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Rewriting Tradition: Female Fighters of the Andes

Takanakuy (v.): "To hit each other" (Quechua)

Indigenous women of the Peruvian Andes break gender norms by taking matters into their own hands during Takanakuy Fighting Festival. Each Christmas Day, Peruvians of the Chumbivilcas province challenge each other to fight in a supervised setting and resolve personal grievances. An ancient Incan festival for men to display dominance while dressed in decorative costume, women are traditionally prohibited from participating in fights. Women of the Chumbivilcas today are defying custom by stepping up to fight for themselves in front of thousands and rewriting tradition for future generations.


Traditionally a festival reserved for men to display strength and dominance, women of the Chumbivilcas province today are breaking gender norms and creating a new norm to step up and fight in front of thousands. Every Christmas morning, people of the Chumbivilcas all gather together to sing and dance in preparation for Takanakuy - the region's annual fighting festival. Located high in remote Peruvian Andes, people from all around the Chumbivilcas region gather in the town of Santo Tomas and the nearby village of Llique. During Takanakuy, the population increases from 300 to approximately 3000.


Men conceal their identities from challengers with Peruvian ski masks and dress in male-specific costumes depicting intimidating traditional characters such as "Majeno", "Quaranwatanna", "Negro", and "Langos". Women do not partake in the intimidating costume but rather wear traditional dress specific to the Chumbivilcas region as they are typically not permitted to fight.


Top fighters from all around the Chumbivilcas region gather during Takanakuy seeking to settle scores with rivals or for glory. A great victory in the fighting pit before thousands could mean a great deal of respect and status the coming year.


A display of dominance, fighters dance around the fighting pit challenging any onlookers or calling out specific individuals to fight and settle personal grievances.


Referees wielding whips for crowd control are often overrun as spectators jump into the fighting pit to help a friend. Volunteer participants also help break up fighters once a clear winner is apparent.


Each fight ends with a handshake or hug. The normalization of female fighters encourages and empowers the next generation in rewriting an ancient tradition.

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