Chumbivilcas Province, Peru
With the arrival of each new year, people of almost every nationality around the globe make resolutions to improve their lives. Amid the celebrations, there is a common desire to leave the troubles of the past year behind. One region of Peru has combined the joyous celebration that typically precedes the new year with the concept of communal betterment. In a unique tradition known as Takanakuy, a growing number of Peruvians in the Chumbivilcas area prepare for the arrival of the new year by settling old arguments with neighbors, friends, and family. As part of the annual celebration, the name of which translates to “when the blood is boiling,” quarreling parties clear the air over any disputes with physical fights, often ending in a knockout.
While trying to make peace through violent brawls may seem like a counterproductive notion, the Peruvians who take part in Takanakuy would disagree. The fights are not primarily about violence, and certainly not about vengeance; instead, they are an honorable way to settle disputes, putting a definite end to petty arguments and preventing them from escalating. Furthermore, the spirit of Takanakuy, which takes place on Christmas Day, is far more about community and solidarity than conflict.
There are many non-violent components of Takanakuy, including traditional dress that celebrates regional history. Ski masks are so common in the Peruvian provinces that are located in the Andes Mountains, including Chumbivilcas, that those belonging to each region have developed unique designs and color schemes designating their place of origin. Masks in the Chumbivilcas style (red, green, yellow and white), an easily recognized sign of pride, are a frequent sight at Takanakuy. Elaborate costumes emulate historical periods, with popular outfits fashioned after Andean horsemen and colonial slave drivers.
Music at Takanakuy also holds important ties to the past. Although the tradition has spread to urban areas, Takanakuy belongs primarily to the indigenous people of the Chumbivilcas region, who live under their own law without government interference. Their preferred style of music, known as Huaylia, originated in the sixteenth century as part of a revolutionary movement; its lyrics emphasize the common Chumbivilcas ideals of freedom and independence, a spirit reflected by Takanakuy itself.
The fights themselves, which draw hundreds of spectators to a small region of the Andes, are not entirely unstructured. The crowds are called together and process to a designated area, where those wishing to settle an argument may challenge an opponent by calling out his or her full name. During the match, several officials keep the spectators in line with whips while another observes the fight. Most fights end in a knockout, but all, by requirement, end with a handshake or hug.
While violence is an unorthodox way of making peace, it has worked for generations of Takanakuy participants. Shared tradition, pride, and honor serve to unify the natives of the Chumbivilcas province. With such a strong focus on community, Takanakuy allows those involved to see past petty conflicts and focus on repairing relationships. And if all else fails, the days of heavy drinking before and after Takanakuy are often enough to build camaraderie.