Manuel Aguilar-Moreno, “Ulama: The Mesoamerican Ballgame Still Played Today”
5:30 PM – 7:00 PM
The Mesoamerican ballgame has a history dating back 3500 years. The game was such an integral part of the society that about 2600 ballcourts have been reported in the territory extending from the American Southwest to El Salvador. The institution was complex and carried diverse meanings and functions, such as: portal to the Underworld; the setting for reenactments of cosmic battles between celestial bodies; fertility rituals; warfare ceremonies; political affirmation of kingship; setting for human sacrifices, etc. The central importance of the ballgame is attested to by the fact that is clearly portrayed in the art of the Olmec, Zapotec, Maya, Toltec, and Aztec and was an important element in a pan-Mesoamerican cosmovision. The Spanish immediately recognized that the ballgame was a great deal more significant than merely recreation, and so vigorously suppressed its playing. Interestingly, a modern form of the ancient game, known as Ulama, has survived in a small number of remote communities outside of the city of Mazatlan in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico. This paper focuses on the results of ten years of field research about the history, folklore, and the social significance and cultural context of the game.
Dr. Aguilar-Moreno, Professor of Art History in the Department of Art at Cal State, Los Angeles, conducts research in diverse areas of the Art and History of Pre-Columbian and Colonial Latin America with emphasis in Mexico, and specifically Aztec Art and ULAMA.
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