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‘Mayan ball game’ returns a new to Mérida’s Plaza Grande

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Participants taking part in the reenactment wear loincloths, headdresses, conch jewelry, body paints, and little else. Photo: Courtesy

Reenactments of the Mayan Pok Ta Pok ceremony returned Wednesday to Mérida’s Plaza Grande.

The ancient ceremony, also known as the Mayan or Mesoamerican ball game, is performed weekly in front of Mérida’s Cathedral, after being suspended for over a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The show is held Wednesdays at 8 p.m. Entrance is free but assigned seating is limited. 

The Mesoamerican ball game dates to at least 1400 BC and was ritually played by many peoples including the Olmec, Mixtec, and of course, the Maya. Photo: Courtesy  

During the “game” players struck the ball with their hips through an elevated stone hoop. However, some versions allowed the use of forearms, rackets, or bats. The ball was made of solid rubber and weighed as much as 4 kilograms or 9 pounds.

Earlier: Caracol, Belize’s ancient jungle metropolis, is worth the effort

The ceremony is widely believed to be metaphorical for the constant battle between the forces of good and evil —  life and death. 

From time to time ritual sacrifice was a component of the ceremony, with war captives being the most common victims. But you won’t see any of that in Mérida. 

Mesoamerican ball courts have been found as far north as Arizona and as far south as Nicaragua. 

These ball courts vary greatly in size, with the largest by far found at the world-famous archaeological site of Chichén Itzá

Over the past few decades, the Pok Ta Pok has become a popular tourist spectacle, but the ceremony is still practiced by a handful of communities in Mexico, including the Ulama of Sinaloa. 

In Yucatán, there have been a handful of attempts to revitalize the ancient ceremony by holding tournaments with teams from multiple communities. 

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