The Chumbivilcan Province of Peru is the Wildest of the Wild West. The area consists of farmers, miners, and drunks. It’s considered the poorest region of Peru and the majority of the population is under 16 years old. In this region, a violent festival is held on every Christmas Day called Takanakuy. The festival gives the participants the right to fist fight their enemies in front of the whole town in hopes of solving their problems. Whether it’s a fight over a lost lover, or a fight over land, the winner claims what’s at stake until the following year. This is law in this lawless land. An old fashion judicial system that for these people works.
What may look like a halloween costume, is in fact a disguise worn by the local fighters on Christmas day. Their voices are even concealed as they taunt each-other in very high pitch cartoonish kinda way. Before the fight, the mask is removed and the opponent is revealed.
Shopping during this time of year is in full force just like anywhere else in the world. But the items in demand are much different. A woman sells traditional cowboy wear to the eager fighters.
Santiago, the director of the documentary we were filming, suits up to blend right in.
The festive music they played was on repeat the whole time we were there. All hours of the night. It seemed like it was just one song over and over again.
They wore local dead animals on their heads. My favorite one was a skunk hat. Maybe he was notorious for smelling really bad. Or he was a pot head.
The fox hat was pretty cool too.
It gave him super fox jumping abilities.
I loved the harp’s that they used. They would parade around with them as if they were weightless. But those things were super heavy.
The fight usually happens in the town bull ring, but since it was muddy from the rain, they moved it to an even muddier location.
This was the first fight I saw a day before Christmas. People were drunk an impatient and everyone was excited to get the ball rolling on the fights.
It was a heavy vibe. I think people were still getting used to gringos being on their turf. Little did they know, one of us was planning to participate in a brawl.
I don’t think anyone anticipated that Thomas would enter the ring.
I think I was more afraid for Thomas than he was for himself. I could be wrong though.
Advice was given on how to fight Takanakuy style by the man on the left. I think that helped ease Thomas’s nerves. I think the bottle on the right also helped out.
Nerves were then heightened when we saw the aftermath of the drunk fighters. Pulverized, and still spinning in circles.
That night, Thomas had a few more convincing words of encouragement before the fight the next morning.
These men were the only law in the ring. They whipped the crowd when they became too rowdy.
This man used his belt.
At one point during the fighting, Matt walked into the circle of mayhem holding only his camera eye piece. He looked at me and calmly announced that his video camera got stolen. Entering the circle was almost the most dangerous part of the event. People were generally welcoming to us but some of the locals were annoyed that we were there, and things got hostile. A man grabbed Matt’s camera and took off, but our driver, Rene, located the thief and eventually got the camera back. The story was on the local radio the following day. Rene boasted about his heroic acts for the following three days.
I made friends with the young fighters so their bigger brothers wouldn’t stomp me.
Hands were wrapped in colorful fabric to soften the blow.
Fights were mostly ended pretty quickly. The long ones were usually due to the opponents taunting one another for the first few minutes of the battle. Then someone would fall or be knocked out and it would either end in rage or a peaceful hug.
A knee to the face never felt better.
It is said that after a fight the issues are solved. This was one of two peaceful hugs after the match that went down. A very uncommon sight.
Woman fought too.Woman fights were the crowd favorites. They were also the most brutal.
These woman got down. They were too tough for the colorful fabric I guess.
A punch to the face that was probably well deserved. But who knows.
A return punch to the left punching bag.
I cannot reveal the outcome of Thomas’s fight, but you will be able to see the documentary here: www.vice.com/the-vice-guide-to-travel/takanakuy-part-1″
After the festivities, life in the Chumbivilcan Province of Peru returned to normal. The sheep were herded and the mines were mined. Revenge is on hold till next year.