The Ball Game—a Game of Life or Death in the Mayan Riviera

The Ball Game—a Game of Life or Death in the Mayan Riviera

Last Updated on June 22, 2020 by Iris Sinilong

It was my week-long honeymoon, and my husband and I decided to take a couple of day trips while we were there – you know, venture out into the jungles of the Mayan Riviera. And so we settled on a trip to see the jungles, the ruins, and the small village of Coba.

While hiking through the jungle toward the great ruins, we came upon a large courtyard made of stone. Along each side were hoops, or rings. Our tour guide (sidebar: she was 6-months pregnant, from Norway & somehow managed to trek through the jungles without breaking a sweat!) shared the story of the Ball Game, which was a Mayan ritual.

The game resembled sports we know today in several ways:

  1. Like soccer, the players weren’t allowed to use their hands
  2. Like basketball, the goal was to get the ball through the hoop
  3. Players worked as a team to win the game

Religious leaders, chieftains and government leaders would gather in watch, taking part in religious activities and singing sacred songs. They used a rubber ball, about the size of a basketball, and the large stone walls sloped inward with stone rings high up at the top. Because the players couldn’t use their hands, it was near impossible to make the shots. Usually, the first team to get the ball through the hoop would win.

The heroic winners of each game were rewarded with a great feast, while the leader of the losing team was often beheaded. Seems like a steep punishment, doesn’t it!? But the reason for such a harsh consequence for losing was based on the belief that human sacrifice would ensure the future success of the Mayan people’s health, wealth and agriculture.

I sure did learn a lot on that vacation. If you want to learn more about a trip to Mexico, talk to a agent who’s actually been to the Mayan Riviera.

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