by Thu Vân
A few days ago, a man was gruesomely gored to death by his own buffalo.
The tragedy grabbed national attention as it brought to a sudden halt an event recognised as a national cultural heritage.
Đinh Xuân Hướng, 47, was one of the participants in the festival held in Hải Phòng City.
For reasons we cannot be sure of, his buffalo decided to fight him rather than a fellow creature. Hướng suffered multiple injuries on his spine, head and legs, and died a few hours later.
After the first human fatality since the Buffalo Fighting Festival resumed 27 years ago, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism sent an urgent message to Hải Phòng’s Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, calling for a review of security and safety measures.
But aren’t we ignoring the elephant in the room, here?
The violence, pain and torture that we inflict on innocent creatures for our entertainment cannot surely be seen as something to be celebrated!
Just imagine how many tragedies the buffaloes have suffered in the last 27 years. Every single fight is a tragedy for both buffaloes, both in terms of the pain inflicted for no reason, and the fact that the prize for winning is slaughter.
The Đồ Sơn Buffalo Fighting Festival is organised to wish local fishermen a prosperous fishing season.
In 2013, the festival was officially recognised as a national intangible cultural heritage.
While the contenders often suffer serious injuries and even death in the fighting, the winning buffalo is usually killed right after being crowned champion. Its meat is sold at a high price as it is believed to bring good luck to those who eat it.
Some people who have opposed banning the festival over “one accident” say that risks exist anywhere and this was a very rare tragedy.
Nhung, a girl whose father loves buffalo fighting so much he breeds one animal every year to take part in the festival, doesn’t share this view.
She said she was sad and upset at what happened to her family’s buffalo after the fight last week.
“The buffalo was attacked in one eye and lost it. And he tried to walk 10km to our house with one eye bleeding and bleeding. I could do nothing but cry,” Nhung said.
“I swear I’ll never watch another buffalo fight again,” she added.
Why is that so many people lack Nhung’s natural sensitivity to the pain of animals?
Then some practical “experts” have said stricter management of such festivals would prevent similar accidents from hurting humans, and the festival should be maintained for its cultural values.
Do we want our cultural values fostering such brutality?
Or do we want our culture based on values like compassion, kindness, generosity and non-violence?
Lê Hồng Lý, former director of the Culture Research Academy, said the buffalo fight was originally a prayer for good weather and good harvest for farmers.
“Originally, when people held a buffalo fight they held it in an area with water around, but in recent years, for the reason of developing tourism and entertainment, this has been brought to a stadium. This is not tradition, but profit making.
“I also heard some people say that buffalo owners even let the animals drink beer and alcohol before fights so that they can be more excited and violent,” he said.
Once profit-making enters the picture, other things change. Buffalo owners may have to pay for participating in the festival, instead of being paid by the organisers. And the meat of the winning buffaloes maybe auctioned to the highest bidder, so only those with deep pockets end up being the “lucky” ones.
I am one of many people who do not see any cultural value in this event. We Vietnamese often proudly tell the world that we are a friendly and kind-hearted nation. If that is so, why would we enjoy such a bloody sport and insist on keeping it as an intangible national heritage?
Actually, in Vietnamese culture, the buffaloes have long been praised as the close friends of farmers’ families. The peaceful image of a boy playing the flute on the back of a calm buffalo is an iconic image of the nation.
How can we treat a friend and national symbol with such cruelty?
What does it say about us when we cheer as the buffaloes are forced into what is clearly unnatural violence that hurts, maims and kills them?
Is this civilised? Or does it smack of the decadent days of gladiators and people being thrown to lions?
Blood sports like this should be consigned to the history books.
No sentient being should lose its life for entertainment, human or animal.
Just last month, the second victim of a bull fight in a year died in Spain, prompting a fresh wave of calls to ban this practice.
In Valencia, Spain’s third largest city, the practice of setting bulls loose with flaming torches attached to their horns has been stopped.
In Madrid, the mayor has ended public funding of bullfighting schools.
The Canary Islands, heavily reliant on UK and German tourism, put a stop to bullfighting in 1991.
My prayers are with Hướng’s family, and I do hope that his death becomes a turning point in stopping this cruel practice.
We talk a lot about becoming a civilised society. In a civilised society, we don’t just talk about human rights, we also talk about animal rights.
Most of us have heard of animal rights activists calling for people to shun dairy products, stop using animals to test chemicals, stop industralised livestock farming and so on.
They have very valid reasons for their appeals, but even if we cannot follow those immediately, the least we can do is to stop making the inflicting of pain and shedding of blood a game for people to enjoy.
As a nation, we have clearly reached a stage when animal sacrifice is seen superstitious and unnecessary. So now it is time for us to reflect seriously on what Mahatma Gandhi said: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” — VNS