The tinku (in Quechua language, “encounter, people or things meeting together”; in Aymara language tinkuña, “opposite sides meeting each other”) is a festive form of ritual fighting (ritual battle or ritual warfare) celebrated in several localities of the Potosí department (Bolivia), on specified holidays agreed by participant communities, moieties or kin groups. The most famous tinku takes place in the village of Macha (province of Chayanta) around the 3rd of May and lasts for a few days (coinciding with the “Festival of the Crosses” or the “Cross of May”), but it is also held in many other places such as Maragua, Pocoata and Ocurí (province of Chayanta), Chayanta, Aymaya and Panacachi (province of Rafael Bustillo), Caripuyu and Sacaca (province of Alonso de Ibáñez), Toracarí, Moscar, Carasi, Micani and Toro Toro (province of Charcas), and Acasio (province of Bilbao).
As stated above, the tinku is a ritual battle that occur between two moieties of an ayllu (Andean extended family with a common ancestor) or between different ayllus (at present considered as different “ethnic groups”, e.g. the Laymes and the Jukumanis).
These celebratory battles play a central part of the festival, which also includes chants and dances. Although the conflict is meant to be symbolic, sometimes it turns into violent brawl inflicting real, serious physical harm. The two sides fight in the belief that the resulting bloodshed can be seen as good omens for good harvests while the lack of it would bring droughts and therefore crops failure. Other reasons for why tinkus are fought include settling differences between communities, especially regarding the use of natural resources and territory demarcation, as well as gaining prestige.
Tinkus are very festive, with an audience of men, women, and children led by “mayoral”. The night before the encounter, guests arrive in the vicinity of the place where the festival is going to take place to the sound of jula julas and charangos. The former are played by a group of men known as waylli, who come forward flanked by young, single women known as mit’ani waving multicoloured wiphala flags. They spend the night singing, dancing, drinking and getting ready for the fights that will occur the next day in the streets, squares and open areas of the village. At the same time, the yatiri (wise people) of each community make offerings to the Apus (tutelary spirits, usually associated with individual mountains) and to the Pachamama.
The following day, a crowd of people enter the village walking in qutu formation (in Quechua language, “loads of”) with the intention of showing force and unity, which then open out in llink’u formation (in Quechua language, “curve”): large groups of people arranged in lines that move in a zigzag manner. After attending Mass, opposite sides encounter each other, a gesture that can be seen as an invite to fight: “puqllarina, yachanakuna, riqsinakuna”, they say. “Let us play (for a moment), let us know (who the best fighters are), let us get to know each other (exerting our strength)”.
The fight itself is called takanakuy (in Quechua language, “hitting each other with blunt objects or fists”), and adversaries trade punches and kicks. Sometimes they wear ñuk’us (leather mittens) and metal rings on their fingers, and cover their heads with thick caps or with “monteras” (sort of helmets made of hardened leather). In the old times sticks and most of all braided leather whips were used, however, these tools have were banned by authorities in recent times (this does not mean that they are no longer part of the show). Generally speaking, fights can be held between people of the same age and gender, therefore there are battles between children, youngsters, grown-ups and elders of both sexes, though combats are most usually left to men. When one of the adversaries is thrown to the ground fighters from the same side take him away to avoid being lynched. On the other hand, when one side is superior in hand to hand fight, the other tries to even up the fight firing slingshots and throwing stones.
In some places police attend tinkus to prevent bloodshed while in other places, they are banned by the government or church because they had become too violent in the past. On some occasions, security forces have cleared the battlefield using truncheons and tear gases. Bolivian and foreign mass media covering the event (providing sensational news story more likely to trigger readers/viewers emotions rather than addressing the roots of this tradition) have largely criticized the tinku for its “savageness”. However, in recent times this practice is being restored and regarded as a pre-Hispanic tradition native to Bolivia.
The tinku has been recreated by modern dance and music groups. On the one hand, dancers execute complicated patterns of steps emulating the movements of the fighters, who originally fight to the music of jula julas and tonadas. On the other, the strict tonada rhythm has been slightly modified to be more in line with the dance. The resulting “tinku” rhythm and dance has been performed on international stages. However, it is worth noticing that this new creation has little or nothing to do with the original ceremony, and featuring neither the music nor the costumes of the tinku festival.
Tinku, in Wikipedia.
Article. “El colorido atractivo y atrayente del tinku, sinónimo de cultura”, in La Ojhot’a, periódico del Norte Potosí [es].
Article. “Tinku”, in Danzas y fiestas originarias de Chuquisaca y Potosí [es].
Article. “Tinku, un ritual a los golpes” (“Tinku, a ritual made through blows”), in Diario del viajero [es].
Article. “Golpe a golpe” (“Blow to blow”), in Clarín [es].
Article. “El tinku, combate ritual” (“The tinku, ritual fight”), in Bolivia-turismo [es].
Article. “Tinkus”, in Bolivianísima.com [es].
Picture 01. Fight during a traditional tinku celebration.
Picture 02. Local community members moving forward with their monteras (hats) on during a traditional tinku celebration.
Pictures gallery of the traditional tinku celebration in Macha (Potosí), by Lisa Wiltse.
Video 01. Tinku in Macha 01 [es].
Video 02. Bolivia’s tinku festival.
Video 03. Tinku in Macha 02 [es].
Video 04. Pictures of the tinku in Macha [es].
Video 05. Tinku in Macha 03 [es].
Video 06. Tinku in Pocoata to the sound of jula julas [es].
Video 07. Tinku in Macha 04 [es].
Video 08. “Thinkus de Bolivia”, by Bolivia Pacha (modern tinku dance).
Video 08. Tinkus Tiataco y Banda Internacional Poopó dancing tinku at the Festival Boliviano 2011 (modern tinku dance).