Capinha, tourada and bulls, i.e. Terceira tradition behind the scenes

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I wrote recently that I took part in an event in which I didn’t expect to participate. Someone guessed it had something to do with bulls. That something – it was Festival de capinhas. Capinhas festival.

It started with my friend João saying: „We have a capinhas festival on Friday, do you want to come?”

To my surprise – I wanted to. I watched bulls running freely in the arena and capinhas, i.e. people who – as is used to say here – play with bulls. Including my friend João. I understood what so many Terceira people might see in such events.

Adrenaline and emotions

There is admiration for the bulls and for the capinhas. Adrenaline and emotions that go up even more when the bull jumps over the railings. Or when you see someone you know in the middle of the arena. Looking straight into the eyes of the bull running at him.

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Festival de capinhas 2020, photo by Márcio Borges

I’ve already been to several Terceira traditional touradas à corda. (These are events where bulls run in the streets; I wrote about it in more detail in the article „Tourada à corda„). But it was my first time at the Capinhas festival. I even had to ask who the capinhas were, I didn’t know the word.

I learned that capinhas are people who appear during the tourada on the way of the bull’s run and attract its attention. They annoy it, call out to another place. They use rags, umbrellas or hands for this. Yes, hands. Some people put them on the head of a bull and go around in circles with the bull.

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Festival de capinhas 2020, photo by Márcio Borges

My friend João is known to fans of touradas as capinha

After the festival, I thought you might be interested in what the „world of bulls” looks like behind the scenes. After all, many people come to Terceira because of the tourada! So I interviewed João and learned a lot of interesting things.

How it all started

We’re sitting down and starting talking. First, I’m asking João about his history with tourada and bulls. „I’m from Terceira, bulls are in my blood,” he’s replying. And he’s starting talking about the fact that as a child he used to go on touradas to watch his grandfather. His grandfather was a capinha, and he wanted that too. He was always curious what it was like to face a bull. Until the first time it finally happenned. „I went once – and it stayed that way.”

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Festival de capinhas 2020, photo by Márcio Borges

I’m asking João what’s the role of capinhas during the tourada

“Capinha’s task is to animate the tourada. Without capinhas, there’s no tourada. The bull runs back and forth on the street, nothing’s happening. People who like touradas also like capinhas and what we do. The role of capinhas is to entertain the tourada participants.

I never thought about it that way. I thought capinhas go on tourada more for themselves than for the audience. And here’s a surprise. Though it’s undeniable that these are adrenaline-loving people come into this role.

“We feel adrenaline. A flare shot – and you just feel it. We play with the bull, but it’s dangerous fun. We feel the breath of the bull close to us. It’s a danger, but it’s such a… good danger. „

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Festival de capinhas 2020, photo by Márcio Borges

To become a capinha you just have to want it

And show up on a tourada. There’s no need to let anyone know in advance, tourada is an event open to everyone. However, many newcomers are turning to capinhas who are more familiar with the subject for help. The bull can weigh even a ton, it inspires fear and respect. Therefore, beginner daredevils are sometimes accompanied by capinhas with more experience.

Tourists sometimes too, but it’s usually tourists who get hurt by the bull. Because they don’t know how to behave. And I would like to remind you (see the article „Tourada à corda„) that the insurance doesn’t cover damage caused by the bull. For your own safety, leave playing with bulls to people with more experience.

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Festival de capinhas 2020, photo by Márcio Borges

The basic rule on tourada is safety

Safety of people and bulls. Capinhas play with the bull, run around. But when they see that the bull is very dangerous, they don’t risk their lives. „This is not our livelihood,” says João. “We go on a tourada to have fun and entertain the audience, but we all want to go home. Professionals, for example, in Spain, are different. All their lives are bulls. We go to our work, leave it in the evening and go on a tourada. And we want to come back from tourada safe and sound. I’ve had four serious accidents, got hit on my head once, and passed out. The fewer accidents the better.”

