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Smaller peoples and their traditional and ritual combat sports

Xochimilcas and their rainmaking fighting ritual

Xochimilcas fight
Girls take part in the traditional Xochimilcas fights in the Mexican municipality of Zitlala in Guerrero district in May 2015.
Fighting plays an important role in some of the traditions for the indigenous groups in Guerrero.
Photo from Carnaval de Golpes en La Esperanza

Русская версия

The Xochimilcas are Mesoamerican natives, who were permanently at war with the Aztecs (or 'Mexicas') since 1376. Aztecs finally conquered them in 1430. Currently Xochimilcas belong to the Nahuas, a group of indigenous people of Mexico and El Salvador speaking Uto-Aztecan languages. Xochimilcas are relating to one of the seven Nahua groups that settled in the valley of Mexico in pre-Columbian times.

As a remembrance of the old enmity with Aztecs, residents of some villages and towns in the in the municipality of Zitlala (Mexican province Guerrero) have traditional ritual fights "to summon rain", which originally represented fights against the Aztecs to defend the Xochimilcas women.

Some Indigenous peoples in Latin America arrange traditional ritual festivals and ceremonies containing one-on-one fighting events. The most known such events are Takanakuy in Peru and Tinku in Bolivia. Actually, fights during harvest festivals represent pre-Hispanic pagan traditions. Usually such fighting events occur in remote highland regions as an outlet of mountain-born aggression. Such fights reflect ancient feud between tribes and help resolve personal enmity accumulated during the past year.

Some of such events are poorly known beyond those remote areas. In 2015 a 'Vice'* filming crew visited the village of La Esperanza in Sierra de Guerrero in the province of Guerrero in Mexico to see and portray the local annual festival, especially fighting events in which both men and women participated. To better understand the nature of this tradition, the female host reporter of the Vice team Lucia Anaya even risked to participate herself in a fistfight against a local girl.

The fights of the Xochimilcas are the representation of the battles that faced the ancestors of these people. According to the same tradition, the settlers of that time fought to protect their wives and their production. The festival emerged more than 500 years ago to commemorate frequent battles with Aztecs, who would come to Nahua communities seeking payment of tributes and to steal women. Back then, in order to protect their daughters, sisters and girlfriends, men would wear skirts to try to fool the invaders and then to engage in hand to hand combat with them. That's where the fighting ritual came from; even now some men fight during the ritual wearing skirts. Since the fights were established as a ceremonial tradition, women also engaged in the fighting rituals to help summon rain. Besides, the festivals are held during spring planting when many men are busy with sowing; so women and children fill the gap. Female fighters traditionally fight in multicolored skirts but nowadays, fighter girls usually wear pants or jeans. Now, women's fights became virtually the most important events at the festivals.

Unlike fights during Takanakuy and Tinku events in Peru and Bolivia, the main goal of the fights in the province of Guerrero is to get blood to drop ono the earth to sacrifice it for the gods in exchange for a good rainy season. As far as sport aspects of these fights are concerned, it is a bare-knuckle boxing in which fighters try to hit each other in the face (to induce bleeding); legs are never used. While the most of the fighters doesn't cover their hands when fighting, some wear hand wraps. The fights occur on the mellow earth ground. Not just adult men and women participate in these fights but also quite young boys and girls. Any person coming into the ring can choose any other person of his/her gender. Children fight within age groups. Rarely, young girls can challenge boys. Interestingly, mostly male audience watch fights between males and mostly female audience watch fights between females. The most of the female fighters are quite amateurish; indeed, unprepared reporter Lucia Anaya managed to deliver a couple of good punches during her sparring with a local fighter but was unable to withstand a stormy attack by her opponent; in fact, local girls take the heat very well. Several pairs of fighters at the time can act on the same ground. Anyone can ask for a time-out any time. Occasionally, during a fight fighters grab a handful of dirt to dry the sweat on their hands. While in contemporary Tinku and Takanakuy fighting events watching guards usually separate fighters in the middle of the bout in order to protect them from severe injuries, Guerrero bouts last until one of the fighters decides to give up. Often a bout ends when one of the fighters (or both) has profuse bleeding from the nose or lips.

Sometimes, in the heat of battle, girls violate the rules and (voluntarily or involuntarily); for example, scratch the opponent's face after delivering a punch (As it said, the main goal in the fight is not to win a bout but to let blood.) Rarely, in the heat of the battle girls use some other illegal moves like holding and hairpulling. But the most of the fights represent pure bare-knuckle boxing.

