Pok ta Pok; The Mayan Ball Game
Athletes or Worshipers?
The Popol Vuh, the holy book of the Quiché Maya, relates a confrontation story between good and evil, represented with a ballgame. This Mesoamerican ballgame played a mysterious and very important role throughout pre-Hispanic civilizations, with a symbolic struggle between opposing forces, featuring an outcome governed by supernatural powers in conjunction with human skills and honor.
The Mesoamerican ball game was considered a sport but mainly a ritual associated to worship, and it was played for over 3000 years by the pre-Columbian civilizations of Mesoamerica .
There have been Pre-Columbian ball courts found throughout Mesoamerica. They vary considerably in size, but all have long narrow alleys with side-walls that sloped inward against, where the balls could bounce and hanging high on the walls there were stone rings. The largest ball court found so far measures 459 feet by 114 feet.
It is not certainly known how this Maya ball game was played but according to the most widespread version of it, the goal of the game was to pass the ball through one of the rings without touching it, the players needed to strike the ball with their hips. They used a solid rubber ball about 20 inches in diameter and weighed up to 4 kg (9 lbs) or more. It was extremely difficult to get the ball through a ring. In fact, when a player could achieve it, it was then the end of the game. The game ended otherwise when the ball touched the ground.
The sport was some times played for recreational purpose but major formal ball games were held as ritual events, often featuring human sacrifice.
The Mayan ball game was such a solemn experience with ritual importance where religious leaders, chieftains and other government leaders attended. Sacred songs and dances were performed as well as other religious activities.
Some theories say that the winners of the game were treated as heroes and given a great feast while the penalty for losing a game was death. The leader of the team who lost the game was harshly sacrificed.
According to Mayan beliefs, human sacrifice was necessary for obtaining continued success in agriculture, trade and general health.