ANCIENT RITUALS AND THEIR PLACE IN THE MODERN WORLD: CULTURE, MASCULINITY AND THE KILLING OF BULLS – PART ONE
Keywords:animal rights campaigners, ancient cultural practice, ritual bull-killing, cruelty to animals
Each year in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, a ceremony is held by the Zulu people in honour of the “first fruits”. A certain part of what is known as the Ukweshwama ceremony involves the ritual killing of a bull by young Zulu warriors with their bare hands. The ritual is opposed by certain animal rights campaigners, who believe it is cruel to the animal which is sacrificed. A highly polarized debate has arisen between those opposed to any form of cruelty to animals on the one hand, and those seeking to defend ancient cultural practices on the other. The purpose of this article is to explore whether or not ancient rituals such as the ritual bull-killing at the
Ukweshwama ceremony have a place in the modern world, and to interrogate the implications of the dispute which has arisen for the development of South Africa’s constitutional democracy. The article is in two parts. Part One provides a brief synopsis of the importance of cattle within traditional Zulu culture and traces the public controversy surrounding the bull-killing ritual in KwaZulu-Natal. It also examines the legal arguments put before court on the issue, and discusses the origins in antiquity of certain of the main myths and rituals concerning bulls and bullkilling. Part Two compares and contrasts the respective controversies surrounding
the Ukweshwama bull-killing ritual on the one hand, and Spanish bullfighting on the other. It also examines the wide range of positions adopted by philosophers and legal scholars vis-a-vis difficult questions of animal rights and cruelty to animals. The two
sides of the argument are weighed up and tentative conclusions reached.
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