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

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.


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