Ancient and Bloody Bolivian Ritual
Tinku, a drunken brawl among rival Andean villagers.
In MACHA, Bolivia — a festival known as Tinku.
Tinku, an ancestral ritual that consists of rival villages engaging in sometimes deadly hand-to-hand combat that tradition says will secure richer, more prosperous crops in the coming year.
“If a person dies it is better for the fields,” says Rafael Gongora, a nurse at a clinic where a heap of soiled gauze pads will soon overwhelm the waste basket. “If there are no deaths, the custom suffers.” Death, violence and occasional cannibalism have been central to Tinku for 700 years. But as Tinku’s fame has risen among tourists, so has the government’s concern over international opinion. In recent years, it has cracked down on the violence, threatening the extinction of Bolivia’s strangest Andean festival.
Tinku takes place in early May, when the men of rival villages gather in Macha, a town of 600 that is 19 hours by bus from the capital, La Paz, hosts the largest and what’s believed to be the most authentic Tinku.
Thousands of people from rival villages, dressed in native war garb,meet in the central square at midnight after trekking days over barren mountain desert.
By dawn, the plaza is packed with brightly dressed peoples dancing, whipping each other with braided leather and drinking 96% grain alcohol from plastic jugs. Dancing soon turns to violence and fighting erupts like liquid in a blender.
Dust rises from a thousand scuttling feet as hundreds of fists thud against cheekbones. Bloodied faces puff beneath the Andean sun.
woman screams and struggles to save her husband from men kicking his head. The odor of grain alcohol is heavy in the air. “It’s like watching a car accident.
A stream of bloody and broken bodies limp to the clinic and wince as Dr. Ilda Martinez sutures split lips for 30 cents a stitch. “Booze is their anesthesia,” she says.
She has seen no one die, but is sure deaths will occur at some Tinku.Newspaper reports said two people died this year in Macha, despite six police officers patrolling with whips, billy clubs and tear gas.
All is done in the name of “PUNCHAMAMA ” The god of land.
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