Peru’s Traditional, Bloody Pitched Battles Fought with Slingshots

Incredible scenes from the annual Battle of Chiaraje


Where in the world is a pitched battle between hundreds of men written into the calendar, faithfully observed and fitfully fought? Peru, that’s where.

Every January 20th, the towns of Canas Province near Cusco, Peru, divide themselves into two sides, and wage running battles in the highlands with slings and blunt weapons.

Some are wounded; a few of them die. Despite this, there are never any legal repercussions, and nobody ever seeks revenge.

The tradition in the Chiaraje Highlands — 4200 meters above sea level — stretches back centuries. The risk of serious injury is likely, yet families show up year on year for the festivities associated with the battle.

Each side tries to push the other back behind a given line in order to achieve victory, in two separate battles that are fought that day. There is no monetary or material reward whatsoever.

Anthropologists try to explain this tradition as a sacrifice for the fertility of the earth. However, even though a spiritual aspect can be traced in its origins, the most powerful justification that a participant can make to an observer could be pretty well grounded in Western values, rather than traditional spirituality: the human desire for competition, freedom, violence, fun.

The warriors depart for battle with joy, and are not being forced by anyone or anything to risk their lives. They laugh, they cooperate, they fight.

The battle is also a public spectacle. At each side of the field there are fairs where people sell and buy alcohol, food, and coca leafs. Lots of cars are parked there, belonging to people that came to this desolate area specifically to watch the event, and to party.

The scene more resembles a picnic than a life-or-death battle. Couples kiss, big families come together and eat, and musicians play while drinking beers. Meanwhile, a couple hundred meters away, people stone each other to death.

Full article in Spanish available at Vice