Portuguese-style bullfighting

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Cavaleiro and bull

Portuguese-style bullfighting differs in many aspects from Spanish-style bullfighting. The cavaleiros and the forcados are unique as well as the horsewomen (cavaleiras).

Main figures[edit]

  • Cavaleiros - A horseman or woman (rider), dressed in traditional 18th century costumes fights the bull from horseback. The horses are Portuguese Lusitanos, specially trained for the fights. These horses are usually skilled in dressage and may exhibit their art in the arena. The purpose of this fight is to stab three or four bandarilhas (small javelins) in the back of the bull. In the past, horseback bullfighters were often members of old aristocratic families. The horsewomen (cavaleiras) are a pioneer and unique feature of the Portuguese bullfighting. Ana Batista, Sónia Matias and Ana Rita are among the first and most renowned cavaleiras of Portugal.
  • Forcados - The forcados are a group of eight men who challenge the bull directly, without any protection or weapon of defense. The front man provokes the bull into a charge to perform a pega de cara or pega de caras (face catch). The front man secures the animal's head and is quickly aided by his fellows who surround and secure the animal until he is subdued. Forcados were usually people from lower classes who, to this day, practice their art through amateur associations. In California, these men sometimes take the humorous nickname of 'Suicide Squad'.
  • Matadores - Same as the Spanish matadores, but they do not kill the bull in the end.
  • Bandarilheiros - These men are the matador's and/or cavaleiro's helpers in the arena. They are skillful and wear the suit of light as the matador, except not with the gold sequins. While in the arena, they are holding the gold/pink cape to distract or position the bull.


Most Portuguese bullfights (corridas de touros) are held in two phases: the spectacle of the cavaleiro, followed by the pega. In Portugal, the main stars of bullfighting are the cavaleiros, as opposed to Spain, where the matadores are the most prominent bullfighters. Nevertheless, bullfights with matadores are frequent, notably with Portuguese matadores who practice their trade in Spain and who, when in Portugal, replace the sword in their final strike with a bandarilha. Examples of famous Portuguese matadores are Vítor Mendes and Pedrito de Portugal.

During the cavaleiro, a horseman on a Portuguese Lusitano horse (specially trained for the fights) fights the bull from horseback. The purpose of this fight is to stab three or four bandeirilhas (small javelins) in the back of the bull.

Pega de caras

In the second stage, called the pega, the forcados, a group of eight men, challenge the bull directly without any protection or weapon of defense. The front man provokes the bull into a charge to perform a pega de cara or pega de caras (face catch). The front man secures the animal's head and is quickly aided by his fellows who surround and secure the animal until he is subdued. Many people who watch Portuguese-style bullfights in the United States use the term, "suicide squad", to refer to this group of eight men.

The bull is not killed in the ring and, at the end of the corrida, leading oxen are let into the arena and two campinos on foot herd the bull along them back to its pen. The bull can be either killed, away from the audience's sight, by a professional butcher or, after an good performance, restored to health and released to pasture for breeding.[citation needed] Nevertheless, tradition was so strong at the small frontier town of Barrancos, where the bull was illegally put to death in the arena, that the government was forced to relent and permit the town to follow its ancient matador tradition and kill the bull in the arena.

There are other forms of traditional bullfighting in Portugal, some differing markedly from the version described above. In the Azores, bullfighting is often reminiscent of the running of the bulls in Pamplona (Spain) in the respect that those most at risk are human beings, not the bulls themselves. The Azorean style involves a group of people vying in a tug-of-war with a young bull by holding fast to a long stout rope tied around the bull's neck. This is called the tourada à corda (bull-on-a-rope 'game').


See also: Bullfighting

In Portugal, some bulls have their horns severed and covered in a way that they do not present sharp points. This practice is believed to have been introduced by King Joseph I of Portugal after a tragic event in a bullfight he was presiding at Salvaterra de Magos. The son and heir of the 4th Marquis of Marialva was fighting a bull on horseback when the animal wounded his horse. The young man fell, was kicked by the bull and killed. The Marquis himself, then around 70 years of age, jumped from the royal cabin that he shared with the king, drew his sword and killed the animal.


The Portuguese now practise a type of bullfighting which is in many respects different from its original form. An idea of the original form can be constructed from the Spanish style.

In 1836, due to the action of queen Mary II, Portugal deemed the killing of bulls to be immoral, and they passed a law banning the public killing of bulls. However, this law only lasted for a year; the next time a law was passed prohibiting the public killing of bulls was in 1928.

The Portuguese Parliament made a specific bullfight to the death (Barrancos) legal again in 2002, saying that it has been a social tradition (a rare example of custom with law relevancy in the Portuguese legal system). Previously when the Portuguese government deemed it illegal to kill the bulls, there was a great social outcry to re-legalize this specific practice. In contrast, there was again a social outcry in 2002, but this time to keep killing the bulls in the fights illegal.

Geographic distribution[edit]

Some southern and central regions of Portugal, such as Ribatejo and parts of the Alentejo, as well as Terceira Island in the Azores, are traditionally more interested in the corrida de touros. In Portugal's northern regions, bullfighting has a much lower presence, excepting for Póvoa de Varzim, and is entirely absent from most Azorean islands and from Madeira.

Today, Portuguese-style bullfighting is practiced extensively in parts of Portugal but it was formerly present in many Portuguese overseas territories, such as in Mozambique, where the bullfights ended following independence. On the other hand, bullfighting was banned (along with cockfighting) in Brazil by a decree of Getúlio Vargas issued in 1934.[1]


In 2009, the city hall of Viana do Castelo imposed a prohibition of bullfighting shows in the city.[2] The public television station RTP usually shows bullfights in prime-time. This has been notoriously criticized by left-wing parties who have tried to ban the programme[3] and, in another instance, rating the show to an adults-only classification[4]