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Original Issue


Although the most popular South American sports were imported from Europe and the U.S.—soccer, baseball and horse racing—there endure, particularly in remote villages, traditional games which are either indigenous or curiously adapted from foreign models. These have been perpetuated by Andean Indians and coastal mestizos and Negroes. Some of the games are pure sport, others are symbolic. "In these games, no matter how cruel or violent," says Artist Domenico Gnoli, "I was impressed by the valor of men trying desperately to prove to themselves and their women that centuries of misery had not abated their pride."

Before the corrida de condor, Peruvians from Paruro dig a pit in the mountains, I covering it with branches and a dead donkey. They wait in the pit, sometimes as long as 48 hours, for a condor to alight. The bird, captured by hand, is force-fed beer, then tied to a bull's back. Drunken villagers make clumsy, hazardous passes until the bull collapses from exhaustion and from wounds inflicted by the condor. The bird is then set free, with ribbons tied to its wings—a symbol of freedom triumphant over brute force.

Quichua Indian boys in Peru chase partridges barehanded across the hills near their village. More than a game, it is a test of maturity. Each boy selects one bird to pursue. If he catches it he is accepted as an adult; if not, he must wait until next year.

Capturing a greased pig (above) is a market-day sport in Latin America. Capoeira, in which opponents knock each other down with foot blows (right), was brought to Brazil by Angolan slaves. When banned by the Portuguese, who couldn't master it, it was disguised as a dance. Nowadays kicks are simulated and capoeiristas perform to guitar music.

When Pizarro's troops were stationed in Peru after assassinating the last Inca, Atahualpa, and conquering his empire, they invented pelota de guante, or glove tennis, a primitive kind of squash. First, however, they invented the rubber ball. They tossed the solid gum ball using their shields like rackets. Pelota de guante is still played in Quito, Ecuador. Four-man teams violently fling and bat the ball to each other, the object being to keep it in the air and in bounds. The game is not only dangerous, it is a show of strength: a pelota weighs 15 pounds, a guante 50.