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A Dangerous Dating Game: Riding on Bulls with Boys :

May 6, 2016

As the father of four children, I have witnessed them engage in many different courtship rituals over the years. These have involved soccer, song, group activities, endless texts, and even baking apple crisp.


As the father of four children, I have witnessed them engage in many different courtship rituals over the years. These have involved soccer, song, group activities, endless texts, and even baking apple crisp. While several of the rituals have been quite different, none are intrinsically dangerous. Amazingly, however, courting rituals in Madagascar can be quite dangerous indeed.


As reported in The Wall Street Journal, a well-known and important courting ritual in the Madagascar highlands involves riding a bull. Bull riding in Madagascar is quite different from bull-riding in the United States. In the United States, bull riding is a professional rodeo event. The rider, usually swathed in a considerable amount of protective equipment, mounts the bull while it is enclosed in a pen and wraps their hand around a rope attached to the bull. Once the bull is released from the pen, the rider tries to stay on the bull for 8 seconds. The best riders win fame and thousands of dollars.

In central Madagascar, the situation could not be more different. Bull riding, called savika, is a sport dating to the 18th century. In the local language, the word means “embrace”.  The bulls are not flat backed like those in the United States, but have a large central hump.  The rider, known as a savika wrestler, wearing no protective gear at all, must leap onto the bull while it is loose in the ring and hang on for as long as he can (in Madagascar, only men ride the bulls). The stands are packed with spectators-many of whom are there to ogle the riders. Both men and women describe the sport as part of the heritage of the central Madagascar highlands-and a great way to attract a prospective partner.  

Considered a great social event, successful savika riders may win a few dollars, but more importantly, they may catch the eye of a girl and she will agree to a date. Of course, riders may also suffer significant injury as the bulls are not so enamored of the riders and tend to slash at them with their horns. So, while I certainly have not understood some of the courtship rituals of my children, at least I was not worried that one of them would be gored as could happen to someone’s son or future spouse in Madagascar.

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