...Two huge colored chicks wearing ritual clothing are called out into the venue; they aim their big fists at each other’s faces. The crowd around runs wild, as the women rush to each other with violence of fighting dogs…
An old woman at the front of the crowd yells instructions to the fighters as a trainer at the ring…
(From the description of Tinku at the website of a Ukrainian travel agency Saga)
Several small highland indigenous tribes (clans) inhabiting highland Chayanta province in the Potosi department in South-West Bolivia, became famous far beyond their native lands by their unusual Tinku festivals (‘encounter’ in the language of Quechua; ‘physical attack’ - in the language of Aymara). During one of the final rituals in this festival men and women from different kins fiercely fight each other. Based on rhythmic moves of the Tinku fighters, a dance of the same name emerged and wide spread all over the world.
Tinku festivals are held in the highland region difficult of access, at the border of two main Bolivian ethnic groups, Aymara and Quechua. In a local kinship system people are divided to kins (clans) or moieties. The word "tinku" means encounter (engagement) in both Aymara and Quechua languages. The Tinkus are prearranged celebrations; they usually take place in the small towns of southern Bolivia, like Macha, Pocoata and Acacio. Tinku events last a few days; they are very festive, with an audience of men, women, and children, who bring food and drink. Alcohol is also brought and sold along with food during the Tinku. Tinkus take place on specified holidays (usually, semiannual) and lasts for a few days, when the members of moieties, both men and women, fight hand-to-hand with those of the other moiety. Though the conflict is largely symbolic and ceremonial, the brawl may inflict real, serious physical harm that may sometimes be fatal. Status of a specific moiety is determined by this battle. Another important underline motive to fight is the rivalry between Aymara and Quechua.
Tinkus have been a tradition of Andean culture since before they first had contact with Europeans. It is traced to The Inca Empire. Some anthropologists hypothesize that Ancient Andean cultures would have Tinkus instead of traditional warfare - this would help curb aggression between different groups, and allow for entertainment. For the people living in this area the Tinku is a pre-Hispanic ritual and their dances are a declaration of war against the colonial past. Tinkus do not end with trophies or awards – according to the popular ancient belief, the winning side will have a prosperous year. Men prove their leadership in the clan; women prove their fertility and sexiness. Young men display courage, daring and fighting skills which attract and turn on girls, while energy, fervor and passion shown by fighting girls attract guys. No wonder, marital relations begin in the Tinku festivals.
However, the reasons of the fights might be different:
- A person or group is targeted because of past actions.
- Groups with old animosity fight for prestige.
- Consolidation of "indigenous peasant autonomy and fierceness versus the dominant or mestizo culture".
Some reference internet sources assert that Tinku fights are ritual events in which fighters do not inflict serious damage to each other. At the same time, a completely different account is presented on some tourist web pages: brutal bloody no-holds barred ultimate fights, ending sometimes with lethal outcome. One of local female festival participants being asked what would happen if a fighter was killed, just shrugged her shoulders and said: “Nothing, it is a part of our culture”. In fact, female fights are rarely as bloody as men’s ones, they more remind kickboxing bouts in festal dresses. Tinkus are usually fought by arms and legs but sometimes traditional Inca weapons, particularly, fingerstalls and also slingshots, boleadoras, clubs, and whips. Rarely, they fight mounted. Although Tinku fights can become very violent and people do get injured and even die, the deaths can be seen as good omens for good harvests.
Nowadays, Tinku bouts are attended by authority representatives who play role of referees and prevent extensive brutality.
To the chagrin of Roman Catholic priests who would like to see Tinku fade into the past, left leaning Bolivian political officials want it to survive. “Tinku is a sublime, beautiful act,” said Wilson Araoz, the mayor of Sacaca and a leading official in the Popular Indigenous Movement, a party that is part of the coalition supporting Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president. Emboldened by Mr. Morales’s efforts to strengthen Bolivia’s indigenous cultures, Mr. Araoz’s party is one of several political organizations pushing to preserve endangered traditions like Tinku.
Tinku battle begins with a challenge ceremony, accompanying by music and dancing: representative of two rival groups chant and cheer up each other to go into the battle. Substantial amount of alcohol consumed before and popular narcotic leafs chewed by Inca’s descendants, contribute into aggressive fighting spirit.
