Ride ’em, Masbate cowboys
MASBATE CITY—Cowboys working in ranches in Masbate are for real, and a festival to pay tribute to the island-province’s cattle industry and its workers has become its brand to erase the stigma of political violence which has caught national attention.
“We are moving away from the ‘Wild, Wild West’ [reputation due to] political killings because [violence] is now vanishing, partly because of the rodeo that somehow unified us as a people,” said Rodeo Masbateño director Leo Gozum. Outsiders, he said, would now ask about the rodeo than the violence.
Started in 1993 by then Gov. Emilio Espinosa, Rodeo Masbateño was aimed initially at reviving the cattle industry that was established during the Spanish period. That goal, according to the rodeo director, has already been achieved, with Masbate now “breeding cattle to be bred.”
Cattle sold on the island are meant to reproduce in other ranches all over the Philippines, while those culled are slaughtered for food.
Events in this year’s five-day Rodeo Masbateño, which began April 18, were designed to mimic daily work and activities in local ranches, which span thousands of hectares. Gozum said it was common in big ranches to see wild horses and cattle as the animals were hard to monitor closely.
Participants from different parts of the country see Rodeo Masbateño as the biggest among the rodeo competitions held in the Philippines. Thirteen teams competed in the professional division and 22 in the student division.
The events included bull whipping, load carrying relay, cattle wrestling on foot, cattle wrestling on horseback, cattle roping on horseback, “carambola” for two and for four persons, casting down and bull riding.
The bareback bronc riding reenacts the cowboys’ way of taming wild horses. Gozum said ranch hands would use 12 wild horses for the bareback riding, tied only by rope to the heart girth to hold on.
In “huego de toro,” cowboys had to catch and control 20 wild cows with bare hands and sheer strength. The cows were let loose on a 300-meter stretch of road for the three-member team to go after; each caught cow fetched about P30,000.
“The event is a ‘controlled danger’ to the player and the community because it is a very big challenge for the three-member team to bring or drive the wild cow from one end [of the road] to the other using only their bodies and sheer strength,” Gozum said.
Another homegrown tradition was the commemorative cattle drive on opening day after the parade of horses. “It is the reenactment of the old way the cattle are brought from the ranches to the city port to be transported by ship to different markets,” Gozum said.
Boosting local economy
Troy Nehemiah Jr., a student of veterinary medicine at Central Luzon State University in Nueva Ecija province, said this was his fourth year to join the Rodeo Masbateño.
“It is the thrill and excitement of wrestling with the cattle, and the opportunity to showcase my skill in proper animal handling that pushes me to return and join the rodeo festival in Masbate,” Nehemiah told the Inquirer.
His team trained for two months, jogging regularly and “brawling” with cattle.
“During the training period, you don’t compete with other players but with yourself, within a limited time,” Nehemiah said.
Kate Nicole Neriamara, an animal science student of Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan in Cagayan de Oro City, came for the first time to observe the veteran cowboys’ skills and techniques.
With the influx of tourists and fully booked hotels, Masbateños saw the festival as a boost to the local economy.
Edwin Olpindo, a street sweeper in Bagumbayan village, even said: “Rodeo in Masbate is just like celebrating Christmas and New Year. It is one of the grandest celebrations here.” —WITH REPORTS FROM SUZENE CAJEGAS, SHAN GABRIEL APULI AND GEORGE GIO BRONDIAL