I’m asking about the bulls. And learning that capinhas and tourada organizers also keep the bulls safe. Some time ago, a bull would hit a wall with a horn, break the horn, and run on. Not now. Now in such a situation the bull is immediately taken from the street and cured. João also tells me that when capinhas see that someone in the public is putting the bull in danger, they react immediately and drag the bull away. “We want safety for the bull as well, not only for ourselves. The bull also has its rights.”

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Festival de capinhas 2020, photo by Márcio Borges

I’m beginning to wonder how capinhas get prepared for touradas

I’m hearing in an answer that their only preparation are possible „touradas” with cows – mothers of bulls. Grenadiers, or cattle breeders, want to know which cow will make a good mother for the next good bull. Good, meaning big and brave, which can be proudly exhibited on tourada. So they invite capinhas to such „cow touradas”. The capinhas train and the grenadiers learn which cow is worth investing in.

The best bulls are selected for touradas

Sometimes these are famous bulls. The ones who have already participated in many touradas and know how to react to capinhas and other people on the streets. At other times, there are bulls that have never left the pasture are selected and the tourada is a completely new experience for them.

But often the choice of a bull for a tourada is down to money. You have to pay well for a good bull. Tourada organizers are usually groups of private people who organize many events (similar to the soup festivals I have described; only in PL, sorry) to raise money for the tourada. It pays off for them to bring a good bull to their tourada. A good bull attracts the attention of more people, and a larger number of people means better advertising for the organizers and greater sales in tascas (I wrote about them in the article „Tourada à corda„). And everything is working.

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Festival de capinhas 2020, photo by Márcio Borges

The Capinhas festival I went to recently is also organized by private people

More specifically – by a group of capinhas. They book the arena, hire the police, the doctor, promote and sell tickets, and talk to the grenadiers about the participation of bulls in the event. Sometimes the grenadiers will deliver a bull to such a festival for free as a gesture of gratitude for the capinhas’ actions during the entire touradas season in Terceira.

And the touradas season in Terceira is long, from May 1 to October 15

Apart from this year. This year (2020) there are no touradas. Capinhas got permission to organize the festival, but the arena could be less than 1/3 full. Organizing a festival requires such a workload that they decide to do it every 2-3 years. As for me – they organize the next one when they forget how much effort such preparations cost them, and they start missing the arena again.

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Festival de capinhas 2020, photo by Márcio Borges

As we are talking about the arena, I’m recalling another event organized there – the tourada de praça. I’m asking João about it, but he starts wincing. „On a tourada de praça a bull gets injured, I don’t like it.” In Portugal, killing bulls in such events is prohibited, but during the touradas de praça, the blade is actually stabbed into the bull’s neck. I’m leaving the topic, I don’t even want to imagine it either.

Tourada is a tradition of Terceira, but other islands are also interested in the topic

The history of touradas in Terceira goes back to the beginning of the 17th century. Recently, however, other islands have also started to be interested in that topic. And so you can see the touradas in Graciosa, São Jorge, until recently it was also possible in Pico. “But it’s always different from the tourada in Terceira. Not that ours is better. It’s just different. On our island, people really appreciate the bulls, capinhas, they are happy about the event. Terceira is Terceira.”

Finally, I’m asking João what the touradas mean to him

In response, I hear: “I am from Terceira. Being a Terceirian means touradas, different feasts. When you think of Terceira, you think of tourada à corda. It’s an event that attracts many people from other islands, immigrants and tourists. During the tourada, you also meet new people and make friends. I have friends from touradas on other islands, they invite me on touradas and on vacation. When I go on a tourada, I hear hello from all sides. I like touradas, I’ve always liked it. It’s in my blood.”

And he’s adding, „I was born on the right island.”

In two years’ time, you may ask me if the capinhas have a festival again on this right island!

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Festival de capinhas 2020, photo by Márcio Borges

PS The author of all the photos used in this article is Márcio Borges. Márcio, thank you very much for the permission to use your photos!

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