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Takanakuy: A Peruvian tradition

There are many beliefs as to how to settle a conflict between two people. You can always try and talk it out and work towards a pleasant compromise verbally, or…. you could just put the hands up and fight it out. Up 12,000 feet in Santo Tomás, Peru, they choose the latter. Once a year up in the Andes, the Christmastime tradition of Takanakuy takes place in the Chumbivilcas province where men, women, and even kids can call out a person they have had a grudge with that year and settle their differences with punches and kicks, the good old way, because sometimes (usually) violence is the answer.

The festivities originated during colonial times and to this day the Peruvian tradition carries with it a festival of celebration, drunkenness, and religiosity to go along with the hitting. During the prefight festivities, a procession of people dressed in traditional cowboy legwear and brightly woven ski masks proceed through the town dancing to Huaylia music. The music revolves around ideas of freedom and invigorates the people on their way to punch their way through their grievances. Usually, being inebriated is a common thing before, during, and after the festival, with people starting to drink early on Christmas day and being drunk while fighting. The alcohol afterwards is a given because at least the concussion your neighbor gave you won’t hurt as bad if you’re plastered.

The fighters, masked, enter the fighting area and call out their match by first and last name, and the two are ready to duke it out. Hands are wrapped in cloth and the match begins after a handshake or hug. No biting, hair pulling, or hitting on the ground is permitted. The match ends when a fighter is rendered out of commission or by the decision of the judge. Assistant judges are in place with whips to contain a possibly encroaching crowd of people, as normally, crowds tend to get closer the more intense a fight gets. The fight must end as well with a handshake or hug, and hopefully the person is conscious enough to do so afterward.

The fights themselves are nothing spectacular in terms of technicality, but it is very entertaining. The conditions of the Andes are such that they produce quite hardy people who can dish it out as much as they can take it. And with that, the fights are usually less than a minute long but filled with max intensity throughout from the men, women, and the children participating. The tradition is one that brings you great honor and prestige if you prove yourself a winner and courageous, hardy fighter as well as settling the beef you have with another person, so the option of quitting is not entirely available. These people are tough and have everything to gain by throwing their themselves into the fighting arena. Don’t expect amazing head kicks or flying knees, but you can expect to see legs flail and hands fly for about a minute before someone eventually gets caught and hits the ground. At times, you can’t tell if the person is stumbling because they are drunk or because they just got a healthy dose of CTE. I’d consider it on the level of a very organized Worldstar fight, but much more entertaining. Luckily, these fights are on YouTube if you need to do something else besides write that paper due at the end of the week. I’d personally rather see a random Peruvian man I will never know get knocked out in the mountains than do my homework, but that’s just me.

The fighters, with grudges settled and sore hands, heads, and bodies, will then proceed to drink more on the very merry Christmas day. Having such a violent festival on Christmas day seems counter intuitive, but many likely feel that airing out grievances through violence is a way to alleviate the tension of grudges and general animosities towards others in your community like a violent group therapy session. For people in a province of 300 people, with more coming to witness the fighting, there is no immediate and easy access to lawyers and courts, so settling disputes with violence ends up working out because who needs to be correct when you can just punch the other person harder than they punch you. Seemingly barbaric to some, the ability to settle disputes with violence gets you an almost immediate result, a splash of dopamine if you win, and the benefit of not having to deal with lawyers (if it’s a legal dispute).

Whether considered barbaric or not, the festival of Takanakuy serves an important purpose and brings together a community of people high up in the Andes in a peacefully violent manner that I fully appreciate. The shared festivities from ritual dance, dress, and drunkenness would bring people together by themselves, but having the fighting as the cherry on top to a wonderful Christmas celebration is chaotically beautiful.