Category: Central American Sports

Legend of the Hero Twins of Ulama Pok-ta-Pok Central American Ball Game 5th Century BC to 9th Century AD

Legend of the Twins of the Popol Vuh

The Popol Vuh, or “Book of Council” is one of the few Codices (Books) to have survived the burning of the Maya and other Native American peoples which came with the arrival of the Spanish and the Roman Catholic Church to Central America. It describes the creation myths of the Maya, and also gives an indication of the significance of the Ball Game (Ulama to Mexica (Aztecs) or Pok ta Pok to Maya) in ritual dealing with astrology and the fertility and life cycle of Maize (Corn) which was the Maya staple diet.

In the Popol Vuh, two brothers – Jun Junaipu (1 blowgun) and Wuqub’ Junaipu (7 blowgun) were playing the ball game before entering the Underworld. The Rulers of the Underworld were disturbed by the noise they made, and ordered the brothers to descend into the Underworld in order to test their skills in the ball game against the Rulers of the Underworld. The brothers were deceived, killed and Jun Junaipu’s decapitated head hung from a tree.

A girl by the name of Xkik’ (Woman of Blood) approached the tree, upon which Jun Junaipu’s head spat into the palm of her hand, causing her to become pregnant. Fearing what her father would say, one of the Rulers of the Underworld, she escaped to the Upper world where she sought out the mother of the dead brothers. Here she gave birth to twins: Junaipu (blowgun) and Xb’alanke (Young Jaguar) who found their father’s ball game equipment and started to play. They too were summoned to the Underworld to test themselves against the rulers.

Here in the Underworld the “Hero Twins” as they are usually called in the Codices and the Glyphs on carvings on Stone Temples, underwent all sorts of tests (see below). During one test Junaipu’s head was torn off by a bar. The Rulers of the Underworld thought they were going to win, but Xb’alanke replaced a pumpkin with the brothers head and Junaipu invited the Rulers of the Underworld to play with his head. Xb’alanke tricked the Rulers of the Underworld by having a rabbit jump across the ball court like a ball and while the Rulers of the Underworld were distracted he was able to bring his twin back to life. Both twins, were, however, eventually killed in the tests, and their remains scattered along the river of the Underworld.

After five days the Hero Twins returned and worked a series of great miracles, killing many creatures and bringing them back to life. The Rulers of the Underworld begged the Hero Twins to do the same to them, but after killing them, the Hero Twins did not revive the Rulers of the Underworld. The Hero Twins then ascended into ther heavens where they became the sun and the moon.

This gives an insight into the importance of the Ball Game in Religious Ritual. It was not just an athletic contest, it symbolised the movement of the heavens, with the ball representing the sun. The game was deeply imbued with the symbolism of death and sacrifice, and post-game ceremonies may depict the losing team as being sacrificed. It is also possible, despite the amount of blood depicted in the pictures, that the images of a ball player kneeling before the Rulers with the Rulers holding a knife over his shoulder and at his neck, were “Knighting” the players for having won.

Tests Hero Twins Underwent

One of the many tests the Hero Twins underwent, as in a lot of other Native American cultures, was to rid the world of monsters and anomilies. Junaipu (also pronounced Hunahpu) and Xb’alanke (also spelt Xbalanque) had to get rid of Wuqub Kaquix (7 Macaw), a formidable opponent. As the gigantic, bejewelled, bird descended onto a nantze tree to eat its favourite fruit, Junaipu shot it with his blowgun. In the ensuing struggle the bird-monster ripped off the arm of Junaipu, which was later recovered, but it was doomed as the grandfather (or grandmother) replaced its sharp teeth with soft kernels of maize and the bird died ignominiously. Two more monsters were defeated. One twin defeated the creator of Volcanoes and the other twin defeated the producer of earthquakes.

The twins now moved onto the Lords of Xibalba. Summoned like their father and uncle into the Underworld they were placed in the usual torture chambers which was the destiny of most Maya after death. They tricked the Rulers of the Underworld, even defeating them in the ball game, but were eventually killed. The Rulers of the Upper world, however, did not want them to die, and they were revived, returning to the Court of Xibalba disguised as Dancers and Mountebanks.

They killed the Rulers of the Underworld through clever strathegy, and revived their father, the Maize God, Jun Junaipu, who had earlier been killed also. The Maize God travelled through the Underworld River in a canoe, paddled by two aged deities and naked young women who restored the headgear and jewels which had earlier been taken from him. One picture shows the canoe sinking and the occupants in despair, so the journey may have been fraught with danger, however, the Maize God returned to the surface of the earth through a crack, pictured as the carapace of a turtle.

Royalty-free stock photo ID: 197886914

Mayan Ball court found in Uxmal

Maya ball court found in Uxmal. This ball court is part of the Mayan culture found all over Yucatan’s archeological sites. Uxmal is in Yucatan and it used to be a huge populated city.

L

By Leon Rafael

References

[1] Pierre H. Colas & Alexander Voss in Nikolai Grube (Ed.) () Maya: Divine Kings of the Rainforest. pg. 186-191. Konemann, Germany.

[2] Michae D. Coe, Dean Snow & Michael Brion () “Mesoamerican Ball Game” Atlas of Ancient America. pg. 108. Andromeda Books, Oxford, UK.

[3] Michael D. Coe () The Maya: Seventh Edition. Thames & Hudson. London. UK.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thanks to Richard Mulcahy & Fiona Connolly-Mulcahy and Kimmage Development Studies Centre @ The Holy Ghost College, Dublin 6W.

