An Ancient Maya Ballgame Is Being Revived Across The Mundo Maya – And Belize Rules It!

CONGRATULATIONS BELIZE’S EK’ BALAM!

It’s with no small amount of pride and joy that we congratulate Belize’s Ek’ Balam, aka the Black Jaguars in Mayan, on bringing the Third annual Pok Ta Pok World Cup home after a gruelling regional competition held in El Salvador from 29 April to the 5th of May 2019.

We’re also happy to report that the captains of the losing sides were allowed to live.

belize maya pok-a-tok ball game players

For the uninitiated, Pok Ta Pok is an ancient Maya ball game played by two opposing teams using only their hips to pass and shoot a heavy solid rubber ball down a playing court.

Those with an interest in the ancient Maya would know about the importance of Pok Ta Pok to that highly advanced ancient civilisation, and for those readers who aren’t, here’s a quick recap:

Pok Ta Pok is one of the variations of the Mesoamerican ball game also known to the Aztecs as Tlachtli, as Pitz to the Classic Maya, and still played in parts of Mexico as Ulama. With ball courts having been dated to 1400 BC, Ulama and Pok Ta Pok are the oldest continually played team and ball sport in the world.

Illustration of the Mayan sacred ball game.

In its heyday, Pok Ta Pok is believed to have been played as far south as modern Paraguay and as far north as Arizona. And, with over 1,300 ball courts having been identified, the popularity of Mesoamerican ball games would have put the NFL to shame. Indeed, Olmec ball courts were as large as modern day football fields, albeit narrower and with sloping stone walls to better bounce heavy balls made from the sap of our local latex trees.

And while Pok Ta Pok has too long and rich of a history to do justice here, its importance to the ancient Olmecs, Aztecs, Mayas and other ancient peoples cannot be overstated. It was used to settle disputes large and small, and helped avoid costly wars between different city-states. And, in some games, the captains of the losing team were beheaded in ritual sacrifices.

Pok Ta Pok was also a massively popular recreational sport played by professionals, royalty, common folk and, it’s said, by men and women…sort of like basketball, with everything from star-studded Lakers matches to small town pickup games.

While Ulama has constantly remained popular in Sinaloa and a few other parts of Mexico, Pok Ta Pok has only more recently seen resurgence as a regional competition throughout Mexico and Central America.

So, yeah, Belize’s very impressive win was a big deal.

The ten-member Ek’ Balam team, from Yo Creek in the Orange Walk District, took on nine teams – two each from El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, and one from Panama, and came out on top.

Picture competing in nine fast-paced matches using only hips and thighs to pound a heavy solid rubber ball across a field, and you get an idea of the dedication and physical prowess needed to be Pok Ta Pok World Champions.

Here at Chaa Creek, where we’re literally surrounded by ancient Pok Ta Pok ball courts at nearby Xunantunich, Pacbitun and other well-preserved ancient Maya temple and archaeological sites, and conduct a range of Maya cultural tours and expeditions, we’re especially interested in the growth of Pok Ta Pok, and can’t wait to see even more robust competition in Belize and throughout the region.

chaa creek and belize gets a whole lotta love xunantunich mayan ruins

And with Belize now the word champions of this venerable team sport, we’re sure that other teams are practicing countrywide, keeping this very special, very ancient sport alive.

Who knows? Visitors may someday see Team Chaa Creek practicing for the Pok Ta Pok World Cup.

So – if any of our readers have suggestions for team names, our Maya staff members would be happy to help with translations into Mayan.

We’re all ears…and hips, and thighs…

and until then:

CONGRATULATIONS EK’ BALAM!

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