What if we turn a bachelor’s party into a national holiday? Believe it or not, this isn’t the worst idea I’ve heard of, ever. In fact, it’s already been done in Bolivia. But it does kind of makes you wonder, “what were they thinking?!” Anyway, last week, I was invited! Here’s what happens when you get a bunch of grown men together for a holiday where the whole point is to just act like boys. Welcome to Cumpas!
Cumpas in Bolivia
Yes, they’ve actually turned the idea of a bachelor’s party into a national holiday. Cumpas is an annual tradition where boys will be boys, and women are not allowed. (Women have their own holiday: Comadres). Cumpas is the traditional kick-off to the Carnaval season of debauchery. It’s two weeks before Carnaval Tuesday (aka Mardi Gras).
Cumpas is actually slang for “compadres”, which means something like “godfathers” in English. So, yeah, there is a holiday called “Godfathers”. In the words of Don Corleone, “Friendship is everything. Friendship is more than talent. It is more than the government. It is almost the equal of family.”
The whole idea of Cumpas is for godfathers to celebrate each other. Think of it like Father’s Day, except its for godfathers. But, somewhere along the way it got redefined to just be about old men (over 40) hanging out generally in a women-and-children-free environment for a day. There’s food, games, music, lots of drinking, and even shouting.
In the morning, the men (also referred to as the “Cumpas”) gathered in the plaza for a heavy breakfast of pork stew:
In our town, if you participate in Cumpas, you get a shirt or a hat or something each year. This year, the shirts were pink, all the Cumpas wore them. After breakfast, we all paraded around town with a marching band, because, when else are you going to do that?
Then, we drove out in a caravan to a secret men’s-only spot in the desert where we could just be men, without the normal constraints of society. Oh, and they decorated the cars with corn stalks and streamers, because you’ve got to do something with all those corn stalks.
Here we are out on the highway. Something tells me this might not end well:
Acting Like Wild Asses in the Desert
Out in the desert, mostly we drank a lot for a couple of hours. We also played this game called “Taba”, which is kind of like horseshoes, except it uses a cow’s knee bone, plated with gold and silver:
If the silver side lands up (like the photo), then you lose, and you have to drink a shot. If the gold side lands up, you win, and your opponent has to drink. I don’t think I’ve played a drinking game like this since I was in college. Here, it was with a bunch of old men, several in their 60s and 70s.
After a couple of hours acting like wild asses in the desert, we headed back to town, where we read poetry.
Yeah, that’s right: poetry. Just what you thought a bunch of drunk obnoxious men on a bachelors’-party-turned-holiday would do, right?
I guess “poetry” is not the best way to describe it. It was more like haikus or limericks read out load about different godfathers in town. They were personally insulting, embarrassing, a bit dirty, and funny as hell. It was more like a roasting of all the godfathers. Here we are at the poety reading:
Next, Music and Food (and more drinking)
After the roasting, the Cumpas all gathered at a local hotel for an afternoon of more drinking:
By late afternoon, we were all getting pretty tired. After all, we’re not exactly twenty years-old any more.
The good news is that nobody got hurt, and no property was damaged all day long. In fact, not even a single fight broke out. Although there was some shouting.
I normally think of holidays as time spent with family, perhaps celebrating some historic event. Cumpas in Bolivia is nothing like that. There’s no family, even no women or children allowed. And we’re certainly not celebrating any history. Cumpas is the one day of the year where boys will be boys, no matter their age. Guys look forward to it all year. Cumpas is about celebrating friendships and brotherhood. It’s about celebrating each other. And it was a wonderful thing to experience!