Do you sometimes daydream about confronting your worst enemy, and finally having it out? Maybe this person spread untrue rumors about you and now the neighborhood has this negative perception of who you are. Or maybe your ex best friend told your deepest secret and now everytime you see them your blood boils. You start to believe that maybe the movie The Purge is onto something, right before you realize how scary that would be in real life. But what if there’s some kind of alternative?
Well, you’ll be happy to know that Peru’s got it all figured out. Between the months of December and January, two unique festivals are held in the Cusco region to solve just these kinds of disputes. In a confusing mesh of peace and war, both the Takanakuy and Chiaraje festivals bring rivals together to squash their beef once and for all.
Takanakuy is a festival like any other–it involves food, drinks, music and dancing. The unique component are the public fights. Held in the province of Chumbivilcas, entire towns gather to watch members of the community fight one another. The fights are not limited by age or gender; therefore, you can find children, the elderly, men, and women all participating in this event.
Takanakuy is held to resolve conflicts among the community. Instead of suppressing the tension from a grievance built up throughout the year, this festival aims to resolve the conflicts by confronting the person head on, so those negative feelings can finally be let go. Since Christmas is often considered a time of peace, the date of this festival is no coincidence. Once the fights are over, a greater peace is restored, helping the community to move into the new year free from any hostility they might’ve felt towards their neighbor.
The matches are thoroughly organized, with referees ensuring the safety of the participants. Rules are in place to keep the fights as civil as possible, and to refrain from becoming an all-out brawl. Some of the rules include: no biting, and no hitting when the person is down.
Fights can be spontaneous or previously planned. If they are spontaneous, one-person steps into the middle of the arena, and calls out the person whom they wish to have it out with. That person must accept for the fight to commence. All fights are voluntary, and no one is obligated to fight if they don’t wish to. Fights typically last no more than three minutes, and participants hug or shake hands when it’s over to solidify the end of the conflict.
After all fights have been had, the community celebrates its newfound peace between all its members, and together they eat, drink, and dance.
Another fighting festival in the Cusco region, called Chiaraje, is specific to the pueblos of Ch’eqa and Q’ewe. This festival dates back the pre-colonial era and is seen as a tradition among each village. Anyone who is not from these specific communities are not allowed to participate in the fights, but are still able to observe. Chiaraje is held every year on January 20th, the Day of Saint Sebastian.
Anticipation for this festival takes place months prior with members of both sides preparing their slings and outfits, and fattening their horses. On the day of, everyone pilgrimages from Sicuani to the desolate part of Canas where the festival is held. It is said that in this very location, Tupac Amaru trained thousands of men to face the Spanish during the invasion.
All roads leading to the arena are packed with men and women on foot, and some on horseback. Women carry lunches of “cancacho”–baked ram– because this day deserves the very best.
Unlike Takanakuy, there are no referees or specific rules in place. Men on foot lead the head of the lines, followed by men on horses behind them, and finally the younger children at the rear. The battle begins with one brave warrior from either pueblo shouting “Ataque!”. The participants use fists and stones to injure their enemy and take prisoners. Those with major injuries are pulled from the battle and aided by the younger children.
While the men fight, the women dance and shout insults at the opposing village–much like cheerleaders would at a sporting event.
Lasting on average of about 3 hours, the first part of the battle ends when one warrior from either side determines they’ve fought long enough. Each village goes to their respective part of the field to rest, eat, and drink.
Now alcohol fueled, the men are more eager to continue the fighting in the second part of the battle, all hoping to prove they are the best fighter of the year. In this second part, either side can win by pushing the enemy off the stage. If no one has done so by 6pm, the leader of either side signals to stop the battle, until next time.
Chiaraje is significant to the older boys of each pueblo, as it symbolizes the transition from boyhood to manhood. Therefore, this festival is also looked on as a celebration among all involved, and participants take part in the joyous activities of dancing and drinking.
Though the festivals can be seen as violent, both are significant in creating strong, familial bonds between members of the community. Camaraderie, trust, and honor are the core lessons learned each year, and the fights are seen to clear the air of any resentment one might feel.