Ancient Mayan Ball Game


The Mayan Ball Game was a solemn experience, filled with ritual importance. Religious leaders attended, as did most chieftains and other government leaders. Sacred songs were sung and played. Other religious activities took place as well.

Courts for Playing Games

The court was made up of several components. The Playing Field, the Northern and Southern temples, the Upper Temple of the Jaguarand the Lower Temple of the Jaguar visible from the outside of the court. Courts had a large playing area. There was a stone hoop mounted in the wall at one end.

All courts are rectangular, with an angled bench that runs the longest length of the court. A vertical wall is positioned behind these benches and the court's two goals are positioned out of this vertical wall, half way up the longest sides, and at varying heights.

Ball Game Precautions

Ballplayers wore protective equipment during the game to prevent bodily damage by the hard rubber ball that sometimes weighed up to 20 lbs. To protect ribs and the torso players would wear a yoke of leather or wood around their waists. It appears that balls were to be kept in motion and were hit using hips, for which reason they were protected.

The players scored by touching the markers or passing the ball-which was 50 centimeters in diameter and weighed more than two pounds-through the rings. The markers or rings were several yards above the ground, and the players could only touch the ball with their elbows, knees or hips.

The Maya central city area was built for religous reasons. Almost every Mayan city had a ballcourt to play the ball game Pok-A-Tok. Pok-A-Tok games were often played as parts of religous ceremonies.

Mythic Underworld Contest

The ancient Maya are believed to re-enact, through the ball game, the mythic Underworld contest between the gods of life or fertility and the gods of death. This may have been an agriculture-related ritual or an apotheosis of the military conquest.

The players re-enacted the Mayan Creation Myth. The Hero Twins defeated the gods of the underworld in the ball game and returned to life after being sacrificed. The Olmecs are believed to be the inventors of the game. It is believed they invented it over 3,000 years ago. They were the first to use rubber, which is how the Olmecs got their name.

While the game was played casually for simple recreation, including by children and women, the game also had important ritual aspects, and major formal ballgames would be held as ritual events. A wooden bat may also have been used. Legends say that the winning captain would present his head to the losing capitan, who then decapitates him. While this may seem a strange reward, the Mayans believed this to be the ultimate honour.

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