In the 600-year-old Tinku festival, thousands of men drink homemade spirits and brawl in the street.
“Tinku” means “encounter” in the Quechua language of Bolivia’s indigenous people.
This neighborly encounter involves fierce fights among different communities.
Some wear bizarre helmets – like Spanish conquistadors, but made of llama leather and decorated with feathers.
Their pants are usually simple black or white with traditional embroidering near their feet.
Fighting is at first done only with fists, and later boosted with weapons like rocks.
Sometimes, men will wrap strips of cloth with shards of glass stuck to them around their fists to cause greater damage.
Slingshots and whips can come out, though combat is mostly hand-to-hand.
When the violence becomes uncontrollable, police lob tear gas grenades to disperse the crowds.
After the air clears of tear gas people return to the square to play music, dance and drink chicha. (Beer and 96% pure alcohol!)
If no one dies, the clans believe that the harvest for the year will be bad because the offering to the Pachamama is not good enough.
Tinku may have started as an ancient demonstration of war techniques that, over centuries, become a religious ceremony.
Men’s blood was offered up to Mother Earth, or Pachamama, for a good harvest.
The community that won dominated the region for the year.
Or the festival may commemorate the bloody Spanish imposition of religion on indigenous communities.
Deaths during Tinku aren’t unusual, including this year.
Survivors enjoy feasts, elaborate dances and huge, choreographed musical events.
These days it’s more like a sport than anything else, a way to prove one’s bravery.
Village against village, villager against villager.
Tinku is a heavily ritualized form of battle, but the skirmishes aren’t supposed to be personal.
Suddenly there is war, and just as suddenly, that war ends.
Until next year.