafor
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The Scene

KAKAMEGA, Kenya — A group of fans place their bets on the sidelines ahead of the big fight. The sunny Saturday morning offers the perfect weather for the main event at Mukumu Mwitanji, one of the hallowed bullfighting grounds in Kakamega, western Kenya. Hundreds more 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 as Dragon is escorted into the grounds by its handlers in a loud procession. Traditional Isukuti drummers help set the scene, beating on their drums with fervor. Finally, the two bulls lock horns, surrounded on all sides by handlers and excited fans.

Evans Chris Shikuku/Semafor

The ancient tradition of bullfighting among the Abaluhya community in western Kenya has been kept alive in the modern era. The fights, which last until one bull runs away, have even started to gain prominence as a tourist attraction. Some travel agencies now include bullfighting in western Kenya tour packages while online platforms such as Bullfighting TV are building a community of fans.

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

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Know More

Traditionally, bullfighting was a significant part of commemorating life events such as weddings and burials among communities in Western Kenya. Today, bullfighting events are also credited with strengthening social ties and bringing people together. “It’s our culture so we have to keep it,” said Kennedy Mangotsi, one of Dragon’s handlers. “We found our grandfathers doing it, and the next generation will also do it.”

Evans Chris Shikuku/Semafor
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Room for Disagreement

Research presented to the Kenya Veterinary Association expressed concern about the fights being “marred by distress to and suffering of bulls,” adding that the events contravene legislation aimed at preventing cruelty to animals.

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The 2016 report called for bull owners to be educated on animal welfare and better enforcement of Kenya’s laws to prevent cruelty to animals. “Bullfighting is an outdated and cruel practice which has outlived its time,” the report concluded.

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