The Rider’s Prayer

How does a human being, or an animal, become God? Through the spontaneous will of self-sacrifice, or through suffering.

-Dominique Fournier

Originally, the goal was to ride the bull to death. How long this took, we don’t know. Days, perhaps, of relentless bucking and lassoing, cheering and drinking, waiting and then rising to attention with clenched heart, until finally the knees buckled, the horns tipped, and the enormous jowls sagged into the dust. How many jinetes maimed, killed, in a crude ring of hand-hewn logs?

But no one needs to be reminded that, as French anthropologist Frederic Saumade put it, “the ritual of jaripeo dramatizes the relationship with death.” That’s why everyone is there to begin with: for that horrific, mesmerizing possibility of hoof crushing skull, or for the transcendence of the Indian jinete with arms raised and head thrown back saying fuck-all to his conquerors and the daily toil of his fleeting life.

Jaripeo was born from resistance. The Spanish colonizers brought Mesoamerica its first bulls and horses, but such animals were reserved for those another French anthropologist labels “men of reason.” Indians and mestizos were forbidden from riding horses and from participating in Spanish corridas, the beloved bullfights imported from the home country and recreated in Nueva España. And so sometime in the late 16th century, on the outskirts of burgeoning haciendas or in foggy mountain towns, with a wry and deeply ironic sense of speaking truth to power, indigenous people got the idea to ride the bulls like horses.

This story is a special Vela feature published on The Atavist’s digital platform: read the rest here!


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