Here's Why Guatemalans Celebrate Good Friday by Beating Each Other Up

Antigua Guatemala chicken bus
Antigua Guatemala chicken bus | © SdosRemedios / Flickr
Jack Guy

In a small town hidden in the highlands of Guatemala, locals step into the ring every Good Friday for bare-knuckle boxing bouts.

A tradition with mysterious origins

Chivarreto looks like any other town in the area, but it hosts a unique celebration. No one knows exactly when it began, but the bouts have been taking place for decades. In years gone by, a makeshift ring was set up on the dusty football pitch in town, but more recently a wooden ring was purchased using money sent home from migrant workers in Los Angeles.

The connection to southern California has had some interesting consequences. Many young people wear the hats and jerseys of LA sports teams such as the Lakers and Dodgers, while visitors can expect to be greeted with broken English in Californian accents. There’s also a huge sign spelling out Chivarreto in Hollywood-style letters on the hill above the town.

Conflict resolution in the ring?

Speaking to the locals reveals that no one is entirely sure why the boxing happens. One theory is that the pain and suffering is a way of paying penitence on Good Friday, but the bouts are frowned upon by local religious leaders and their congregations. Another possible explanation is that the bouts are used to settle disputes that have occurred over the course of the year to prevent lasting problems, but no one seems to agree with that either.

There may be an explanation in the fact that the crowd around the ring is arranged so that the men from Chivarreto are on one side and the men from neighboring Pasajoc on the other. For each bout, a Pasajoc fighter enters the ring and chooses a Chivarreto opponent that is roughly the same size. This keeps things fairly evenly matched, and points to the historic rivalry between the two Guatemalan villages.

An explanation at last?

The reason for the rivalry depends on who you ask, but the Pasajoc fighters claim the men from their village used to roll into Chivarreto on a Friday night and steal the local women away. Whether or not this is true is anyone’s guess but these days the fights have no real edge, with many bouts taking place between friends and family.

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