LIMA, Peru (AP) — The brightly hued ski masks come off, and the punching and kicking begin. Only once a judge has ruled one of the combatants licked do they stop fighting.
Often with faces swollen and bloodied, the fighters shake hands or hug and deem their personal dispute settled. Or else they agree to do battle again next year.
The Andean fight known as Takanakuy is a ritual of unclear provenance that predates Spanish colonial rule and happens twice a year, in July and just after Christmas.
In Peru, it has long been practiced in the highlands province of Chumbivilcas near Cuzco. More recently, it has spread to outlying neighborhoods of Lima.
It is a relative of a custom that people in the highlands of neighboring Bolivia call Tinku.
The bouts are all about settling scores. On the day of reckoning, and typically in preceding days amid traditional dancing and music, serious quantities of alcohol are imbibed.
The liquor helps dull the post-pugilism pain.
"When we first started doing this in Lima (in the early 1980s) they called us savages, but this tradition of ours dates back hundreds of years," said Jose Boza, president of Club Qorilazo, which organizes the Lima fist fest.
In July, it falls on the last day of the Feast of Santa Ana and is held in the Lima district of Canto Grande.
The fighters dress up in costumes of Andean folklore figures, with the ski masks an integral part of the costume. Among the characters: "El Negro," representative of black slaves; "El Majeno," reminiscent of liquor salesmen from a region called Majes; and "El Gallo," the rooster.
Fighters' hands are generally wrapped in cloth.
It's not just adult males who fight. Women and children with scores to settle also battle it out.
During the fights, women sing "huaylia" music accompanied by accordions, harps, violins and mandolins. The lyrics, in Quechua, include such lines as "Child, fear not when rivers of blood flow."
"That's how it is," says Boza. "I hear the huaylias and my body boils. I want to fight."
Associated Press writer Frank Bajak contributed to this report.