• Fraser du Toit

Takanakuy-Festival of Punches


Have you ever felt like your blood was boiling? Perhaps Steve from accounting spilled coffee on your new suit. Well, just wait until Christmas before screaming Takanakuy at the top of your lungs and laying into them.

Takanakuy is a festival celebrated by the Quechua people of Peru. The main gist of it is that once a year the community gathers to dance and settle disputes.


Choose your fighter


Fighters taking part in Takanakuy get to choose an archetype to portray. There are 5 traditional characters to choose from. Each character has a unique role to play based on Andean cultural symbols.

These characters are linked to specific costumes worn during the celebration. The main part of their outfits are based on traditional horse-riding gear and wearing brightly colored ski-masks.


Majeno


The Majeno is the most basic costume option. Based on the attire of Majetas (people that live near the Majes River, Andes). The Majeno wear wool riding pants with a traditional Peruvian jacket and a leather cap. They carry a hollowed-out bull's horn to use for drinking alcohol. Majenos wear a red, green, yellow and white mask called an uyach'ullu. The four colors are used to represent the four quadrants of the Universe. However, the main reason for wearing the mask is to hide the fighter's identity. This helps to curb animosity carrying on into the new year.

Quarawatanna

Popular among younger fighters for the added intimidation factor. The Majeta in this case adds cowboy-chaps and a leather biker's jacket. Topping off their fierce countenance with either a dead bird or a deer skull.

Negro

This fighter archetype wears fancy worsted pants, an embroidered silken cape, formal shirt, waistcoat, knee-high boots, and a small cardboard crown covered in shiny material. They are supposedly meant to depict a colonial slave master.

This archetype has changed over time to represent the top fighter. Before a fight, they would enter the ring clucking and dancing like a chicken.

Langos

The character of the Langos is based on the locust. Their costumes are made from shiny material to resemble the insect. Apparently they also carry a dead bird as a reminder of the destruction caused by locusts in the area during the 1940s. Clearly, there are lots of dead birds involved in this festival.

Q'ara Gallo

This particular archetype does not take part in the community combat. They wear no specific costume, either. Their description seems like a spectator, and it isn't clear why there's a specific archetype for this class.

Carnival of Combat


The day begins with a parade through town. Townsfolk gather at the church and share preliminary drinks. Children will be dressed in the costumes of their parents. During this first leg of the day, competitors walk through town singing in a falsetto. They then make their way to the town square for the main event.

The rules of Takanakuy are similar to some martial arts. No striking a downed opponent, no hair pulling and no biting. Kicking and punching are allowed.

Male fighters wrap their hands with strips of cloth before entering the circle. Female fighters go bare-knuckle (I'm sure Saint Olga would approve). The fight begins by calling out an opponent using their full name. Combatants then shake hands or hug before letting loose.

Amateur officials with small whips oversee the fights and keep the crowd from intervening. The winner is decided by either knockout or official intervention. Fighters have the opportunity to appeal the result of their fights, but that means they have to fight again.


Why?


Due to the remoteness of their settlement, there is no way to settle disputes in a legal way. They would have to travel for several hours along dangerous mountain passes to reach the nearest representative of the law.

Takanakuy is a time to get rid of the tension built up over the year. People use this opportunity to settle disputes of all kinds. From personal grudges to territorial disagreements, it all happens here.

Psychologically speaking, this festival provides the Quechua people with social catharsis. They share in communal violence once a year so that they can live in peace for the coming year.


Booze


Of course, drinking is involved! The festival begins several days before the 25th of December. There are several preliminary drinking days leading up to the violent climax.

Fighters also use alcohol after their bouts to dull the pain. This communal drinking is also a way of reestablishing social ties following the heated fights.


Definitely not Christmas

Although many news outlets portray this as a Christmas tradition due to the date, Takanakuy has nothing to do with Christianity. The fact remains that it predates the arrival of Christianity in the region. This festival is a part of their cultural heritage and should be reported as such.


Conclusion


While Takanakuy might not catch on in your community, the popularity of the festival is growing. The region is home to only 300 people, but on average around 3000 are in attendance.

Despite the government of Peru's best efforts to eradicate this custom, it's only grown in popularity. The Quechua tradition is spreading to urban centers such as Cuzco and Lima.

Would you like to have one day a year to settle a score with someone that's wronged you?