Tinku, a Bolivian Aymara tradition, began as a form of ritualistic combat. In the language of Aymara it means “physical attack.” During this ritual, men and women from different communities will meet and begin the festivities by dancing. The women will then form circles and begin chanting while the men proceed to fight each other; rarely the women will join in the fighting as well. Large tinkus are held in Potosí during the first few weeks of May.
The story behind this cultural dance is that long ago, the Spanish conquistadors made the indigenous people their slaves. Tinku dance costumes are colorful and decorative. Women wear a dress, abarcas, and a hat and men wear an undershirt, pants, jacket, sandals (abarcas), and hard helmet like hats. Even though the people were slaves, they loved to dance, and would often fight, but never really hurting each other.
Because of the rhythmic way the men throw their fists at each other, and because they stand in a crouched stance going in circles around each other, a dance was formed. This dance, the Festive Tinku, simulates the traditional combat, bearing a warlike rhythm. The differences between the Andean tradition and the dance are the costumes, the role of women, and the fact that the dancers do not actually fight each other. The Festive Tinku has become a cultural dance for all of Bolivia, although it originated in Potosí.
The Bolivian tradition began with the indigenous belief in Pachamama, or Mother Nature. The combat is in praise of Pachamama, and any blood shed throughout the fighting is considered a sacrifice, in hopes of a fruitful harvest and fertility. Because of the violent nature of the tradition there have been fatalities, but each death is considered a sacrifice which brings forth life, and a donation to the land that fertilizes it. The brawls are also considered a means of release of frustration and anger between the separate communities. Tinkus usually last two to three days. During this time, participants will stop every now and then to eat, sleep, or drink.
The Festive Tinku, a much more pleasant experience than a ceremonial tinku, has many differences. It has been accepted as a cultural dance in the whole nation of Bolivia. Tinku music has a loud constant drum beat to give it a native warlike feel, while charangos, guitars, and zampoñas (panpipes) play melodies. The dancers perform with combat like movements, following the heavy beat of the drum.