An ancient Mayan game called Pok ta Pok, was a ball game played to thank the gods for a bountiful harvest. A re-enactment of the game is hosted in Mérida every Friday evening at 8pm and we finally made it to one of these exhibits.
In the re-enactment there are four players on a side and the aim is to score by passing the ball through a circle about 8 feet above the ground. The players can only touch it with their hips or thighs. The ball weighing anywhere from 3 to 4 kilograms is not easy to hit with a hip or thigh and after only a few minutes of this game the players were sweating and tired. No substitutes for these players, and you played until one team scored.
Prior to starting the game, incense is burnt for purification and then a priest performs a purification ritual. The players then start in earnest. It didn't take long for the crowd to get into the game and with numerous near misses, there were lots of oohs and aahs! I really enjoyed myself and it seemed that everyone else did too. A video compilation is posted below.
If you ever visit Mérida, make sure to attend the game which is re-enacted every Friday evening at 8pm in front of the Mérida cathedral next to Plaza Grande.
When we visited the ruins in 2015, the guide showed us the arenas where these games were actually played. They were large and the walls were tapered towards the players. The goal scoring holes were about 20 feet above the ground. I added some pictures from that visit below. Rumour was that the losing team's leader would die or the entire team would be killed. Other reports said that the winners would be sacrificed.
The game is still played today and I will be looking out for a modern day version of this.
|At Uxmal ruins the actual Pok Ta Pok arena.|
|Sloped floor to the base of the arena to prevent the game from stopping.|
|The goal circle from the base of the arena.|
|The goal circle from the sloped wall of the playing area.|