This festival, held every summer in an estimated 55 towns in the Peruvian Southern Andes, is also known as the Festival of Blood: a clue to what happens there.
My travels have taken me to many indigenous festivals, from a San Simón festival in Panajachel, near Guatemala’s Lake Atítlan, to the Semana Santa celebrations in Madrid, Spain, but I have never witnessed animal cruelty like this.
The mighty, majestic condor is a symbol of great honor in the Andes of Peru, but once a year it is dishonored. First captured and subjected to a rope tied around its neck, it is then dragged through a cheering crowd. The bindings for the condor are sewn into the side of the bull, who is of course extremely agitated, not to say angry, at this indignity.
Here’s how The Guardian describes the scene:
Snorting and kicking up dust, the hybrid – a raging bull with a condor strapped to its back – strikes awe in a watching crowd as it thunders into the arena, then excitement as it repeatedly attempts to gore a matador. The closer the enraged beast comes to a lethal connection, the louder the cheers of “Olé”.
The spectacle is dramatic, comic and tragic at the same time. While the bull provides the sound and fury, the Andean condor on its back cuts a ridiculous and pathetic sight as it flails wildly back and forth, beating its wings to retain balance on a bucking perch.
You can see a video of this horrific “celebration” by clicking here, but be warned that some of the images are disturbing.
The ritual is apparently intended to represent the triumph of the Incas over the invading Spanish. That’s because the bird, an Incan symbol known as the “King of the Andes,” rides the Spanish symbol of virility and is then released, while the bull may be killed.
It’s hard to see how a magnificent vulture being reduced to a terrified participant in a game show can possibly be seen as triumphant.
But even worse: the bird is forced to endure harassment before the fight as festival goers drunk on the fermented maize drink chichi attempt to pluck the bird’s feathers, and the condor risks breaking bones or being killed if the bull crashes against a wall or falls on it side. Even when freed after the ordeal, this giant bird isn’t always able to fly away.
The condor, one of the world’s biggest birds with a wingspan of ten feet, is protected by a 2004 presidential decree. But nobody pays attention to that.
It’s easy for an outsider like myself to pass judgment on this abuse of condors and bulls, but where do people in Peru stand? A bill introduced to Congress last month aims to start a conservation program, declare the sacred condor a national treasure and impose jail sentences of 3-5 years for capturing or killing a condor.
How are Peruvians responding?
“This is the product of exaggerated conservationist beliefs that lack respect for the Andean traditions that are so vital to the conservation of our cultural identity,” said Juan Ossio, a former culture minister and anthropologist with Lima’s Catholic University.
But Peru Antituarino, an animal rights group working to abolish bull fighting, said yawar festivals could end up finishing off the animal that is so central to Andean culture.
Condors have been exalted creatures along the Andes since before the Incan empire.
Aside from issues of animal cruelty, the condor is also endangered. Rob Williams, who is Peru co-ordinator for the Frankfurt Zoological Society, estimates there are probably 300-500 left in the wild in Peru. He also believes that they need to be protected, to prevent further decline.
If you believe that this cruel practice of strapping a condor to a bull should be stopped, please sign our petition to the government of Peru, asking them to find an alternative and humane way to pay homage to the condor.
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Photo Credit: screenshot from Youtube video