The Mayan Game of Death

THE CAP­TAIN OF THE TEAM HAD THE HONOR OF BE­ING DECAPITADE­D

Excelencias from the Caribbean & the Americas - - Sumario - BY LEYANIS IN­FANTE PHO­TOS EX­CE­LEN­CIAS AR­CHIVE

The Popol Vul, the sa­cred book of the Maya Civ­i­liza­tion, tells that two twin broth­ers (Hu­nahpú and Xbal­an­qué) had to face the gods of the un­der­world (Xibalba) to avenge their fa­ther and un­cle, whom the ter­ri­ble deities had killed. They de­scended to the depths of the earth and there they set­tled their des­tiny in a sin­gu­lar

El Pok ta Pok devino mo­tivo de culto para los mayas

bat­tle. Although their lives de­pended on it, the com­bat would not be waged with tra­di­tional weapons, but through a ball game in which the op­po­nents had to hit a sphere with hips and arms un­til they could score it through a ring em­bed­ded at a cer­tain height in a wall.

The mil­lenary leg­end tells that the broth­ers won, but still they were sac­ri­ficed to be­come the Sun and the Moon.

The Pok ta Pok, as this game is named in Mayan lan­guage - in ref­er­ence to the sound of the ball bounc­ing against the floor and walls - be­came a cause for wor­ship for this Mex­i­can-amer­i­can civ­i­liza­tion that made it a para­ble of the myth of the cre­ation, of the con­fronta­tion be­tween the op­pos­ing forces of good and evil in the uni­verse, and on which it stamped all the cos­mo­log­i­cal sense that al­ways char­ac­ter­ized it.

Its prac­tice has been as­so­ci­ated with corn har­vest­ing and con­flict res­o­lu­tion with­out re­sort­ing to vi­o­lence. Each Mayan city dis­cov­ered today has one or more ball fields.

Over three thou­sand years later, the Repub­lic of Gu­atemala, con­sid­ered the heart of the Mayan world for mys­ti­cism and the unique tra­di­tions that its peo­ple keep of their an­ces­tors, and for hav­ing in their ter­ri­tory the most im­pres­sive ru­ins of this pre-columbian civ­i­liza­tion, strives in keep­ing alive the prac­tice of what is listed as the old­est team game in the world.

The Min­istry of Cul­ture and Sports of Gu­atemala, to­gether with its diplo­matic head­quar­ters in Cuba, has been the pro­moter to bring about the pre­sen­ta­tion for the first time in the Greater An­tilles of this an­cient sport, de­clared by UNESCO In­tan­gi­ble Cul­tural Her­itage of the Na­tion.

In honor of the celebratio­ns for the half mil­len­nium of the town of San Cristóbal de La Ha­bana, the head­quar­ters of the Danza Teatro Ob­stáculo group, in the Old

Dis­trict of the city, hosted this ex­change of cul­tures, which was at­tended by Mr. Jairo David Estrada Bar­rios, Vice Chan­cel­lor of Gu­atemala and his Cuban coun­ter­part, Ro­ge­lio Sierra Díaz.

The Havana pub­lic had a unique op­por­tu­nity to en­joy the rit­ual cer­e­mony and com­pe­ti­tion, staged by four play­ers, char­ac­ter­ized by typ­i­cal at­tire and makeup, in which although they no longer asked for their lives to be spared or for a thriv­ing crop of corn, they did pray in tongue Maya for a game with­out ac­ci­dents and in har­mony.

Cuba is the ninth coun­try in the world that en­joys the ex­clu­sive priv­i­lege of wit­ness­ing the an­cient and com­plex Pok ta Pok, a mix­ture of mod­ern basketball and soc­cer, rep­re­sented by the de­scen­dants of one of the most at­trac­tive and mys­te­ri­ous cul­tures in the world.

Pok­tapok was wor­shipped by the Mayans

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