Tejo: Colombia's National Sport

© Luis Pérez/Flickr
© Luis Pérez/Flickr
Photo of Ruaidhrí Carroll
London Travel Writer2 February 2017

Are you a fan of darts, bowling, alcohol or explosives? Colombia’s national sport tejo, or turmeque, combines beer, targets and explosions in a competition which advocates of the sport somewhat questionably claim is safe for all the family.

Introduction to tejo

Tejo incorporates beer and gunpowder in a sport where any alcohol-related lapse of concentration is met with explosions which bring focus back to the task at hand. That’s not how the sport began but it is what the modern manifestation has evolved into. Players hurl tejos (weighted steel discs) towards a bocin (metal ring) that is rigged with gunpowder-stuffed mechas, ready to explode upon impact. Undoubtedly a more lively version of bowling, it’s probably not one for the jittery, but if you can get over the loud noises, then grab a tejo, crack open a beer and get involved. Otherwise, download the Tejo World Tour app and ease yourself into Colombian culture digitally.

History of tejo

While a lack of oral, written and archeological evidence has made refining a single theory of tejo’s inception impossible, this has not deterred people from attempting to find out about its origins. Modern tejo is based on a game that was developed in Turmequé, Boyaca, Colombia more than 450 years ago. Meanwhile, in Sports and Games of the Ancients (1961), sport historian Steve Craig suggests that Chibcha Indians in South America played the game during the pre-Columbine period, prior to the ‘discovery’ of the region by Europeans.

Gunpowder-filled mechas sit on a bocin lodged in the mud | © Luis Pérez/Flickr

Tejo: Gunpowder for gold

Gold discs were probably used as tejos in the ancient version of the game before being replaced by stone counterparts, following the vigorous efforts of Spanish conquistadors to extract the precious metal from South America. Although they essentially stole gold from the game, it is also likely that the Spanish left their own explosive mark on tejo by contributing the characteristic gunpowder-filled mechas element. Perhaps this saved the sport because, unlike many other elements of pre-European, indigenous, and native South American culture, tejo is now widespread in modern Colombia.

How to play tejo

Tejo players lob the tejos from a marked throwing spot at one end of playing lane, towards a metal ring (bocin) at the other end. Contained within a wooden box, roughly one meter squared, the circular bocin is home to paper triangles filled with gunpowder, or mechas. The aim of the game is to throw a tejo to hit the mechas, causing them to explode and etching your team closer to victory. Regulation tejo lanes are 19.5m long by 2.5m wide, but the throwing line is 15m from the edge of the wooden box. The box is poised towards the throwing mark at an angle of roughly 30 degrees, while a backboard is there to assist in case of an overthrow.

Games can be played between individuals or teams of up to six people, with one throw for each player per round. Throwing first is an advantage because exploding a mecha means victory in that round and the teams switch ends. The winner of one round is then the first to throw in the next.

The mud-filled box is home to the bocin and its mechas | © Luis Pérez/Flickr

Scoring is fairly straightforward, if a little unfair. The full nine points are scored if your tejo lands in the bocin while also exploding one or more mechas; six points are awarded if you do this without a bang. Despite this being more tricky, explosion really is the name of the game. You get three points for exploding a mecha without landing your tejo in the bocin, while landing closer to the circle than your opponent will score you one point, with the losing team buying the beers, of course. Seeing as venues are often free (charging only for the beers), tejo can provide great free entertainment so long as you can hold your aim… and your drink.

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