Savika – The Extremely Dangerous Traditional Bull Wrestling Culture in Madagascar

Must Read

TIME 100: Tony Elumelu, Three Other Nigerians Makes Time’s list of 100 Most Influential People Of 2020

Tony Elumelu, is among four Nigerians named by the Time Magazine International in their 2020 list of 100 most...

Zambia’s Namwali Serpell Wins UK’s Top Prize For Science Fiction

Zambia's Namwali Serpell has won the UK’s top prize for science fiction, the Arthur C Clarke award, for her...

African Tribe: The Artistic Ndebeles of Southern Africa

The Ndebeles are an African ethnic group living in South Africa and Zimbabwe known for their artistic talent, especially with regard to their painted houses and colorful beadwork. Not much is known about these people except that they originated from the larger Nguni tribes who make up almost two thirds of the black population in South Africa.



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. 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 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.

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.

Related:   Burundi Demands $43bn In Reparations From Germany And Belgium For Colonial-era Crimes

'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

Subscribe to receive email updates

With a subscription profile, you automatically receive updates without having to return to the website and check for changes

Just In

TIME 100: Tony Elumelu, Three Other Nigerians Makes Time’s list of 100 Most Influential People Of 2020

Tony Elumelu, is among four Nigerians named by the Time Magazine International in their 2020 list of 100 most...

Zambia’s Namwali Serpell Wins UK’s Top Prize For Science Fiction

Zambia's Namwali Serpell has won the UK’s top prize for science fiction, the Arthur C Clarke award, for her first novel "The Old Drift". The...

African Tribe: The Artistic Ndebeles of Southern Africa

The Ndebeles are an African ethnic group living in South Africa and Zimbabwe known for their artistic talent, especially with regard to their painted houses and colorful beadwork. Not much is known about these people except that they originated from the larger Nguni tribes who make up almost two thirds of the black population in South Africa.

Matriarchal Communities in Africa: African Communities Where Women Reign Supreme

From the Umoja community in Northern Kenya to the small rural community of Arnado Debbo in Niger state, Nigeria. These here are three African communities with long-standing traditions where to be a woman is superior.

African Tribe: The Dinka People Of South Sudan

The Dinka are a pastoral-agricultural people that make up the largest ethnic group in South Sudan. They vary their lifestyle by season – in the rainy season they live in permanent savannah settlements and raise grain crops like millet,

More Articles Like This