In many respects, Tinku fights remind old Russian tradition of ‘wall-on-wall’ fights especially popular on ‘Maslenitsa week’, originally pagan Spring celebration which became a part of Christian preparation prior Easter. However, ‘wall-on-wall’ fights were predominantly men’s activity, whereas women of all ages actively participate in Tinku. As in Maslenitsa, Tinku participants dress up in bright colored clothing, dance, sing and then fight. Exactly as in old Russia, Tinku fights are ritual with rules and traditions but they often turn into bloody battles, so since recently local authorities control the events. As it was said, a death in the Tinku fight is considered as a good sign forerunning a good harvest.
A pair or several pairs of well-dressed representatives (male or female) of the two crowds come out into a small spot between the crowds and start fighting out of hand, using fists and legs. If an opponent is delayed, a fighter in the venue can select the opponent in the opposite crowd and challenge him/her for fighting putting him/her to shame. The battle often became a mass scuffle even more reminding Russian ‘wall-to-wall’ fight. In fact, the wall fights often ran with rule violations and even ended up with knifing; Tinku fights also run beyond control and end up with disorderly brawls and stone throwing. Sometimes, in the heat of the men’s battle, fighters’ wives from both sides rush to help their husbands, so fighters of both genders participate in the battle.
At present, local authorities find a way to curb the violence – special police 'referees' assist at Tinku festivals, who keep an eye on the fights not allowing beatings – they stop a duel as soon as one of the fighters prevails. Thus hand-to-hand fights on Tinku festivals transform from disordered 'wall-to-wall' brawls into peculiar fair knuckle fistfights one-on-one (with use of legs). In the video clips with female Tinku fights, it may be concluded that such fights may be considered as a combative sport.
In some highland settlements around, fist fight festivals are held out of the Tinku ritual, reminding another traditional festival, Takanakuy, popular in Peruvian province of Chumbivilcas to the north of this area. Pairs of fighters of each gender come out by turns into the arena, surrounded by the crowd of fans and ardently fight using fists and legs (women sometimes use hairpulling) until a referee stops the bout if one of the fighters prevails, so knockouts are prevented. Victors are not announced even though it is usually obvious who has won.
As a matter of fact, the Tinku rituals are not unique in the world - there are (or have been) mass ritual fighting events in the other parts of the world:
- Huka-huka wrestling matches in Brazil Amazonia.
- Fistfights in Takanakuy festivals in Peru.
- "Pasola", ancient war ritual festival on Sumba Island (Indonesia).
- "Tiger fights", masked fistfights of the tribes of Nahua, indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America.
- Russian traditional "wall-to-wall" fisticuffs – a mass fight – a settlement against a settlement or a village vs. a village.
However, whereas in the other rituals, a real female fight is a rarity, in Tinkus, women always fight and fight very ferociously – from young girls to mature mothers. This makes Tinku unique.
This is a witness report from the second day of a Tinku festival published by a Ukrainian tourist agency?:
Twice a year, a small village in the very heart of Bolivia becomes an arena of bloodshed. Local villagers are engaged in the ritual battle, which sometimes turns into a blood-and-guts fight. In these battles, women at times are more brutal than men…
Masaya, proud peasants from the fertile vales compete with Alasaya, shepherds from highlands. This year, as usual, the ceremony begins relatively calm. Masaya and Alasaya drink chicha (bitter corn liquor) together, chew leaves of coca – in order to alleviate pains and tiredness. All the sudden, the situation becomes strained: the aborigines wait for a priest to finish the Mass and to give the signal to start the event. To start fighting before the signal means insulting the King of the gods...
Before the first Staggering and intoxicated after the night carousal and coca leaves, the men brutally pounced on each other. Women thrash the fighting men but they even don't notice that. A kid with bleeding face falls around. A woman pounces on the one who pushed the kid. Another woman attacks her; their fists flicker in the air until the weakest one crawls away while her adversary hails down a storm of blows. The crowd demands more and two sturdy girls come out for the fight. They tear out each other's hair by their huge arms. Their big fists with copper fingerstalls precisely get to their faces. By the arena, an old woman instructed them like a boxing coach. The fighters keep beating not paying attention to the pain. A dull sound is heard of a punch to the face. Copper fingerstalls split the opponent's face and blood spurts. The spectator crowd becomes brutalized when the pair of women wearing ritual attires approach each other again, violent like fighting dogs. Coupled, they furiously roll over the dusty arena. The winner slams the head of her defeated adversary against the ground, whose body softens and the blood leaks to the chin. In order to prevent the fatal outcome, someone drags the fighters apart. The victor rises to her feet panting for breath but smiling. She throws her raven-black hair back and throws a exultant air to the spectators.
Not far away, another female pair fiercely struggle surrounded by screaming crowd. Suddenly, one of them falls heavily on her back and lies motionless in the dust…
July 2012 (renovation)
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