Xochimilcas fight
Lucia Anaya explores Xochimilcas fighting traditions

Nowadays, as technology spread all over the world, spectators often record the fights on their smartphones contrasting this brutal primitive tradition with contemporary technical inventions.

"Fighting festivals" in Guerrero are ancient ceremonies of mysterious origin. Every year, in the month of May, men, women and children from the Nahua villages of the Guerrero province, get together to beat the living daylights out of each other. In old times, the blood let during the fights was collected in buckets to place into the plough-land. The villagers believe that this bizarre ritual will bring the rain and provide bountiful harvests.

The festival, like many others in Mexico, combines catholic and pre-Hispanic traditions. On the first day, women prepare a lot of food and bring it at the official site; they lay out the food and decorate the area with flowers and inflated turkey bellies. They recite prayers for the Virgin Mary and for the local rain god Tlaloc, after which it is time for the fighting to begin.

Local villagers stand in a circle, forming a ring of sorts, waiting for their adversaries to arrive from neighboring communities. The villages of La Esperanza and El Rancho Las Lomas, in particular, have a long standing rivalry – they fight in a field that lies on the border between the two towns. When everyone has arrived, the women begin to seek out opponents, challenging them to fights. The older women, who are seasoned warriors, provoke younger girls to get into the ring and spill some blood.

Once the opponents are decided, the women get into the ring and face each other, tying up their hair and taking off their jewelry. They make threatening stances looking at each other and seeking for an occasion to attack the opponent. Once one of them throws the first punch, the sharp game begins while the two fan crowds begin cheering. Pretty soon, a bloody fight is underway. The women don’t seem to care about winning; all they want is to spill as much blood as possible. They might ask for a time out to clean up their bloodied noses, but they’ll get right on with the punching once they’re done. Men and children join in as well, and the fighting continues until dark, after which everyone hugs each other, drinks, eats and then heads back home.

About a month before the festival girls usually hold "fighting party" to train and better prepare to the annual event.

Professor David Delgado of Chapingo University (member of the Vice crew), who has spent the 12 years studying harvest celebrations, believes the fighting ritual can be traced back to the Aztecs. “It is originally linked to the beginning of the corn harvest,” he explained. “The other important issues here are the symbols. The people here formed two communities and when one trespassed into another’s turf, they would fight each other. So they say that because of their quarrels, the god Tlaloc took the rain from them."
"Two of the communities started a sort of contest to see who could take the water back from Tlaloc,” he added. “He fled to the hills. So they went up and stole the water, but they started fighting for it once they came down. And so they say that the fights are held to this day since then. They say that every drop of blood is a drop of water, and hence the tradition stands.”
"They hit each other pretty hard. Otherwise it won't be any blood. If there's no blood, there's no rain."

Xochimilcas fight
Vice reporter Lucia Anaya participates in the ritual fighting

Report by Lucia Anaya (June, 2015)

La Esperanza is a small farming village, with about one thousand inhabitants, located in the Sierra de Guerrero, in an area where the majority of the inhabitants are Nahua. Getting to this place is anything but hopeful. We have to cross the center of the city of Chilapa, where on two occasions we passed by, violent events occurred in the community. On the way, a battle with grenades detained the city for 24 hours, keeping schools and shops closed. On the way back, an armed group assassinated Ulises Fabian Quiroz, PRI candidate for mayor of the city.

During the first days of May, in Esperanza is celebrated the beautiful tradition of gathering with the people of Rancho Las Lomas, which is the neighboring town, as a sacrifice for the gods in exchange for a good rainy season.

In May of each year, the peasants of the Nahua village of La Esperanza, in the state of Guerrero, prepare their land for sowing. But the fortune of having a good rainy season will not only depend on them, but on all the inhabitants of the community. Therefore, while the fields are plowed and the seeds are taken care of, the villagers prepare for the ceremony of requesting rainfall and fertility from the land. In this ritual feast they ask for abundant water for a generous harvest, which will represent a good year for the community.

Before fighting, the women of this Nahua community prepare a banquet at the house of the city commissary. Then the women should peel and water the earth with their blood. I knew about this tradition first hand. During my first visit to La Esperanza in 2007, I arrived with Norma. Although she lives in Chilpancingo, she is originally from this region and her family has the tradition of participating in this ceremony.