ABOUT THIS DOCUMENT

Researched, compiled and written by Enda Mulcahy for the

Eirball | GAA World Archive

Last Updated: 16 November 2021

(c) Copyright Enda Mulcahy and Eirball 2021

You may quote this document in part provided that proper acknowledgement is given to the authors. All Rights Reserved. The Logos and Photos used in this article remain the property of the organisations and individuals which own the copyright and are used here for educational and information purposes only.

Ulama Pok-ta-Pok Mesoamerican Ball Game Tournament 2017-Present

Results

YearWinnersState/Country
2017Yo Creek Village (Orange District, Belize)
2018Yo Creek Village Ek Balam (Black Jaguars) (Orange District, Belize)
Ulama Mesoamerican Ball Game Tournament Champions 2017-Present [Reference: 1-2]

Report

The Pok ta Pok team from Yo Creek Village in Orange Walk District in Belize won the first Tournament in the revived Ancient Mesoamerican Ball Game now known as Ulama to the Mexica (Aztecs) in Central Mexico and Pok-ta-Pok to the Maya in Chiapas, Yucatan and Quintana Roo (South East Mexico), Guatemala and Belize.

10 Mexican and one Belize team entered the Tournament which was played by the Ancient Olmec, Mayan and Aztec civilizations. The Tournament was held in Guatemala.

The following year, Ek Balam (Black Jaguars) from Yo Creek Village as they were now known, won again.

The Sport is played with the hips, with objective to knock a rubber ball weighing 4.4 pounds past the opposing team. It is known as Ulama in Mexico and Pok ta Pok in Belize.

Ulama Mayan Ball Tournament 2017
Ulama Mayan Ball Tournament 2017 [Reference: 3][Photo Credit: Ctv3 News]
Ulama - Mayan Ball Game Tournament 2017
Ulama – Mayan Ball Game Tournament 2017 [Reference: 4][Photo Credit: Amber Griscaye]

References

Websites

[1] Ctv3 News (2017) Belize Wins Ancient Mayan Ball Tournament [Internet] Available from: http://www.ctv3belizenews.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7990:belize-wins-ancient-mayan-ball-tournament- [Accessed 28 June 2019]

[2] Amber Griscaye (2017) Mexico v Belize in re-creation of the Maya Ball Game Ulama [Internet] Available from: https://ambergriscaye.com/photogallery/180521.html [Accessed 28 June 2019]

[5] News 5 (2018) Pok ta Pok, an Ancient but re-emerging Sport in Belize [Internet] Available from: https://edition.channel5belize.com/archives/174771 [Accessed 28 June 2019]

Images

[3] Ctv3 News (2017) Belize Wins Ancient Mayan Ball Tournament [Internet] Available from: http://www.ctv3belizenews.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7990:belize-wins-ancient-mayan-ball-tournament- [Accessed 28 June 2019]

[4] Amber Griscaye (2017) Mexico v Belize in re-creation of the Maya Ball Game Ulama [Internet] Available from:https://ambergriscaye.com/photogallery/art/belize-maya-team-win-ball-game.jpg [Accessed 28 June 2019]

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Richard Mulcahy & Fiona Connolly-Mulcahy and Kimmage Development Studies Centre @ The Holy Ghost College, Dublin 6W.

About this document

Researched, compiled and written by Enda Mulcahy for the

Eirball | GAA World Archive

Last Updated: 10 November 2020

(c) Copyright Enda Mulcahy and Eirball 2020

You may quote this document in part provided that proper acknowledgement is given to the authors. All Rights Reserved.

Juego de Pelota Mesoamericano Ulamaztli Championship 2017

Report

Reintroduced to Belize in 2015 by the Native Maya there, Yo Creek Village from the the Orange Walk District of Belize, won the Juego de Pelota Mesoamericano Ulamaztli Championship in Teotihuacan, the ancient capital of the Aztec Empire in April 2017. The tournament was a precursor to the Mesamerican Ball Game Competition in Guatemala in October 2017 – the Ulama World Cup basically.

About Ulama

Ulama is the ancient Ball Game of Central America – the Native Aztecs (Mexica) and Maya in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras have played it since 1400 BC. It is played by two teams using their hips to try to propel the ball past the opposing team.

Maya ball court found in Uxmal. This ball court is part of the Mayan culture found all over Yucatan’s archeological sites. Uxmal is in Yucatan and it used to be a huge populated city.
L
By Leon Rafael

References

websites

[1] Con Murphy / Live and Invest Overseas (2018) A Definitive Guide to the World’s Oldest Sport – Ulama [Internet] Available from: http://www.liveandinvestoverseas.com/infocus-belize/a-definitive-guide-to-the-worlds-oldest-sport-ulama/ [Accessed 28 June 2019]

Images

[2] Live and Invest Overseas (2018) People-playing-Ulama [Internet] Available from: https://www.liveandinvestoverseas.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/People-playing-Ulama.jpg [Accessed 30 October 2020]

[3] Live and Invest Overseas (2018) Teotihucan-Ballcourt [Internet] Available from: https://www.liveandinvestoverseas.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Teotihucan-Ballcourt.jpg [Accessed 30 October 2020]

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Kimmage Development Studies Centre @ The Holy Ghost College, Dublin 6W.

About this document

Researched, compiled and written by Enda Mulcahy for the

Eirball | Irish North American and World Sports Archive

Last Updated: 30 October 2020

(c) Copyright Enda Mulcahy and Eirball 2020

You may quote this document in part provided that proper acknowledgement is given to the authors. All Rights Reserved.