Women fight alongside men at the Tinku festival
Every year thousands of Bolivia's indigenous people gather in a remote mountain region to take part in the Tinku festival, a tradition dating back around 600 years to before the collapse of the Inca empire in South America.

But, as Al Jazeera's Teresa Bo explains, the celebrations don't stop until human blood is shed - even if that means defying the local police.

The Tinku rite takes place in the city of Macha - an isolated place 4000 metres above sea level.

Every year, 5000 Bolivian Indians march into the city to offer the earth goddess, Bajamama, a sacrifice.

It begins with chanting but ends with a fight that continues until blood is spilt on the ground.

The participants believe the blood guarantees a good harvest in the new year.

"We're very poor here, we live on what we produce," says one man.

"We have to know that we did everything we could to make sure the harvest is good enough to feed us."

Declaration of war

Mario Montocorro is hoping to fight and wears a traditional helmet - an imitation of those worn by the Spanish when they conquered this part of the world 500 years ago.

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"We're here because we want to respect our tradition," he says.

"My great-grandparents did this - we all came here willing to risk our lives."

"The more people that bleed, the better harvest we will have."

For the people living in this area the Tinku is a pre-Hispanic ritual and their dances are a declaration of war against the colonial past.

The celebrations go on for days and fights include men against men, women against women and communities against communities.

For most of the people, the more blood, the better.

Police intervention

Over the past few years, dozens of people have died during the Tinku ritual. 

The more blood, the better

The fighters believe that if someone dies, its an extra offering to the goddess and the payback will be worth it.

This year, however, the police decided to intervene to guarantee that no one is killed.

"This year there were two communities that wanted to fight to the death," one police officer says.

"So far we have prevented it - we will have to wait and see what happens."

The police remove possible weapons from those entering the city and try to referee the fights so only two men fight at a time.

Its not an easy task when people are willing to risk their lives to ensure their future.

In South America's poorest nation, where many pre-Hispanic traditions survive, people trust their gods with their futures and they are still willing to offer what they treasure most - their lives.

Source: Al Jazeera