Kenya: Medical Student, 25, Bitten By the Bullfighting Bug

23 September 2020

Lusala Village in Vihiga County is tucked on the border of Lusiola Village in Idakho South Ward, Kakamega County.

The neighbouring Maragoli and Idakho communities at the border co-exist peacefully and have a lot in common in terms of their cultural and traditional practices.

There is usually very little activity taking place in the village except when residents are gearing up for a big clash between champion bulls on a weekend.

That is how the popular bullfighting sport crossed the borders from Idakho to Lusala Village, creating a bond between the neighbouring communities.

Hislope Muindi, aged 25 years, owns the reigning champion bull in Vihiga County, nicknamed Mandela -- a fierce looking and huge animal whose presence sends a chill down one's spine.

After watching the bull from a close range, I concluded that rivals did not stand a chance if the animal were to charge in fury. The bull has been caged for the last six months because of the restrictions on public gatherings to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.

Mr Muindi has been bitten by the bullfighting bug and says he does not regret the decision.

Besides being a student at the Kenya Medical Training College, Lake Victoria Campus, Mr Muindi is a passionate bullfighting enthusiast in the village.

He is pursuing a diploma course in clinical medicine and surgery at the college and is currently on attachment at the Kakamega County General Hospital.

His undying passion for animals and the bullfighting sport have earned him the reputation of a jack of all trades as he is able to juggle between his studies and his favourite and popular spot, which has a huge following in Kakamega County.

Mr Muindi receives support from his father, Mr Alfred Kidaha, who is a retired primary school teacher who runs a butchery at the Chavakali market.

"I got interested in bullfighting because of my passion for animals. Bullfighting is practised among the Idakho and Isukha communities in Ikolomani and Shinyalu constituencies but I found myself taking part in the sport to promote and showcase an event that unites the young and old, irrespective of their background," said Mr Muindi.

His father helped raise Sh150,000 to buy the bull and continues to support him in maintaining and grooming the animal.

"In a given day, we spend Sh1,500 to buy nappier grass, supplements to feed the bull and keep it in good health. That is quite an expensive undertaking but I receive a lot of support from my father and friends who are enthusiasts of Mandela," said Mr Muindi.

In addition to feeding the bull, Mr Muindi has to bring a veterinary officer to check the animal and give it food supplements.

In Kakamega County, farmers who own bulls have been forced to cage the animals after they started getting aggressive.

The owners have been forced to device ways of handling the bulls to control their aggressive behaviour and tame them.

Mr Bonventure Munanga, the coordinator of the Kakamega Bullfighting Association, said owners of bulls were going through a difficult time.

"The bulls have become aggressive and dangerous after being caged for several months without being exposed to the fights. This is a big challenge to the owners who have to take them away from the homes and walk for long distances to calm them," said Mr Munanga, who is a primary school teacher.

The popularity of bullfighting has drawn the interest of professionals, including lawyers and teachers in Kakamega and Vihiga counties.

Former Kakamega Senator Dr Boni Khalwale is the patron of the Bullfighters Association in the region. He twice rode on the popularity of the spot to win elections in Ikolomani constituency and the Senate seat.

According to Mr Muindi and Mr Munanga, bullfighting has wrongly been associated with village brutes and school drop-outs.

"I am proud to be associated with the sport because it mirrors our cultural and traditional values and unites different communities in western region," said Mr Munanga.

When Deputy President William Ruto toured Ikolomani constituency in December 2018, he gave out heifers and cash prizes to 10 of the 14 owners of the bulls which took part in a bullfight at the Malinya grounds.

Mr Muindi got a heifer worth Sh20,000 after his bull, Mandela, carried the day in one of the fights.

"In two years from now, I will be shopping for a bullock. I will start training the animal after selling off Mandela. At the moment, the price for the bull is nearly Sh350,000," said Mr Muindi.

The bullfighters from Kakamega and Vihiga are keeping their fingers crossed as they wait for the reopening of the country to enable them resume the competitions in which the winning bulls receive Sh20,000.

"Mandela has been invited for a duel with a bull from Ileho, christened Nyoka (snake), but we are still waiting for the government to open up the country so that we can prepare for the fight," said Mr Muindi.

He denied that owners of the bulls usually fed them on drugs, including bhang, to make them ferocious during the duel with opponents.

"If you feed your bull on bhang that could make the animal aggressive and dangerous even to the person handling it. All one needs to do is feed the bull well and care for it. The training you offer the bull is crucial in making it a champion bull," said Mr Muindi.

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