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30/1/2018 Takanakuy: Boiling Blood and Healing Wounds in Peru | Americas Quarterly

AQ Feature

Takanakuy: Boiling Blood and Healing Wounds in


Peru
BY NICOLAS VILLAUME

Photographer Nicolas Villaume explores a high Andes ritual that is as much a conflict
resolution strategy as a cultural tradition.

All photos by Nicolas Villaume

This article is adapted from AQ's print issue on transparency and the 2018 elections.

Quechua for "when the blood is boiling," Takanakuy is an annual fighting festival in the remote Andean
village of Santo Tomás, in Chumbivilcas, Peru. In this Christmastime tradition, community members
settle the year's conflicts – from property disputes to family quarrels – through hand-to-hand combat. The
practice is thought to have its origins in the colonial period, and is deeply imbued with code and ritual; it
is both a space to resolve questions of honor, and a chance to show off physical strength in front of the
community.

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Each year, community members are selected as cargudos, responsible for organizing a series of dances,
parades and ceremonies connected to Takanakuy. The festivities include a procession to honor baby
Jesus.

An element of surprise: Participants hide their faces with elaborate masks and even alter their voices so
as not to be recognized before the fight begins.

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For many young men from around Santo Tomás, Takanakuy is viewed as an opportunity to prove their
courage. Champions earn honorary titles that stay with them in later years.

Children and women increasingly participate in Takanakuy, although some disapproving traditionalists
believe only men should be allowed to fight.

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The fighting occurs in an open space. Referees use a whip to maintain the ring of spectators, which often
tightens as the fight intensifies.

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30/1/2018 Takanakuy: Boiling Blood and Healing Wounds in Peru | Americas Quarterly

The fight ends when one person is on the ground, although the referee can stop the action earlier if
necessary. Takanakuy always ends with a handshake and, sometimes, a smile.

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