High in the Andes at 11,800 feet above sea level, Chumbivilcas Province in the Cuzco Region of Peru is home to communities that trace their ancestry back to the Inca and Chanka cultures. These indigenous people speak Quechua and continue practices that were part of their culture before the arrival of the Spanish. The intertwining of ancient traditions with those of Catholicism is common throughout the Andes.
On December 25, locals gather for a Christmas festival with dancing, singing, drinking and feasting on locally produced Peruvian food. But the culmination of the day is takanakuy, a centuries-long tradition of ceremonial fist-fighting between members of the community. Takanakuy is a Quechuan word often translated as “to hit one another” or as “river of blood.” People from the province gather to watch fighters display their manhood and courage, uphold family honor and settle grievances.
Men wear traditional costumes that represent horse-riding characters of the Chumbivilcas. Some wear ski masks or paint their faces in colors that represent the quadrants of the universe. Five characters are portrayed: the majeño, a local from the Majes River area; the ferocious quarawatanna, who wears a dead bird or deer skull on his head; the Negro, a well-dressed colonial slave master; the brightly clad langosta or locust, a pest dreaded by farmers; and the plainly dressed q’ara gallo, or naked rooster. The ferocious looks of the costumes are meant to intimidate and frighten opponents.
Referees strictly enforce the rules governing the fights. Fighting is with bare fists and knuckles, never with weapons. Fighters cannot hit an opponent who is down, and there is no biting or hair pulling. Fighting is not limited to men. Women fight one another under the same rules. After the encounter, opponents leave their grievances in the ring, knowing that they can face one another the next year for a rematch. At the end of the day, the fighters drink to celebrate the event and numb the pain.
For those who would like to experience an Andean Christmas closer to home, La Costanera Restaurant presents modern interpretations of traditional Peruvian food. Although the ritual fighting of takanakuy is not enacted at thisPeruvian restaurant, a festive atmosphere pervades. Join Chef Carlos Altamirano in the Pisco Bar for happy hour or in the restaurant for a leisurely meal. Enjoy traditional pisco drinks, fresh seafood or creative variations of traditional Peruvian cuisine, all prepared with authentic ingredients.