Bullfighting no longer a male bastion in Portugal

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Seventeen-year-old Susana Frieza is making waves in Portugal as the founder of the only female group of "forcados", or bullfighters who aim to subdue their adversary with bare hands.

"You are always scared but you learn to control fear and then it becomes easy," said Frieza, a native of Benavente -- a little town in the centre of the country, about 50 kilometres (31 miles) from Lisbon.

"Nothing can compare to the rush one feels in the initial seconds when one is facing the bull and it charges," said the teenager, whose pluck and skill have won her both plaudits and fans.

Portuguese bullfighting is different and far less gory than the Spanish version where the bull is stabbed to death if the matador manages to win the contest.

AFP Photo
In traditional Portuguese bull fights, eight men "forcados" challenge the bull directly with their bare hands without any protection of weapons. The bull's horns are covered in leather to prevent any injury.

The front man provokes the bull into a charge to perform a "pega de cara", or a face catch. He secures the head and the rest of the team then ring the beast and try to subdue it. The sport is practicised by amateur assocations.

Frieza, whose father and elder brother are "forcados", tamed her first bull at the age of 12 when she was taken to a local fair by her brother Luis.

"A little contest had been organised with a neighbouring village when it was decided to put the little girl to the test in front of the bull. And she won!" said her 23-year-old brother, laughing.

In 2008, Frieza set up an all-girl "forcados" team in Benavente "just to try it out."

Although the girls tackle smaller bulls weighing between 200 and 300 kilograms (440 to 660 pounds), against 500 kilograms or more tackled by male counterparts, their reputation has been spreading to other parts of the country.

Frieza has been adding feathers in the cap since her successful debut at the inter-village contest.

At 15 she subdued a bull weighing about 420 kilograms, her mother Rosalia said, adding proudly: "She shut the mouths of those who were sniggering," when she entered the ring.

"I felt so big that I felt like I was bursting out of my clothes," said Frieza, remembering the event.

But the going has not been hunky-dory all the way.

In July, she bust her nose when she was kicked twice by a calf.

"But the more blows you take, the more you want to surmount them," she said, undaunted.

For Clara Pedro, a Lisbon resident taking part in her first corrida in Benavente, Susana is a heroine of sorts, being a "woman of courage and great inspiration for others".

Pedro's first foray on Saturday did not go swimmingly well. She was hit in the knee by a 200-kilogram calf and had to be taken to hospital in tears.

But Frieza, undeterred, had a second go with her team of several dozen amateurs. And for Pedro her tears are forgotten.

"What adrenaline! It's better than I thought it would be!" she said.


AFP/ Thomas Cabra/ Expatica

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