05.06.09

Bolivia – Wrestling Cholitas

Posted in Bolivia at 2:49 pm by Jackson Lee

The cholita flew through the air. With arms outstretched and legs splayed she soared high, mimicking a Andean bird of prey as she descended on her hapless target. We watched in stunned silence as her bowler hat caught the air and cartwheeled away while her layers of skirts billowed angrily behind her. This was going to hurt.

Wham. The ring vibrated. Her target wheezed audibly as she slammed into him. We cheered.

Nowhere else in the universe do women in bowler hats and layered skirts propel themselves into the air above hard canvass wrestling rings to the cheers of apparently sober crowds. But this is Al Alto – the mentally retarded sister city to La Paz – and we are here to enjoy one of Bolivia’s more unusual sporting obsessions: wrestling – referred to in Bolivia as “lucha libre”.

Deriving from the more generic term “Chola”, Cholita is a ambiguous term which describes a group of Aymara Indian women who live in the high Andeas and to whom, amongst other things, is attributed a eccentrically distinctive fashion style. Rumours suggestion that the layered skirt and skawl combo originated from the fashion styles of the Spanish gentry during the colonial area. Enhancing the magic, Cholita often pleat their hair, often in pigs-tails, and don fetching grandma pleasing woolly jumpers. Bowler hats, the stable of the late 19th century gentleman, complete the look and help spin together a attire few styles in history can compare with.

Cholita’s are an iconic part of Bolivian culture who typically lie somewhere between Christmas carols and group hugs on the international scale of violent entities. The wrestling Cholitas of Al Alto aren’t, however, normal amongst Cholita’s but symbolise a gentle ‘nod’ towards womans emancipation in traditionally macho Bolivia.

Slam. Another big cheer.

The blatant overacting, crowd heckling and outrageous come-backs leave no guesses that this is staged entertainment… but who exactly is everyone cheering for? The overdressed, cocaine fuelled Cholita or the llama thin, masked guy in the poorly matching Lycra suit?

A flying somersault gee’s the crowd into a frenzy. The bowler hat is no where to be seen and both wrestlers are now looking worse for wear. I have no idea how they are able to maintain such vigorous movement at 4000 meters but soon they are bouncing off adjacent ropes and rushing into another mid-ring collision. The crowd breaks into hysterics as the masked wrestler finds himself lost under the Cholita’s skirts.

For this weekly event, the stadium is packed. The front row seats are filled with action hungry, high-price paying, backpacker while the majority of the small of the seats are packed with locals. Both young and old, mostly low-income earning, Andeans  sits glued to the action: cat-calling and applauding along with the action. Its hard not to get carried away with their enthusiasm.

The match progressives through a series of head locks, leg drops and increasing impressive moves. Soon it becomes clear the crowd has developed a soft spot for the flying Cholita. They quieten as she is tossed about the ring but spring back to life as she regains control of the match. Against stacked odds – including the nefarious interference of the referee – the Cholita claims victory.

The good news is the best is yet to come.  Up next is a bout between another Cholita, and her opponent, one of La Paz’s famous midget wrestlers… only in Bolivia…

Check out the following for a short video about the wrestling Cholita’s: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2008/sep/01/bolivianwomenwrestlers

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