Peruvian women, in ‘fulbito Andino,’ find light in the darkness

América TV in Lima reports on the Mamachas tournament. (2:49)

The late Blanca Varela may have presided spiritually over a unique football tournament Dec 12 in Lima. She dedicated the poem “Fútbol” to sons Vicente and Lorenzo in 1971, making the work, according to critic David Wood, the first Peruvian composition dedicated to the sport.

play with the earth
as with a ball
dance with it
thump it
crack it open
the earth is nothing but that

Wood translates from the short poem, which appeared originally in Valses y otras falsas confesiones (Waltzes and Other False Confessions), and observes how Varela sees football as art leading to “life-affirming poetic discourse.”

Football, womanhood, earth. These concerns merged at the six-team finals of Il Campeonato Nacional de Fulbito Femenino de Mujeres Campesinas Conservacionistas-Mamachas 2009, held outside the north concourse of Estadio Nacional “José Díaz.” Arranged by the Agrorural public-works program, which has enlisted more than 4,000 women’s peasant collectives in implementing land reforms, the indigenous football tournament lasted six months and included 40,000 women from 13 regions. Campesinas competed in traditional skirts (polleras) as well as trainers suited to the hard surfaces of urban fulbito, the Peruvian small-sided football variant.

A side from Ayacucho defeated Arequipa, both southern regions, in the final. Several government ministers attended, Adolfo de Córdoba Velez (agriculture), Nídia Vilchez (women) and Manuela García (labor). A few days later, torrential rains in Ayacucho, more than 9,000ft above sea level, caused landslides and at least eight deaths—a reminder why legislators launched the Agrorural initiative in 2008.

Vilchez, the minister of women, credits campesinas with taking time from labor in reforestation programs, soil conservation, agriculture and alpaca grazing to practice football at weekends. Even in recreation, the minister says, the women are earth-friendly, proving themselves leaders in linked struggles for women’s rights and sound environmental practice.

The Agrorural website pictures indigenous women cradling plants to propagate on bare Andean slopes. They are working toward a recently announced goal of transplanting 60 million eucalyptus, pine and other specimens to mitigate centuries of land clearance in earthquake-prone regions. In 1970, a Nevado Huascarán landslide killed 20,000 in 2½ minutes.

“The Incas were never great lovers of trees,” says an Agrorural press release on Jan 2. “In fact, they cut down forests on the far Amazonian slopes of the Andes, as did other civilisations such as the Chachapoyas, to build their monumental stone cities.”

So how does football fit in? It might be Peruvian women’s latest venture into cultural autonomy. Anthropologist Irene Silverblatt describes indigenous Andean customs, predating Spanish incursions of the early 16th century and subsequent conquest, that recognized women’s contributions in weaving, plowing, sowing, harvesting and brewing chicha (maize beer). Inca women worshiped mother moon, venerated Inca queens and maintained female lines of descent. Rights to fields in Cuzco, the Inca capital, passed woman to woman. Campesinas in the 17th century resisted Spanish control through witchcraft, what Silverblatt calls “an ideology of rebellion.”

Members of the team from Lima region warm up at the pre-tournament press conference. (© 2009 Norman Córdova | Andina)

At least since the 1990s Andean women have been treading on the masculine province of football, represented, in urban life, by the serial urinators that Julio Ramón Ribeyro recalls at Estadio Nacional. “In those days women didn’t go to the stadium,” Ribeyro writes. “Football was for real men.” In the documentary Churubamba—Frauen am Ball (dir. Carmen Butta, available on YouTube in 10 parts), women in Huánuco, in the mountains north of Lima, recall having played since childhood. An indigenous championship for fulbito Andino, the “mini”-football of the Andes, started in 1996.

The players of Churubamba recognize their third-class status as descendants of indigenous peasantry and hand tillers of nutrient-depleted earth, subject to the whims of plate tectonics and brutal winter microclimates. They speak Quechua, the Inca language, and almost no Spanish. Left back Juana Estrada Huamán, 36, tends to five children—including a terminally ill six-year-old son—18 sheep, llamas and a quarter-acre plot of beans, potatoes and wheat. They live in darkness, without electricity. Lugging 40lb loads more than 13,000ft above sea level offers a never-ending training routine but, as Juana reflects, little joy:

The football world beyond our mountains we do not know. We do not know who plays there, who are the best players, what they wear and the rules that everyone follows. We only play in order to have some happy moments, to have fun. Of technique and tactics we do not understand much. But we play with our hearts, with all our will. And that brings us together into a single force. That is football for us.

Churubamba’s women walk up to 16km for Sunday village friendlies, then turn around and walk back. Practical considerations help inspire growth in the indigenous women’s game. Enlightened officials recognize that women foster community contact and stimulate the economy on a micro level. Matches become festival occasions. Winners receive seed potatoes or chickens or guinea pigs, a Quechua delicacy when fried, in tribute.

From their football passions the women draw voice and confidence. From travel they see that others in the country are not as poor or underserved as they are. Using their skirts to assist with ball control, the women, in Churubamba at least, feel that they play more relaxed than men, with more laughter. At the Lima tournament in December, a reporter from the state wire service favorably compared the 72 participating women to the national selection and commented sardonically on the men’s history of “more frustrations than successes.”

Do strides toward gender equality in football help create a more just society? Perhaps a more enlightened one. Poetess Varela died Mar 12 last year. She represented a cluster of female writers, including Giovanna Pollarolo (see 6 Oct 08), who broached football as a literary subject in order to challenge gender stereotypes.

Granddaughter Camila de Szyszlo, accepting an award on Varela’s behalf in Madrid in 2007, mentioned her grandmother’s love of good football in the same breath as Varela’s appreciation for Brazilian telenovelas and the songs of Bob Dylan.


  • Erika Busse, “Flora Tristan and Peruvian Feminists in the Twentieth Century,” Journal of Women’s Studies 15 (fall 03): 124–28.
  • Julio Ramón Ribeyro, “Atiguibas,” trans. John Penuel, in The Global Game: Writers on Soccer, ed. John Turnbull, Thom Satterlee, and Alon Raab (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008), 22–29.
  • Irene Silverblatt, Moon, Sun, and Witches: Gender Ideologies and Class in Inca and Colonial Peru (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987).
  • David Wood, “Reading the Game: The Role of Football in Peruvian Literature,” The International Journal of the History of Sport 22 (Mar 05): 266–84.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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