The term cholita (indigenous woman) used to be spoken as a derogatory slur. These days, partly thanks to an indigenous rights revolution brought about by the current Aymara president Evo Morales, there is a sense of dignity and pride surrounding the word. These formerly repressed women can now hold their heads high while donning their traditional polleras (skirt) and bowler hats.
Wrestling has been popular in Bolivia since the 1950s, but it wasn’t until recently that women started getting involved. Cholitas Wrestling began as a novel way for domestic violence victims to release stress and form a network of supportive friends. Sometime during the mid 2000s, local wrestler and promoter Juan Mamani saw a business opportunity and commercialized the practice by encouraging the women to perform professionally. His vision quickly caught on.
These days, tourists and locals alike flock to an arena in El Alto to catch a glimpse of the action. Although the performers may not be as skilled as their W.W.E counterparts, they still manage to pull off some incredibly acrobatic stunts. Punches, kicks, body slams, suplexes and pile drivers are all part of the repertoire of these talented athletes, as they battle it out in the ring in front of a roaring crowd.
As with other forms of wrestling entertainment, theatrics are very much a part of the show. These fearless women really know how to work a crowd, well aware that audience involvement is fundamental to their success. They tease, provoke and throw popcorn on the tourists, sometimes stealing a cheeky kiss from the most handsome gringo in the crowd. The whole spectacle is a lot of fun. Outrageous, light-hearted and downright bizarre.
Although it may seem like just a silly sport, these valiant cholitas are doing their bit to reduce the country’s rampant domestic violence problem. Most of their bouts are against male wrestlers who represent abusive husbands. The men are berated by the audience which vilifies the abuser, subsequently teaching women that violence is not a normal part of a healthy relationship.
In 2013, Morales toughened domestic violence laws and funded a number of women’s shelters around the country. This was undoubtedly a step in the right direction, but without a change in the national psyche it would be impossible to effectively tackle the issue. Little by little, this is what Cholitas Wrestling is trying to achieve.
The show is on every Thursday and Sunday in the Multifuncional stadium in El Alto, the neighboring city of La Paz. Entry costs 50 BOB (US$7), though it’s more convenient to take a tour from La Paz which includes transport and an English speaking guide for 80 BOB (US$11.50).