Christmas in the Andes
The girls all braid their hair and put on their finest brocade skirts and hats. The boys put on their nicest ski masks and leather chaps and affix a dead bird to the top of their noggins.
December is a special time of year in the Peruvian state of Chumbivilcas. The girls all braid their hair and put on their finest brocade skirts and hats. The boys put on their nicest ski masks and leather chaps and affix a dead bird to the top of their noggins. Then everybody young and old, male and female, gets together on Christmas morning and beats the living crap out of each other.
Takanakuy is a fighting ceremony with roots in the Andes’s pre-Spanish, pre-Incan history. In the absence of pretty much any form of justice system—the Chumbivilcas state police department sports a whopping three officers—villagers and townspeople from the region save up their grudges and disputes for the entire year and settle them by punching their offenders in the face at Takanakuy. While some duke it out over legitimate legal grievances, others fight over girls or petty interpersonal rivalries, and a lot of folks just fight for the sake of a good fight (or because they’re drunk).
But most important of all, they do so dressed like amazing DMT-nightmare Mad Max mountain men.
Watch for video of 2011’s Christmas-day Takanakuy fighting on VICE.com, coming soon.
HEY! WHO’S YOUR FAVORITE TAKANAKUY CHARACTER?
Illustrations from Takanakuy: Cuando La Sangre Hierve by Víctor Laime Mantilla
If you don’t mind being called a q’ara gallo (that means “naked rooster”) you can just pop on a uyach’ullu (that means “a ski mask”) and wear whatever the crap you want to Takanakuy—even crazy, shredded nü-metal jeans. Hell, even a werewolf mask. For those less cocksure in their style, there are a handful of traditional Takanakuy “characters” to use as fashion templates.
A Majeño is just a guy who lives near the Majes River in the Andes, and this is what they used to dress like. Wool horse-riding pants, a sporty little leather cap, a Harrington-like traditional Peruvian jacket, and a hollowed-out bull’s horn for your booze. The uyach’ullu mask has a bunch of arcane symbolic associations (the four colors are supposed to represent the four “quadrants” of the universe), but its original and most important function is hiding your face so you can beat up your boss or the mayor without catching shit for it the next day. You’re also supposed to talk in a high-pitched bird voice to guard your identity, which is beyond unsettling to hear 50 enormous men in ski masks do at the same time.
The Takanakuy Negro is based less on actual Negros than on the sort of man who used to own Negros. Aka a slavemaster. To be a Negro, you need knee-high leather boots, fancy worsted pants, a nice shirt and waistcoat, a silk embroidered cape in pink or baby blue, and a cardboard crown with shiny wrapping paper on the sides and a star at the top. Then you have to dance in hoity, swooping circles like an uppity rooster, the Negro’s associated spirit animal. The Negro’s outfit was originally reserved for the wealthier men in town and served as a preening, dandified counterpart to the Majeño’s drunken lout. Gradually, the Negro became less the rich man’s costume than the top fighters’. The costume doesn’t really have a set meaning these days, but Negros are still generally the suavest of the bunch and the best dancers. God, this whole paragraph makes us uncomfortable.
This means “locust” in the indigenous Quechua language and is basically just a more indigenousy version of the Langosta. We like the cape. LANGOSTA
Langosta means “lobster” in Spanish, but it also means “locust” for some reason (sort that out already, Spanish). In the 1940s, Chumbivilcas’s crops were ravaged by a series of locust plagues, so the men naturally started dressing up like locusts to fight, and, again naturally, the locusts all flew away the very next year. The bright-colored raincoat and pants are supposed to mimic a bug’s shiny abdomen and go equally well with a plastic miner’s helmet or a dead bird tied around your neck. The Langosta is easily the most affordable look and kind of gives you an Akira gang-member vibe.
Kind of like the Ramones did with actual 50s greasers, Qarawatannas took the traditional Majeño look and cooled it up by swapping the wool jacket for leather, the hat for a taxidermied bird or fox, and the horse-riding pants for enormous motorcycle chaps that look like Aeon Flux boots. Most of the younger dudes go for the Qarawatanna these days, as it’s far and away the toughest and most intimidating look. Just like those guys in high school who went as the Crow every year for Halloween. OK, mostly kidding.