Every year, in November, the “Abrivado” animates the beaches and the streets of Saintes Maries de la Mer in Camargue (France) for the yearly parade of bulls and horses.
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“Abrivádo” – feminine, plural – is a Provencal word meaning “exaltation”, “exuberance”. The accent goes on the syllable before last: “Abrivádo”. The French outside Provence call it “Abrivade”, that reads “Abrivád”, which, for them, is easier to pronounce.
The extravaganza focuses on the relationship between the “manadier” (breeders) and their animals: the horses and the bovines. The celebration gathers more than 200 “gardian” (cowboys) and 1,000 horses from all over Provence, France and even from abroad.
A “guardian” (cowboy in Provencal) is a professional rider who takes care of the animals and oversees the environment of the Camargue.
Abrivado is, originally, the operation of transporting through the streets of the village a small group of bulls, from the farm to the Arena for the “course camarguaise”, a bloodless bullfight typical of Provence. It is a competition between farmers, taking into consideration riding skills and competence in containing the herd.
The process begins at the “manade” (farm), where the bovines are sorted out of the corral, loaded and tied by their horns to avoid unnecessary harm during transferring.
The observers spread all over the beach, mainly on the top of the dunes or around their SUVs, sipping from a can or eating a sandwich, while the partakers wait on the saddle, or close to their horse for the Abrivado to start, at eleven o’clock.
Driving the bulls off the camion is an activity trusted to the younger ones. As the bovines get off the lorry, they start to run. The guardians are ready to close around the animals, to contain their impulse to break away. More riders join the main group at the start to reinforce the “V” formation. The bulls are then moved in groups of 4-5, along the Eastern Beach of Saintes Maries de la Mer.
Along the way, groups of atrapaïre (bandidos), youngsters standing along the way or running on quads, by shaking large pieces of textile or plastic, firing firecrackers and smoke bombs, attempt to break the guardian’s phalanx and free the bulls. Men and horses react to these efforts with watchful nonchalance.
In fact, in view of a bottleneck or approaching a difficult spot, the guardian take the horses – and the bulls within – to the gallop, to overcome in a rush the action of the disturbers.
The manade then crosses the village to get to the Arena, where the animals are parked, waiting to be taken back to their pasture.
This is finally the time for the manadier, the guardian and their guests to crash into a brasserie for a glass of wine, beer or “Pastis”, accompanied by a plateau of fresh regional oysters.