On the day that this celebration begins, the women get up very early to meet the wives of the authorities, at the house of the city commissary. Turkey, chickens, pozole, mole, rice, boiled eggs and tortillas are prepared in large quantities to share with officials and their families. But this table also receives any person from the village who wants to attend; it's just a matter of bringing a container for women to fill it with food.

At noon I went to the Cruzco, a sacred place where a spring is found and the people gather to offer flowers, food, copal, waxes, prayers and music to their deities. In the afternoon, the people of the village headed towards a ritual fight to ask for rain. In trucks or walking, through the streets and fields of cultivation, little by little people were transforming the landscape.

Accompanied by some settlers, I arrived at a land that would become a battlefield, in the limits of La Esperanza and neighboring communities. There were dozens of people shielding themselves from the sun in the shade of the trees, waiting for the arrival of the opposing peoples. As they arrived a human perimeter was formed. The neighboring communities began to take their place. Face to face, one by one, the women watched, sought and challenged their opponents to start the fight. Young women were motivated and advised by their mothers or grandmothers, who in previous years were the warriors.

Lucia Anaya craves for combat

I could hear screams of support rumbling from both sides. The women faced each other without any fear. Before the meeting, they hold their hair, strip off rings and everything that hinders them. Some women grab a handful of dirt to wipe the sweat from their hands. They greet each other and the fight begins. The fighters observe one another and, clenching their fists, throw the first blow. They attack, close their eyes, defend themselves, dodge, and sometimes ask for a respite to wipe the blood from their nostrils. Then they continue. It is not about winning or losing. These are not revenge or revenge. It was an offering to the earth.

After several fights, I began to perceive the smell of blood that spilled in the encounters. It seemed that the pain did not stop these women. When it started to get dark, the women, with a clean fist, were fighting.

Live report by Lucia Anaya about her own fight:

- I am going to fight someone from El Rancho. I mean I'll just try not to close my eyes. We'll see what happens. The girls from El Rancho look a bit tougher though. Just don't give a shit. With my drunk friend's advice I went out to look for a contender from Rancho Las Lomas. [I approach a group of women led by a matron who asks me:] "What do you suggest? Do you want to choose who to fight or what do you suggest?" [I don't care and we laugh:] "The drop of blood means a drop of water." I was ready to give la Esperanza a few drops - either from mine or my opponent's blood, although I was pretty sure it was going to be mine. Let's get it over with… {Short exchange of punches, stoppage and then another short exchange of punches; my opponent furiously attacks me and I get out of the game.] As they say, a drop of blood for a drop of water [removing some blood from my lips]. It definitely was no a fight of the century but there was some blood [embracing her opponent] and I managed to land a few punches. I don't feel it went that bad. [Looking at another pair of fighting girls.] I think it should've gone for another fight. Competition is pretty fierce here however. Don't mess with the women of Guerrero! Neither from El Rancho and La Esperanza.

While violence caused by organized crime affects hundreds of communities, in Guerrero ancient traditions like this still thrive in Rancho Las Lomas and Le Esperanza. This party might seem violent for many but for them it's a fair ritual. Two people with equal physical condition shake hands, break each other's noses and end up hugging and toasting with mescal. If violence was like this in the rest of the country, things would be slightly better… I should've gone for another round...

Once the night fell completely, we all returned to the community. In the streets I found every female combatant returning to her home with the pride of being a warrior, with the certainty that her blood had spread on earth, and that-in her deep belief-she hoped that this offering would be accepted and rewarded with a good time.

Note by FSCClub: Reporter Lucia Anaya deserves high praise: being in a foreign territory and not trained in combat sports, she not just put her face representing 'Vice' but engaged in a real fight against an experienced local girl. This is a real journalism! Congratulations to the reporter and her team!

*) Vice Media is a North American digital media and broadcasting company

Female fighters before and after fights


Carnaval de Golpes en La Esperanza

El carnaval de madrazos en la Esperanza, Guerrero

Mujeres guerreras

Vice video with English subtitles

Aztec warriors, 21st century-style. Daily Mail

Episodes of women's fights in the Municipality of Zitlala, Guerrero


All images are reprinted in accordance with the "Fair Use" concept and the international copyright law

Fights in the Municipality of Zitlala, Guerrero, Mexico. Videoclips from the resource YouTube

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