Tinku Festival

Trip Start Dec 07, 2005
Trip End Apr 10, 2007

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Wednesday, May 3, 2006

While we were in Potosi, we found out about the Festival de la Cruz, an once-a-year indigenous festival in a small village called Macha, and decided we couldn´t pass up the chance to see it. Luckily for us, 18 really great fellow travellers thought the same thing. So we all piled onto a bus and held our breaths as it creaked and lurched along the mountain roads to the town of macha. Then we got off the bus, watched an inebriated irishman buy a chintzy guitar, decide he didn´t want it-and then get his money back. When we saw the vendor hand back Karl´s 100 Bolivianos, we knew the normal rules would not apply for the next three days.

The festival itself is a traditional harvest festival just like the pagan festivals that I first learned about in (Catholic) high school (with Mr. James Poisson) used to tell us about where either the king or his successor is killed (depending if it is spring or fall). Apparently, this festival used to be much more of a ritual face-off between the strongest men of different native groups, who would fight to the death. The loser became a sacrifice to Pachamama, the earth goddess, to thank her for a good harvest and appease her for the next harvest. When the Spaniards came, they tried to stomp out traditional festivals and beliefs in the name converting the Natives to Catholicism. So the Natives simply gave their rituals Christian names (¨Festival de la Cruz¨, anyone?) and kept at it.

Now it is more of a chaotic parade where different groups descend into the town from surrounding farming communities, drink a bunch and dance in celebration of the harvest. They also fight against one another, settling scores that have built up over the year or continuing traditional rivalries, but nothing as formalized as it once was. Too much alcohol involved nowadays, i think. We were with a great group of people (18 of us) we had met at our hostel, so we had a great time and felt safe even in some of the dodgier moments when people were fighting. The creepiest thing was the repetitive flute riffs and little bells that hung from the dancers´ socks and tinkled on into the night. Nic, one of our 18, brilliantly strategized that he would ¨think flat thoughts and become as flat as [his] blanket¨ if he heard the bells getting close to our shared room.

For most of the two days we were in Macha, we hung out in or just outside the small restaurant/hotel where we ate all of our meals. Luckily, the lady who ran the restaurant was extremely generous with her place and kept an eye out for us gringos. Our ¨guides¨, on the other hand, took plenty of liberty in getting into the Macha spirit and were well drunk within hours of touchdown in Macha. One of our guides quickly earned the nickname of ¨Bono¨ because of his slick U2 sunglasses, but later he gave himself the nickname of ¨Chavez¨, as he was a spitting (drooling, actually) image of the Venezualen President. Somewhere in the mix he also picked up ¨Shrek¨, making him the most nicknamed person on the trip. His short, fiery sidekick was Joe Pesci. The Irish guys prounounced it ¨Joe Peski¨. Shrek crawled around on the floor and generally acted a fool. Joe Pesci made a lot of insinuations about his phallus as only a drunk man can. We all laughed.

Meanwhile, by the second day there were some pretty big brawls, and the local police used tear gas a few times. It seemed like they used it to excess, then someone told us that the cops were pretty drunk, too. Excessive tear gas explained. We were not hurt, although a couple people in our group got a lungfull of tear gas. But we managed to get everyone into the restaurant/hotel before anyone got really sick from it. Later, someone recovered an empty gas canister from the street. Printed on it were directions on use (step #3: THROW!), what to do if the wind redirects (flush eyes with water), and where it was made (Wyoming). Nothing like a little taste of home when you´ve been travelling.

These are native groups who are particularly traditional and have fought very hard to maintain their way of life; we felt very much like outsiders. It was amazing to see these people preserving their traditions, but sad to see the sloppiness that came from the excessive drinking. Their costumes were amazing, as was their stamina. They danced and drank and fought for three days straight. I was really amazed to remember the ritual sacrifices that Mr. P told us about and to watch the modern version of that belief system lived out in front of us. We heard that two people died this year, but we´re not sure if it´s true or not. We saw plenty of guys bloodied up, though. Luckily, we were with a great group of people and had our local caretaker in the lady running the restaurant. Daniela was brilliant in translating and helping things to run smoothly. she also took some amazing photos, which you can see at www.danielaccg.shutterfly.com
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