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Savika – The Extremely Dangerous Traditional Bull Wrestling Culture in Madagascar

In the island country of Madagascar, there exists an incredible and little-known form of traditional bullfighting called ‘Savika’.

'Savika' – The Extremely Dangerous Traditional Bull Wrestling in Madagascar
Betsileo men try to dodge a charging Zebu bull during a traditional Savika rodeo.. Image: Henitsoa Rafalia

This centuries old sport is a rodeo-like sport practiced by men of the Betsileo ethnic group in Madagascar and it’s considered a rite of passage for young men.

The sport consists of bullfighters locally known as “mpisavika” and a very angry bull called a “zebu”.

To determine the winner of the traditional sport, the mpisavika must climb and hold on to the bull’s hump the longest without getting stomped on or stabbed with its long and hard horns.

'Savika' – The Extremely Dangerous Traditional Bull Wrestling in Madagascar
Photo — getty images

The Savika is similar to the Spanish-style bullfighting that is practiced in Spain, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, as well as in parts of southern France and Portugal but Unlike the Spanish-style bullfighting, Savika does not involve harming the bull in any physical way, it is simply holding on to the bull for the longest amount of time without getting stomped on or stabbed by its horns.

Traditional Bull Wrestling in Madagascar
Betsileo men wait to take part in a traditional Savika rodeo — Image: Henitsoa Rafalia

No one remembers exactly when Savika was invented, not even the elders in the society, but everyone agrees it has been practiced by Betsileo men for centuries.

The traditional sport is described as a bond between man and beast and it is enjoyed by all members of the community.

The sport is typically played by Betsileo men after a ceremony such as a wedding or a baptism, but many young men will prove their courage to the community, and the local women. A man who is brave enough to wrestle with the Zebu and come out unscathed is found extremely appealing by young women in the Betsileo society.

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'Savika' — bull fighting in Madagascar
Betsileo men fight with ”Zebu” bull during traditional Savika bullfighting Image: Henitsoa Rafalia

A savika event begins with the zebu being tested for aggressiveness by the mpisavikas before the brave players start sneaking up behind it trying to grab its hump and hang on to it for as long as possible.

'Savika' – The Extremely Dangerous Traditional Bull Wrestling in Madagascar
A Betsileo man wrestling with Zebu. Image: getty images

It’s a dangerous sport and life threatening injuries do occur, but savika has been around forever and the Betsileo love it so much that nothing can’t deter the young men from the sport.

The Extremely Dangerous Traditional Bull Wrestling in Madagascar
A Betsileo man receives treatment after traditional Savika bullfighting. Image: Henitsoa Rafalia

The brave mpisavika who dance with the bulls don’t receive trophies for their courage, and they don’t need any – the respect of the community, the attention from the women and the status of hero are more than enough.

Talk Africana
Fascinating Cultures and history of peoples of African origin in both Africa and the African diaspora

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