Mayan Ball Game

In mayan Mesoamerica cities, ball games have been considered rituals that served to help resolve any kind of conflict. It is estimated that they existed 3,500 years before Christ, and they can be considered to have been the beginnings of football history.

Of the different games that have existed during this period I will talk about “Pok Ta Pok” which is the best known Mayan game, its name representing the sound made when hitting the ball.

Pok ta pok, better known as the sacred game of the Maya, is estimated to have been around 1800 years before Christ, and was considered a ritual. The Maya saw this game as an activity that represented the struggle between the gods (the sun and moon) and also the movement of the stars. It tells the story that the game began to resolve a conflict between the brothers Hunahpú and Ixbalanqué who, at the end of the tournament, were sacrificed to become the gods of the sun and moon. This game was held on the courts of the Mayan cities.

It should be clarified that the balls were made of rubber from a tree called rubber. To make a ball like this required several months and the result was a very hard medium-sized ball that could weigh up to 4 kilos.

Moretones en la cadera y una hacienda en Hidalgo: el juego de pelota revive  en México | Blog La serpiente emplumada | EL PAÍS

The game began when the sound of a snail (a pre-Hispanic instrument) was heard, and seven players participated in two teams – the team of light (the sun) and the team of darkness (the moon). The team of darkness were the ones who hit the ball. Some historians say that, depending on the agreement, the players only used one part of their body, either  their elbows, hips, or knees (although that is not verifiable). Today to represent the game those three parts of the body are used (elbows, hips and knees). The ball had to be in constant motion making plays that the opposing team could not solve. A point was earned if the ball managed to touch a stone ring, and the game ended when a player managed to shoot the ball inside the stone hoop that was placed at eight meters high.

Juego de pelota de Chichén Itzá | artehistoria.com

The belief was that the winner was protected by the gods at the end of the game, but there was also a sacrifice. Today it is not known exactly who the sacrificed person was and some historians say that the sacrificed was the loser of the game as punishment, but others say that the sacrificed one was the winner, as a symbol of pride to give the gods to the best player.

Historians who believe this last theory estimate that the Maya spent their whole lives practicing this game, because for them it was a symbol of pride that everyone would remember their death for being the best player.

Nowadays you can find people who continue to practice this game by having tournaments, with the aim that you do not forget the culture but integrate it in new generations. This is impressive because they try to represent it accurately, from the type of locker rooms to using the ball with the exact characteristics (although the latter does leave safe bruises on the players). It is considered a high performance sport, for the exercise and effort that this sport requires. However it can also be a bit dangerous if it is not played accurately, if the ball is hit in parts that do not correspond with the rules they can cause larger than expected injuries.

In Mexico there are also representations of this game, and I will leave one of these representations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPDck1XbIAI 

Rocio

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