Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tinku festival 2010

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I heard about the Tinku festival from a friend of a friend of a friend, who had the information passed down through a girl who had experienced the festival firsthand the year before. The premise of the Tinku festival is for all the neighbouring tribes to meet and partake in a traditional cultural exchange through music, dance and fair fighting. Alcohol and human blood are spilled to placate pachamama, mother earth, to promote a healthy future harvest and to settle small disputes that annually arise in the community. This is why three pasty gringas travelled from various parts of South America to meet in Potosi, Bolivia. The highest city in the world at 4500m above sea level and home to the silver mines where over 8 million workers have died since 1550. So after tentatively waiting for our friend Ngaire to conquer the treacherous crossing from Argentina, we set out with our tour guides General and Veronica to Macha, a tiny little village in the mountains set amongst gorgeous alien landscape.
This is of course after trekking three km to our ¨private¨ bus and waiting for several hours trying to make small talk with an uncharismatic French Canadian on the 5 hour bus journey whilst trying to resist the urge to vomit. Needless to say I was driven to drink once we arrived at our motel. First rule of Tinku, you must have a drink in your hand at all times. But do not make the common mistake of drinking the local Ceibol, a potent tipple at 98% alcohol. Needless to say I was not the only person put to bed at 9pm on the first night.
Day two was when things really started getting hairy. All the different tribes from the neighbouring regions marched whilst aggressively pan piping donning traditional attire, which usually consists of decorative multi-coloured socks, bells, feathered helmets reminiscent of the conquistadors and a mandatory panpipe. One group even had an enormous pig. The pig was terrified but the people were enamoured so once they entered the square, babe the gallant beast managed to escape squealing down an alleyway. Once the groups made their entrance they would form into a group where a cholita (traditional country lass) would wave a white flag and the group would form around her to dance, which resembled an enthusiastic stomp.
Interestingly there were groups who deviated from the norm of two hundred people and ran about in groups of four or five. We did not fancy their chances. The music consisted of a traditional guitar and the pan flute, which literally played one short tune on high repeat for 3 days. Expect the drum and bass remix to come out next month. Then the fighting really commenced, an alcohol infused knock to the side of the head was an introduction to the combat, but events degenerated into chaos with all out brawls erupting with the only logical solution, teargas. Rock fights then broke out so we ran to our refuge behind a corrugated iron wall, which unfortunately did not protect us from the constant tear gassing and threat of a rock to the head. We decided it would be wise to climb a narrow and treacherous bell tower watch from above and try to get some scope on the madness that unfolded below. It was one of the most incredible and hideous things I have witnessed, and I truly felt guilt to being witness to something that although was so foreign to us gringos, was such an integral part to an ancient custom. The fact that it had been so despoiled by alcohol only added to the general mood. We were the tiny minority and our mere presence felt like an assault on the culture. One friend in our group was exceptionally tall and blond and was propositioned to fight at least thirty times. Our noses bled for weeks.

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