Tinku is a form of ritual conflict practiced by local people in Potosí, Bolivia. In a local kinship system people are divided to two halves or moieties, which have unequal status. The word “Tinku” belongs to the Quechua language and means encounter, meeting.

Tinku takes place on specified holidays, when the members of moieties, both men and women, fight hand-to-hand with those of the other moiety.

In Bolivia, the Tinku is held around the 3rd of May and lasts for a few days. Though the conflict is largely symbolic and ceremonial, the brawl may inflict real, serious physical harm that may sometimes be fatal. Status of a specific moiety is determined by this conflict.

In the Andes, a tinku is a “ritual battle.” These battles can be part of “festivities or rites of passages and are often sponsored or supervised by political and/or religious authorities.”

These are similar to games, like boxing, and military training exercises that are done in the United States today.

History: Tinkus have been a tradition of Andean culture since before they first had contact with Europeans. Some anthropologists hypothesize that Ancient Andes culture would have tinkus instead of battles. This would help curb aggression between different groups, and allow for entertainment, similar to football games in the United States.

There are some anthropologists that believe the tradition of the Tinku dates back to the time of the Moche culture, where neighboring tribes would annually fight one another.

They are celebratory battles that are controlled, as opposed to warfare, which is not controlled or celebratory. Types of events that could be included in tinkus:

  • The “annual or semiannual fighting ritual linked to agricutlural fortune”
    • The “pasola” on Sumba Island
    • The Nahua “tiger fights” in Mexico
  • Scripted battles
    • “Moros y Cristianos” in Spain and Latin America
  • The Aztec “flower wars”

Groups who participate: Tinkus occur “between different communities, moieties, or kin groups.” They are prearranged and usually take place in the small towns of southern Bolivia. Tinkus are very festive, with an audience of men, women, and children, who bring food and drink. Alcohol is also brought and is sometimes sold along with food during the tinku.

Methods of combat: The weapons used during tinkus are traditional or Inca weapons.

  • Slingshots
  • Boleadoras
  • Clubs
  • Whips
  • Sometimes horses

The tinkus can become very violent, and people do get injured and even die. But, the deaths can be seen as good omens for good harvests. Because of the violence, police attend tinkus in some places to prevent bloodshed. In other places, tinkus are banned by the government or church because they had become too violent in the past.

Reasons: Tinkus do not end with trophies or awards. There are different reasons for why tinkus are fought, which include:

  • The winning side will have a prosperous year.
  • A person or group is targeted because of past actions.
  • Groups with old animosity fight for prestige.
  • Statements of “indigenous peasant autonomy and fierceness versus the dominant or mestizo culture”