Tinku Festival in Bolivia – Part 1, The Fighting Fiesta Build Up
Tinku Festival in Macha, Bolivia.
Part 1, The Fighting Fiesta Build Up
As I went to bed early to get a good night of sleep in the dorm of my hostel, a couple followed me into the room. As I came out of the bathroom, they were standing there with the lights on making out like I was not standing in a proximity too close to be making out so hard and so much. He was an Israeli and she was German. Eventually, I crawled into my bed, the lights went out and one thing lead to the next, apparently, and I had to hear the build up, the warm up, and the sex. It was about 40 minutes or so of compressed sounds. I wanted to cheer out loud at the climax when the guy finished, but I could not pinpoint the exact moment and I had to let it pass.
Just as I was about to fall asleep, another couple came in. So, I had to listen to an American guy and an English girl flirt for about 20 minutes. Then the make out happened. Then I had to hear their routine when he took her into the bathroom. Eventually they came out and went to bed. Then the guy next to me started snoring. I was trying to stay cool as my patience had taken off the rest of the night. I made a lot of noise finding my earplugs and eventually fell asleep.
When I got up at 7am, my towel fell into the toilet I had just flushed. I shrieked and grabbed as it was falling, but at least a third of it hit the bowl. So, I had a drip dry and will be able to enjoy that same sensation until I have time to wash clothes, which looks to be in two days from now…
My Swedish friends and I paid 480 Bolivianos (about $80 U.S.) and 11 of us gringos got into a van to head out of Potosi. Our guide, who is nicknamed Negrito, told us on the way to the Tinku Festival in Macha that the fights are always supposed to be even. A big man from the lowlands vs a big man from the highlands – a small man from the lowlands vs a small man from the highlands of similar age, but always highlands vs lowlands. The people from the lowlands are usually farmers and the highlanders are usually miners who are often stronger. In the lowlands, they raise and sacrifice sheep for the festival, and in the highlands they raise and sacrifice lamas. The Tinku festival takes places after harvest every year for the villages to fight, to party and to take girls. Negrita told us that there is no romance in this part of the world. I told him when we take girls at home, we go to jail.
The Tinku Festival is over 600 years old, pre-dates the Hispanic era of South America, and the blood spilled on the ground is thought to be a great sacrifice for a more bountiful harvest the following year. The word Tinku is from the language of Aymara and it means ‘physical attack.’ The fights are always supposed to be one on one but sometimes things get out of hand and stones are thrown or a gangs will form to beat someone. That is how people die here although it is said that no deaths have happened in four years, but who knows who knows what.
The locals begin drinking home-made maize alcohol early in the morning to bring courage to fight, and aggression runs high. Negrita told us that when he first came to Macha in 1999 there was no electricity in the town and there were no paved roads. He said that the paved road in the center square has helped to control fist-fights from turning into rock throwing fights. Macha now has internet as of this year.
There is a Tunku Festival for children at Easter time. That is where 5 year old’s will fight 5 year old’s and 6 year old’s versus 6 year old’s. The kids will be there with their fathers and they fight every year until the turn about 13 or 14 years old when they graduate to fighting in the adult festival. In all likelihood that means that any 13 or 14 year old I see at the festival would probably be able to beat the absolute shit out of me….an alarming thought.
On the drive to Macha, we had about 3 hours of pavement and then we slowly traveled down an hour of dirt road barely fit for a vehicle. Cars packed to the roof with families, children and supplies passed us as we had a 15 minute break in the drive. Along the road, farmers were walking packed donkeys towards town from the villages in the hills where they live so that they can vend their goods at the festival. When we eventually arrived in town, 11 of us gringos got out of the van. No one smiled at us. Maybe it was the edgy mood before the fight.
Accommodation was in a church in town. As we entered our new home, five other gringos were there already. Their journey started yesterday when they were taken to a small village about 30 minutes away from Macha. They drank, danced, and partied with the locals last night. A lama was sacrificed and the blood was put on their faces as part of the ritual. I asked about the alcohol and they told me that it was a bucket of something local that looked like vomit and tasted like it, but they drank anyway because the locals were so persistent. One of the five got a little drunk last night. They slept on a dirt floor of a shack and where they froze through the night and no one really got very much sleep.
Our new friends told us that the locals began drinking when they woke up this morning and were very drunk when the gringos went to leave their village. The locals barricaded the van and wanted more money from the agency who had brought the gringos. The gringos already in the van left it up to the tour agency that they were with to deal with the problem. People in the village began freaking out and they were banging on the van. One guy had a bullwhip that he was whipping the side of the vehicle with and another smashed the mirror. The gringos said they gave the drive another 50 Bolivianos (about $7) and the van drove away… I wish I had been there for that experience.
