Every year, in the month of May, women from the Nahua villages of Guerrero, Mexico, get together to beat the living daylights out of each other.
All the blood they spill during the fight is collected in buckets, and later used to plough and water their lands. The villagers believe that this bizarre ritual will bring the rain and provide bountiful harvests!
The festival, like many others in Mexico, combines catholic and prehispanic traditions. On the first day, women wake up early to make large quantities of food. They prepare turkey, chicken, rice, boiled eggs, pozole, mole, and tortillas, which they take along with them to the fighting grounds. At the official site, they lay out the food and decorate the area with flowers and inflated turkey bellies. They recite prayers for the virgin Mary and for the local rain god Tlaloc, after which it is time for the fighting to begin.
The villagers stand in a circle, forming a ring of sorts, waiting for their adversaries to arrive from neighboring communities. The villages of La Esperanza and El Rancho Las Lomas, in particular, have a long standing rivalry – they fight in a field that lies on the border between the two towns. When everyone has arrived, the women begin to seek out opponents, challenging them to fights. The older women, who are seasoned warriors, provoke younger girls to get into the ring and spill some blood.
Once the opponents are decided, the women get into the ring and face each other, tying up their hair and taking off their jewelry. One of them throws the first punch, the crowd begins to cheer, and pretty soon, a bloody fight is underway. The women don’t seem to care about winning, all they want is to spill and collect as much blood as possible. They might ask for a time out to clean up their bloodied noses, but they’ll get right on with the punching once they’re done. Men and children sometimes join in as well, and the fighting continues until dark, after which everyone hugs each other and heads back home.
Why are women doing all the fighting, and not the men, you ask? According to VICE Magazine, the farmers are out tending to their lands, so this task is left to the women and children.
Professor David Delgado of Chapingo University, who has spent the 12 years studying harvest celebrations, believes the fighting ritual can be traced back to the Aztecs. “It is originally linked to the beginning of the corn harvest,” he explained. “The other important issues here are the symbols. The people here formed three communities and when one would linger into another’s turf, they would fight each other. So they say that because of their quarrels, the god Tlaloc took the rain from them.”
“Two of the communities started a sort of contest to see who could take the water back from Tlaloc,” he added. “He fled to the hills. So they went up and stole the water, but they started fighting for it once they came down. And so they say that the fights are held to this day since then. They say that every drop of blood is a drop of water, and hence the tradition stands.”
The annual Tigrada parade – celebrated in May in the major towns of Zitala, Chilapa, and Acatlan – features lots of other rituals, all centered around praying for rain. The men put on jaguar costumes and and beat each other with whips. They also organize dancing and other offerings, but the main purpose of these celebrations is to spill their blood and offer it in exchange for rain.