History and Culture: The Ritual Ballgame

Tepantitla_mural,_Ballplayer_A_(Daquella_manera)

Painting of a ballplayer from a mural in Teotihuacan, Mexico.

Yesterday was America’s biggest sports day, Super Bowl Sunday, and as a Broncos fan, it was a miserable time. But there was one good thing that happened yesterday: while skimming my Facebook news feed during the game, I found a very cool video of the Mesoamerican ritual ballgame. To the Aztecs it was known as Tlachtli, and if you look at it strictly from a popularity point of view, it was their equivalent of football. People were known to lose everything they owned betting on this game, and it was a sport enjoyed by both the poorest and richest alike. The game had great religious meaning as well; the Ritual Ballgame was the favorite sport of the gods, and the Mayan Hero Twins were famous for having taken on the gods and beaten them.

The Ritual Ballgame plays an important part at one point in The Bone Flower Throne, to determine which of two brothers will inherit the throne of Xochicalco after their father dies. The one in the video linked below is played by slightly different rules, but the basic rules was that players couldn’t touch the rubber ball with either hands or feet while it was in play, and they often wore specialized yokes and elbow and knee pads to make it easier to bounce the ball around. In BFT, the players aren’t allowed to let the ball hit the ground nor could they climb the walls of the field, whereas in the game in the video both of those are allowed.

Click here to see the video (unfortunately the owner doesn’t allow embedding)

To find out more about the Ritual Ballgame, this website is a particularly good resource.

 

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