A casual stroll through the market place in Liberia during the annual fiestas in February can turn into a colorful feast within a matter of seconds during the inaugural parade known as Tope. Hundreds of people gather around the initially empty streets, crowded only by the occasional coconut vendor hoping to sell more pipas (fresh coconut water) now that people are rooted in one place with plenty of sun to enjoy.
A sudden blaring of trumpets and cheers announces the arrival of grotesque and comical creatures dancing joyfully and dolled up girls on horses. Every now and then the music halts and the masked strangers freeze as if in a daze, to then frantically pick up the pace again once the music rejoins the feast. The horse riders, first immerced in the festivities themselves, perk up and strike an instant pose once they realize a camera is pointed in their direction. Then, slowly and barely impressed, come the bulls…
To confront or even defeat a bull, is considered a great honor and sure show of strength and masculinity. This view, famously adopted by Hemingway, is still alive today. Some people delighted at the sight of these mighty beasts being guided through the streets. Small boys, no doubt inspired by the tradition their nation carries, even dared to taunt the bulls and pull the horns before running away. Other parts of the crowd were not so pleased by the spectacle made of them or even less so by the eventual role they were to play in the festivities through fights or being ridden. Always having been strongly driven by animal rights, I was amongst the latter part of the crowd. Tradition surely has its place, but respect will hopefully take a seat next to it sometime soon.
With the streets once again empty, the coconut vendors return to center stage, hoping to unload the last of their stock, while people, still buzzed by the whole affair, slowly make their way to join the rest of the festivities.
This blog is contributed by Mieke, from Belgium, who is currently completing an internship at Instituto Estelar Bilingüe.