Sports History: Mayan Football - Pitz or Ōllamaliztli
Football, War and Death in Mesoamerica
Ōllamaliztli originated somewhere is Mesoamerica, among forests of trees that produced the rubber required for the balls used in this team sport. We know only a few details of this activity, because of artifacts found among players of the sport in historic burial grounds.
Team sports are based on the art of war and the Mayan version combines both sport and war to an extreme. This one sport, also called Pitz, is most extreme, because it ends in death for the victor during games played as part of religious rituals.
The captain of the wining team is sacrificed to the tribal gods as an honor at the end of the game.
Mayan ball was difficult, very fast paced, and bloody in the end. It appeared to have elements of soccer and basketball combined, using two rubbery balls - a large heavy soccer-type ball and a handball, which had to be propelled through a stone loop high on a stone wall of the grassy playing court.
An abbreviated version of this particular sport was produced and reserved especially for children and women, and did not require bloodshed at the end of the game. Feature of both the original sport and the less violent version are present in today's descendant ball games.
History of Football in the New World
There are legends that football as we know it began with the Vikings entering the New World for conquest: Things did not go as planned and one of the indigenous people cut the head of a Viking off. The natives started kicking it around and formed a game.
These legends may or may not be based in some fact, but it is certain that the Mayans had their own blood-sacrifice version of football a few centuries ago. Surprising to us today, the sacrifice was the leader of the winning side.
Sports are often part of a ritual connected with an indigenous religion and often contain manifestations of the characteristics of war.
The Mayan ball players wore a stone belt, shoulder pads, elbow pads, knee pads and other garments with the idea to use the stone belt and padded parts to play the game.
Elaborate wall paintings portray some players of this sport dresses in ornate gold helmets, wide gold shoulder pads, and painted animal hide hip pads.
Many of the original ball courts still stand in Mexico. The ball court is T-shaped and grass extends through the opening between two stone platforms that sit in front of one another. These platforms slope downward and there are a total of six stone macaw-headed statues divided between the platforms. The walls of the courts are tall and fashioned of stone.
In order to score, players hit the ball against a macaw head. Players lost points, if the ball hit the ground instead, because the large ball would wake up the evil gods in their spiritual underworld inside the earth.
The modern version of this sport is less violent and is called "ulama" and "Pok ta Pok." It does not require human sacrifice.
Sacrifice of the Winner
The King of the tribe would announce the winner after the game was over and the score confirmed. Hundreds and even thousands of people came out to the court to watch these games, especially to witness the bloody sacrifice of the winner at the end.
There would be some sort of small flat-topped pyramid in the center of the court and surrounding grounds and the King would step up to the top. He announced the winning team and captain. Then he climbed down and strode over to a spherical rock. The captain walked over and lay backwards over the rock.
The king picked up an shaped obsidian stick and slit the captain's throat. The king let the blood drain, finally cutting the captain's head completely off. The blood was offered in a special sacrifice bowl to a statue of the god of choice.
© 2008 Patty Inglish MS