The bull is, without doubt, the king of the Camargue. The large herds are called "manades" (this word is also used to refer to the farm that breeds the bulls) and are bred solely for the "course camarguaise" (Camargue style of bull-fighting). In the arenas, the bull is con-fronted with a dozen razeteurs (Camargue bullfighters) who try to re-move the cockade that has been at-tached between its horns with strings. Ferocity, bravery, and skill during com-bat will make him a God of the Proven-cal and Languedocian arenas.
Wild Camargue bulls
Each fight lasts 15 minutes, after which he returns to the herd and won't participate in another fight for 2 or 3 weeks. The "cocardiers" (the name for star bulls) fight around 6 or 7 times per year. At the end of their career, around the age of 14 or 15, they enjoy a peaceful retirement in the herd. Upon their death, they are buried upright, their head turned toward the sea, with com-memorative gravestones or statues. The great cocardiers never lose their notoriety and all the Camargue still dreams of the feats of "Provence" and "Sanglier" (two famous bulls).
The bull is part of every kind of celebration. During "la vote" (villages hold parties called "fetes votives" in celebration of the village's patron saint) the whole village is in tune to the abrivados (leading the bulls through the streets into the arena) and the bandidos (opposite of the abrivado, this entails leading the bulls back to the herd from the arena). The main afternoon fight draws everyone out from their siestas.
The profession of the manadier (the head or owner of a farm that breeds bulls) is one of passion. The hours spent caring for the beasts go unnoticed; saving them from flood water, watching over them with the trusty shepherd's crook (called a trident in the Camargue), come rain or shine he makes sure they are fed. It is a tough, dangerous and poor living, which will perhaps reward him, some long years later, with a bull that will become famous and bring glory to the farm. Several tense moments and close calls during the fight (honoured by playing music from Bizet's opera Carmen) will set your heart racing and bring tears to your eyes.
The manades (farms) safeguard the Camargue's natural spaces. Our younger generations are also deeply passionate about bull-related traditions. Every young boy dreams of becoming a gardian (bull herdsman specific to the Camargue region) or razeteur, and every young girl, gracefully wearing the ribbon at the "fête virginenque" (a traditional dress festival held in Arles), sees herself as one day becoming the Queen of Arles. The "Fé di Biou" (provençal for "the faith in the bull" symbolising the immense respect held for this animal) is close to everyone's heart in the Camargue.
Text: Françoise Peytavin, president of the association of breeders of bulls for the "course camarguaise"