Capeia Arraiana, the Bullfight of the border lands

While me and Emanuele were deciding whether to go up North and photograph Braga’s Semana Santa I receive a message from him: “Why don’t we go to the Capeia?“. The Capeia he was mentioning is the Capeia Arraiana (link in Portuguese only), and until one year ago I had no idea what it was, I even had no idea there was bullfight tradition in that part of Portugal, an area in the North of the country and far away from the Tejo basin and Alentejo where bullfighting is ever present. After seeing his photos from the trip in the previous Summer with our friend Mitchell Kanashkevich I kept that very high in my list, and I guess Emanuele knew that when he sent me this challenge. And by looking at the calendar we quickly realized all the photography we wanted to do in Braga would be over by Holy Friday, which meant that, with a badly slept night, we could leave the end of the Semana Santa behind and drive south to catch the planned events for the weekend.

The Capeia is a very specific kind of bullfight that takes place in the villages of a small region in the upper Côa valley, close to the border of Spain. It begins with several horsemen (and a significant audience) gathering in the morning at one of the pastures around the village where the Capeia will take place, after a light snack the encerro starts: the bulls are surrounded and led to the arena, in what is one of the most eye-catching moments of the day, where they arrive in full speed, blazing through those who found the best spot to watch them pass by. At the arena, a small crowd is gathered, and for such a remote part of the country the diversity of languages is curious, with the legions of Spanish that enjoy a great bullfight (wherever that is) or the immigrants in France that return with the single purpose of attending it.

With the “procession’s” arrival, and just before lunch, the bulls are quickly trialed (Boi da prova), to test their temper and bravery in order to choose the best ones for the afternoon’s main event. Later, in the main event there’s one centerpiece: the forcão, a massive wooden frame build with tree logs, handled by twenty or more men, with carefully given roles within the structure: some support the weight, others handle it towards the bull, and there’s always someone giving directions. This goes on until sunset, several times during the event; outside the boundaries there’s are all the common elements of a sporting event: the beer, the fast food trailers or the ice-cream stand, but inside it’s eye to eye with the bull.

 

The road leading to pastures where bulls roam freely, the start of the encerroFUJIFILM X-E2 (55mm, f/9, 1/750 sec, ISO200)
The road leading to pastures where bulls roam freely, the start of the encerro

 

The horsemen, and audience, gather for a morning meal at the pastures where the bulls roam, before the start of the EncerroFUJIFILM X-E2 (18mm, f/4.5, 1/800 sec, ISO200)
The horsemen, and audience, gather for a morning meal at the pastures where the bulls roam, before the start of the Encerro

 

The horsemen, and audience, gather for a morning meal at the pastures where the bulls roam, before the start of the EncerroFUJIFILM X-E2 (27.7mm, f/7.1, 1/400 sec, ISO200)
The horsemen, and audience, gather for a morning meal at the pastures where the bulls roam, before the start of the Encerro

 

The horsemen, and audience, gather for a morning meal at the pastures where the bulls roam, before the start of the EncerroFUJIFILM X-E2 (44.4mm, f/10, 1/350 sec, ISO200)
The horsemen, and audience, gather for a morning meal at the pastures where the bulls roam, before the start of the Encerro

 

The horsemen, and audience, gather for a morning meal at the pastures where the bulls roam, before the start of the EncerroFUJIFILM X-E2 (50.5mm, f/5.6, 1/340 sec, ISO200)
The horsemen, and audience, gather for a morning meal at the pastures where the bulls roam, before the start of the Encerro

 

The arena and the crowd waiting for the arrival of the horsemen with the bulls for the Capeia ArraianaFUJIFILM X-E2 (18mm, f/6.4, 1/420 sec, ISO200)
The arena and the crowd waiting for the arrival of the horsemen with the bulls for the Capeia Arraiana

 

The arena and the crowd waiting for the arrival of the horsemen with the bulls for the Capeia ArraianaFUJIFILM X-E2 (18mm, f/7.1, 1/350 sec, ISO200)
The arena and the crowd waiting for the arrival of the horsemen with the bulls for the Capeia Arraiana

 

Horsemen leading the bulls to the improvised arena at the village's main squareFUJIFILM X-E2 (18mm, f/5.6, 1/350 sec, ISO200)
Horsemen leading the bulls to the improvised arena at the village’s main square

 

Horsemen leading the bulls to the main arena NIKON D800 (200mm, f/6.3, 1/1000 sec, ISO200)
Horsemen leading the bulls to the main arena

 

The arrival and gathering of the bulls to the arenaFUJIFILM X-E2 (18mm, f/6.4, 1/750 sec, ISO200)
The arrival and gathering of the bulls to the arena

 

Trialing the bulls after they arrive to the arenaFUJIFILM X-E2 (39mm, f/7.1, 1/200 sec, ISO200)
Trialing the bulls after they arrive to the arena

 

Trialing the bulls after they arrive to the arenaNIKON D800 (200mm, f/32, 1/50 sec, ISO200)
Trialing the bulls after they arrive to the arena

 

Trialing the bulls after they arrive to the arenaFUJIFILM X-E2 (18mm, f/5.6, 1/850 sec, ISO200)
Trialing the bulls after they arrive to the arena

 

Preparations of the forcão, the bug wooden frame, for the afternoon bullfightFUJIFILM X-E2 (21.4mm, f/5.6, 1/1400 sec, ISO200)
Preparations of the forcão, the bug wooden frame, for the afternoon bullfight

 

Forcão, the big wooden fram used in Capeia ArraianaNIKON D800 (70mm, f/4, 1/3200 sec, ISO800)
Forcão, the big wooden fram used in Capeia Arraiana

 

Crowd watching the bullfightsFUJIFILM X-E2 (18mm, f/5, 1/1700 sec, ISO200)
Crowd watching the bullfights

 

Young men "measuring" the bull's strength and braveryNIKON D800 (200mm, f/6.3, 1/3200 sec, ISO800)
Young men “measuring” the bull’s strength and bravery

 

Bullfight using a forcão, the wooden frame handled by a group of menNIKON D800 (50mm, f/4.5, 1/8000 sec, ISO280)
Bullfight using a forcão, the wooden frame handled by a group of men

 

Bullfight using a forcão, the wooden frame handled by a group of menNIKON D800 (180mm, f/8, 1/3200 sec, ISO800)
Bullfight using a forcão, the wooden frame handled by a group of men

 

Crowd watching the bullfightsNIKON D800 (50mm, f/8, 1/2500 sec, ISO800)
Crowd watching the bullfights

 

Browse the full set of photos from the Capeia Arraiana in my gallery