After our arrival in Macha, my Swedish friends and I went for a walk around the square to try to understand where we were. Macha is a little dirt town with no color except the reddish earth of which the buildings are also made. During our walk, a town drunk found us and he grabbed a hold of my friend Viktor’s hand and would not let go. Viktor is a very tall and blond haired. He is like nothing local, and the town drunk kept leading us around the square. As we were walking and Viktor was captured, the town drunk who was nodding to his buddies who were smiling back at him as if he was saying, “Check it out. I have white people!” I wondered if he wanted to sacrifice Viktor. The drunk eventually lead us to beer. That should have been obvious from the start, but we are so out of our element that we had no idea what to expect. As we walked around later, people would follow us and talk about Viktor, “Muy Grande!” and they would run up behind him and compare their heights to him. Mothers with their daughters walking a few paces behind also really seemed interested in the tall blond Swede.
Some of the villages arrived in Macha for the evening just after we had arrived ourselves. They ran through the square, playing songs on a Bolivian mandolin and flute as they danced in traditional clothing to announce their arrival to the Tinku Festival. It got cold at night, and out of the 11 of us gringos that had come to Macha together, only Mike from Sweden and I ventured further out into the dark to see what we could find. I wanted local flavor.
Immediately on the street we met some Bolivians who were our age and told us they had come with their villages to fight in the festival tomorrow. I was wearing a pair of gloves and one of the guys wanted one and tried to put both of his hands into it to keep warm. I gave him the other glove before Mike and I headed towards music in a small building after a very drunk and tense guy sort of roughly grabbed us and said something aggressive in Spanish. I was not sure if it was dangerous to be out, but I wanted to be in a bigger crowd where I was sure we would be safer.
Inside of the small building was a party of traditional music, clothing, dance, and local alcohol. There was maize alcohol, called ‘chicha,’ in a bucket that you might use to wash a floor in your house. The alcohol was a pulpy substance and everyone drank out of the same half coconut shell that was passed around. Someone scooped us large shells full of the alcohol that we had to drink in one continuous series of gulps and then we scooped shells for others to follow etiquette.
I spent 20 Bolivianos on a mop-pail bucket of chicha for a mandolin player. He had promised to teach me how to play the one song that they had been playing over and over again while everyone else danced a traditional jump/kick dance. We were also offered a clear alcohol made out of sugar cane that tasted like poison, but everyone else was drinking it so we also went along for the ride. The locals had been lecturing us for the cans of beer we had in our hands. So, Mike and I decided to drink their moonshine and go completely local as well even though there were people vomiting just outside the door. The cement floor was soaked in alcohol about a centimeter deep making a filthy grime which covered our shoes and pants with a special Bolivian booze-cement coating.
By the end of the night we had many friends and our guide/boss of the agency, Negrito, was in the building as well and took us under his wing to befriend everyone. He warned us to stay away from the local girls or there would likely be trouble. There were only two other gringos besides us in the room. Macha was filling up with people, but no one really had a place to stay. Everyone was there to party and drink until they passed out somewhere, and after a few hours of sleep, they would just start drinking and partying again. People were even sleeping in sitting positions on benches at the party. A man I recognized was in the building as well and he was completely hammered. When I talked to him, he said that he was our bus driver and that the boss had given him permission to let loose. He was pretty free when we met him. People seemed to be really happy that us gringos showed up. Our cook was in there too as well and she was also having a great time. Fiesta was in place.
There were about 10 of us in our crew that headed back to the church we were staying in to have a party in one of the rooms. We had beer with us, but the door to the room Negrito wanted to enter was locked and no one seemed to have a key. I helped take a couple of screws out of the padlock bracket with a coin, but realized after that I would not be able to get to the other screws. I told Negrito, the boss, that the only way we could get in was if I kicked in the door. He told me to do it. “Are you sure?” “Yes.” “Are you really sure?” “Yes.” So, I ran at it and kicked at the door of the church building as hard as I cold and it smashed open. The door swung right open and Negrito poked his head inside to say, “Oops. Wrong room…” We decided to go in anyhow and as we were entering Mike from Sweden said to me with big eyes, “Man… you’re a crazy man…!” I was just trying to take care of the locals…
We drank beer and everyone began to pass out one by one. I have no idea what time it was. The Bolivians were pressuring me to take the cook girl with me to bed, but she had been telling me earlier how she can easily beat up men. Uhhhh… When nearly everyone else was in an alcohol induced sleep, I decided it was best for me head to my bed alone to do the same, without the cook. That seemed less dangerous somehow. As Mike headed to bed he told me, “Beaver, you’re a legend.” Thanks buddy.
It was a great kick off night…
*For the absolute chaos, Click here for Part 2 – The Fights