Football isn’t the only sport that Colombians go mad for. Across the country, local sports that have been played for centuries conjure up fierce competition and a lot of fun. Two of the most beloved date back to the 15th century: Tejo and Chaza. Here’s what you need to know about these traditional games, and where you can expect to see (or play) them while you’re in Colombia.
It’s widely believed that over 500 years ago, indigenous inhabitants of the departments of Cundinamarca and Boyacá, called Muiscas, enjoyed playing a game that involved launching a disc to hit a target. They called it “Turmeque,” and though there’s no official history of the game, it’s rumored that the disc they used at the time was made of gold.
With the arrival of the Spanish to Colombia, the game evolved, and the golden disc become a metal disc, with which the game is now played. In the game’s modern version, Tejo, the target is a raised clay-filled box with gunpowder in the center, to produce an explosive sound. In June 2000, Tejo was declared a national sport by the Congress of the Republic. Today it’s played across the Andean highland area of Colombia, notably around Tunja, the capital of Boyacá department.
To play the game, players throw a metal disc, the “tejo,” across a 20 meter protected alley to the target box. At the center of the box, a metal pipe is equipped with small exploding targets, or “mechas,” that contain gunpowder. On impact with the tejo, the mechas explode loudly, which signals a successful toss.
You can catch tejo tournaments across the country, and if you’re interested in playing, your hotel or hostel may be able to point you in the direction of a local tejo pitch.
In the 15th century, Spanish settlers arrived in southwestern Colombia to find people playing a game that involved hitting a small, animal hide-covered ball back and forth. It was much like the game of tennis that had been brought to Spain by the French years earlier. In South America, the Spanish named it chaza, from the French verb chasser, which means “to throw.” Five hundred years later, the name chaza still stands, and the game is played in southern Colombia, around Nariño, and in parts of northern Ecuador.
The Chaza, also called pelota nacional, or “national ball,” is now played throughout Nariño, in the southwest of the country, bordering Ecuador and the Pacific Ocean. It is played on a rectangular area (110 meters long x 10 meters wide) between two teams of five players each. The object of the game is to hit a rubber ball weighing 60 grams so that it bounces into the opponent’s field and is not hit back, earning points.
This game can be performed by hand, with a wooden racket, called a “bombo,” or with a tablet. Styles of play vary throughout the department.