The Mesoamerican Ball Game: A Deadly Sport
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My presentation is part of the research event “Bridging Cultures in Latin America: Maya and Colonial Heritage in Guatemala and Belize.” This work was conducted during the 2017 Maymester study abroad program in Central America with faculty from UT Austin’s Mesoamerica Center and UT research center Casa Herrera, located in Antigua, Guatemala. While abroad I spent my time analyzing how the sport of the Maya ballgame was differentiated through different areas of Mesoamerica. The structure of the game itself varied by time period and the location of the court. The game is significant because it represents a public display of power. Maya ballgame was often used as a political move in order to establish a hierarchy between individuals of a similar region. It is a common misconception that the loser of the game would be sacrificed. However, there is no evidence that sacrifices were the result of ball games. The game itself is played with a large rubber ball. The players must get the ball up high into the ring by only using their hips, elbows and knees. The ball was quite heavy causing a great deal of pain to the players. This is why the game symbolizes the relationship between life and death. The ball courts themselves symbolize the entrance to the underworld. Maya culture has a meticulous fascination with rituals and deities. Ball courts represent an entrance to the underworld. The game is seen as a battle between the underworld and the living. A common post-classic design of a ball court was a capital “I” shape. The court was sunken into the ground. The court was built this way in order to metaphorically represent the underworld when it rained and filled with water. When the courts were fill of water there was an understanding of the presence of the Hero Twins. The Hero Twins were descendants of great ball players. The Hero Twins themselves also became great ball players. However, the often angered the Lords of the underworld because of their rambunctious attitudes. The Lords were threatened by their great ball playing skills and their confidence that came along with it. They called out for the Hero Twins and challenged them to a game. Beforehand, they put the twins through a series of tests because the ultimate goal of the Lords was to sacrifice them. The Hero Twins are very smart and they often were able to outwit the Lords. The story of the Hero Twins is significant because Maya rulers claimed they were descendants of the twins. There are a lot of misconceptions about Maya ball game. The basics of the game are universal. Depending on the location as well as the time period the specific rules of the game are varied. It is relevant that some sites placed a larger significance on the game than others. However, there was a universal understanding that the winners were those of great power and authority.