dusk near Cuernavaca

dusk near Cuernavaca

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Mayan Ball Game

The civilizations of pre-Hispanic Mexico, going back some three thousand years, all played a type of ball game.  The Mayan version of this game was known as "pok-a-tok", and every Mayan city had a ball court.  We do not know all the details of the game, but it was apparently played with a solid rubber ball that weighed around six pounds.  Because of the weight of the ball and its force as it was in play, the players wore padded protective gear.  The players were not allowed to use their hands or feet, and kept the ball in play using their hips and perhaps also shoulders, head, arms, etc.  Many of the ball courts featured stone rings at the sides of the court.  To successfully hurl the ball through the hoop might have been an immediate victory.

The game may have been played simply as sport, but on certain occasions it was certainly played as a form of religious ceremony that ended in human sacrifice.  Archaeologists do not agree on who was sacrificed... the losing team?... the winning team? (if sacrifice was viewed as an honor)... or perhaps just the losing captain?... or the winning captain?  

The ball court at Uxmal

The stone ring at the ball court of Uxmal

The city of Mérida has a number of free events that take place on various plazas during the course of the week.  The latest addition to the calendar of events is a recreation of "pok-a-tok", played each Friday evening on the street in front of the cathedral.

I doubt very much that they are playing with the heavy, solid rubber ball that the Mayas originally used, and the players do not wear the protective padding that used to be worn.  It is, however, a rather rough and tumble game, with the players diving to the pavement in order to bounce the ball off their hips.  A ring hangs over the street, and a number of times the players managed to put the ball through the ring.

The performance ends with a variation of the game with a flaming wooden ball.  The players use their bare hands to throw the fiery ball.  Ouch!

I am very suspicious of the historical accuracy of this portion of the game.  I have never read anything about the Mayas playing with a ball in flames.  But it does make for a crowd pleasing finale to the event. 

1 comment:

  1. I suspect there was a lot more game playing than just the ball court game. Chacmultun south of Oxkutzcab has what looks like a fifty acre ball field, Dzibanche down by Bacalar has one that spans a thousand acres but is set up similar to Chacmultun, only bigger. So many of the ruins have what looks for all the world like modern stadium seating, seats with enough room for people to come and go. I've been to a number of ruins that looked like they featured fighting pits. Edzna has a sloped, four sided thing with an area on top where two people could fight, sitting right in front of seating for several thousand.

    Sport was a big thing for our local tribes here in Ohio, I doubt the Maya were any different.