Each year, the
Peruvian province of Chumbivilcas hosts the vibrant Christmastime festival of Takanakuy.
High up in the Andes Mountains, at an elevation of around 3,600m in the
well-known Cusco region, communities get together for celebrations involving music,
dancing, drinking, eating and brightly coloured costumes. It’s much like any
number of festivals in Latin America – except this holiday gathering culminates
with a series of public fist fights on Christmas Day (25 December).
towns congregate around sporting arenas to watch members of the community fight
each other. People of all ages enter the ring, from young children to the
elderly, and participation is open to women and men alike. The purpose of
Takanakuy is to settle grievances built up over the year -- be they civil
disputes or personal ones -- in a public forum. The festival seeks to resolve
conflict, strengthen community bonds and hopefully, arrive at a greater peace.
which translates to “when the blood is boiling” in
Quechua (the primary language in the region), is a sort of more organized
version of the comical “Festivus”, a holiday that most people believe was
invented by the 1990s US TV sitcom Seinfeld. Festivus was actually created in 1966 by the father of one of the
programme’s writers, Daniel O’Keefe; and just as O’Keefe’s family
celebrated the tradition annually, people all over the United States continue to hold Festivus
celebrations around Christmas to this day. On the television show, Festivus was portrayed as a secular holiday “for the rest
of us” which forgoes the commercialism of Christmas for such practices as “the
Airing of the Grievances” (in which friends and family members air their
grievances with each other verbally) and “the Feats of Strength” (in which they
do so physically). Considering that the fictional holiday ends with two family
members wrestling each other, you can see how it is similar to Takanakuy.
contrasting the hilarity and absurdity of Festivus, there is some logic to be
gleaned from Takanakuy. Once a year, people are encouraged to confront social
tensions, get everything out in the open and let their aggression out -- once
and for all. In the small towns of Chumbivilcas, this may be preferable to
living side-by-side with someone you harbour negative feelings toward.
themselves are relatively civil, bearing closer resemblance to martial arts
sparring than uninhibited brawls. The matches are fully organized, with
referees standing by to intervene at any sign of misconduct, and there are rules, such as no biting or no hitting someone
when s/he is down. Each fight is typically very quick, sometimes lasting less
than a minute. And, reflecting the intention of Takanakuy, each fight begins
and ends with a hug or a handshake.
This 2009 video clip shows the festival in action. For a deeper
look at Takanakuy, this episode of the documentary travel programme
The Vice Guide to Travel shows celebrations in the towns of Santo Tomás and Llique.
While in town
festivities take place against a mountainous backdrop 180km south of the city
of Cusco, a must-visit destination for travellers due to its proximity to the
beloved Incan site of Machu Picchu. In Cusco, the city’s Plaza de
Armas hosts the Santuranticuy market through 25 December, drawings artisans
from surrounding areas who come to sell crafts, clothing, food and various Christmas
holiday filled with grievance-airing, market shopping and Andean trekking,
relax your muscles at the thermal baths in Aguas Calientes, a village in the Machu Picchu area
about 120km from Cusco city. Several cosy hotels have set up shop around the
pueblo’s mineral baths – such as the well-reviewed luxury Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel – making this the perfect
place to wind down your exploration of Andean culture.