Alvaro Barrientos/AP
Revelers run on Estafeta Street during the second run of the Cebada Gago fighting bulls at
the San Fermin festival, in Pamplona, northern Spain, Wednesday, July 8, 2009.

So Far, No Serious Injuries at Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls

July 08, 2009 05:00 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
Street parties and the thrill of being chased by bulls drew more than 2,000 to the San Fermin festival in Pamplona, Spain. Is the risk of being gored or trampled really worth it?

Second Run Leaves 4 Injured

Today marked the second day of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona, a festivity famous for its daring custom of running with bulls. As The Associated Press reports, four people sustained slight injuries during this second run, including a Spaniard, who “was not seriously gored,” a spokesperson from Virgen del Camino hospital told the AP.

Runners trotted through the cobblestone streets, jammed with more than 2,000 people, along with six fighting bulls and six steers. The bulls were raised at Cebada Gago ranch, “which has a reputation for raising fierce animals,” Jorge Sainz wrote for AP. The ranch’s bulls have participated in the festival for 24 years and have gored 38 people, the festival’s Web site reports, according to Sainz.

This year’s festival, which includes eight planned runs, will end on July 14.

Background: Recent injuries and deaths

Last year, the first run of the San Fermin festival ended with 13 people suffering “head, rib or other injuries from falling or getting trampled,” the AP reported.

Since record-keeping for the festival began in 1924, a total of 14 people have died, Sainz reports. The last of these happened in 2003, when 63-year-old local Fermin Etxeberri was trampled by one of the charging bulls and died after spending several months in a coma. In 1995, Matthew Tassio, a 22-year-old American, suffered from a “fatal goring,” according to AP. Tassio “died because he did not know bullrunning's cardinal rule: ‘when you fall, stay down,’” adds the Sunday Herald. In 2008, an accident not directly related with the run claimed another life: “an Irishman fell to his death from the city ramparts,” the Sunday Herald reports.

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Historical Context: The Festival of San Fermin

The conservative Spanish town of Pamplona undergoes a sensational transformation every year on July 6 when it hosts the festivities of San Fermin, attracting thousands of enthusiastic visitors from across the globe. In spite of the drinking, dangerous bull running and general revelry, runners dressed in white with red handkerchiefs around their necks still pay homage to San Fermin, an eighth-century martyr who was beheaded for advocating Christianity during Muslim rule. How? By “pelting each other with eggs, flour, saffron and fizzy wine,” the Sunday Herald reports.

As Spanish Fiestas explains, the original festival was held on Oct. 10, but as its religious spirit was diminished by the inclusion of music, dancing, banquets and bullfights, the Pamplona Council proposed that it be moved to July 7. The first official celebration of the new festival of San Fermin, which merged the religious, commercial and bullfighting festivals, occurred in 1591. Foreign participants in the festival began to appear in records dating from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Opinion & Analysis: Risk-taking might be genetic

“I'm not a psychologist, but on paper this festival is a disaster,” a senior police officer told the Sunday Herald. “Hundreds of thousands of people who don't speak each other's languages drink themselves to oblivion.” As if running with the bulls isn’t dangerous enough, intoxication would only seem to add to the risk involved, leaving many to wonder why people would risk their lives in such a reckless manner.

According to an article in Outside Magazine, researchers are learning more about the brains of extreme risk-takers, those whose seemingly insane pursuits are not deterred by the threat of danger or global economic instability. Scientists have determined that the proclivity for reckless behavior is in our genes, and may be responsible for human evolution. Those who were “genetically inclined to seek out the better-tasting protein, the greener pastures, the prettier mates from unfamiliar territory” have propelled the human race forward, Florence Williams suggests in Outside.

Related Topic: Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”

In 1926, American writer Ernest Hemingway helped to make the festival of San Fermin internationally famous with the publication of his novel “The Sun Also Rises.” The novel describes the annual festival in Pamplona through the eyes of a World War I veteran. According to SparkNotes, the bullfighting episodes in the novel are deeply symbolic, resonating with various themes and characters throughout the novel. 

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