Entertainment

This Aztec Ball Game Is Intense And Painful But It’s Reaching A New Level Of Popularity Among Mexicans

Mexico has a complex relationship with its indigenous past and present. On one hand, there is an enormous sense of pride in the magnificence of civilizations such as the Aztecs, the Mayans and the Olmecs. Mexican love visiting ruins and proudly boasting about the technological and scientific advancements of these cultures. Additionally, they see the Spanish conquest as the watershed moment in history when it all went wrong. 

On the other hand, urban Mexico remains a society in which the indigenous is looked down upon. The media and marketing campaigns perpetuate ideas of white superiority, and whenever an Indigenous Mexican has mainstream success, there is some racist backlash. This was the case, for example, of Oscar-nominee Yalitza Aparicio. That is why the recent return of the traditional Indigenous ballgame known as ulama is a welcome addition to mainstream culture. 

After five centuries, people are starting to play Aztec ballgame.

Credit: “El juego de pelota regresa a Ciudad de México”. YouTube. Agence France Presse

After the Spanish conquistadores totally trashed years of human development in the Americas, many traditions died or lay dormant for centuries. Such is the case of the different varieties of ballgame practiced throughout what is now modern Mexico and Central America. The Mayans, the Aztecs and even the Incas (all the way down in South America!) played different variations of the game. A cultural center in the traditional municipality of Azcapotzalco in Mexico City is bringing the game back! 

The people involved are trying to reconnect with the country’s indigenous roots.

Credit: “El juego de pelota regresa a Ciudad de México”. YouTube. Agence France Presse

Emmanuel Kakalotl coaches players at the cultural center in Atzcapotzalco, where the ulama court was built. He told AFP: “The game had been forgotten. It was toppled 500 years ago, but now we’re raising it up again”. Azcapotzalco was the political center of the Tepanec dominion, which was conquered by the Aztecs. There are deep roots of indigenous tradition in this site. 

The game could provide a source of identity and pride to contemporary mestizo Mexico City dwellers.

Credit: “El juego de pelota regresa a Ciudad de México”. YouTube. Agence France Presse

Most Mexicans are a genetic mix of Native American and European heritage, and identify as mestizo. Mexico City inhabitants are largely mestizo and are deep in touch with their European background as Mexican cuisine, institutions and obviously Spanish language are an echo of the Old World. However, indigenous heritage is more hard to come by and the opportunities to celebrate it are few and sparse.

The game comes complete with rituals (no human sacrifice in the contemporary version, of course!)

Credit: “El juego de pelota regresa a Ciudad de México”. YouTube. Agence France Presse

Players in Azcapotzalco follow classic rituals. This is not just like any sport, it establishes a connection with the soil on which it takes place. 

Seashells and incense, the pre-game ceremony is much more solemn than a pregame show.

Credit: “El juego de pelota regresa a Ciudad de México”. YouTube. Agence France Presse

Players perform a ritual in which seashells are blown and incense is burnt. Before the court was built the place was a dumping ground. The court and the traditional game are now triggers for community building. 

Juego de pelota, also known by indigenous names such as ulama, was practiced all throughout Pre-Hispanic Mexico.

Credit: Instagram. @chicomoztoc_7_cuevas

Ancient artifacts such as this one are evidence of the vast reaches of the game. The Mayans played it for all sorts of reasons including fertility rituals and wars. And yes, there was sometimes human sacrifice involved. Researchers argue that sometimes the winners were killed because it was the ultimate honor, but sometimes it was the losers who faced their destiny. In an interview with AFP Belgian researcher Annick Daneels, who teaches at the UNAM, Mexico’s largest university, explains how the game disappeared after the conquest: “When the Spanish arrived, because of the political and religious aspects of the ballgame, it was probably one of the first things they banned”. 

Can you imagine using your hips to propel a hard rubber ball AND put it through that hole? Damn hard we say!  

Credit: Instagram. @yliesse14

The game is very very hard. The ball is made out of rubber, so it is hard and sturdy. It weights four kilos, so putting it through that small hole, which has less extra room than a basketball hoop, is extremely hard. For players, the game also involves changes in their daily habits.  Lia Membrillo, coordinator at the cultural center, which is operated by the city government, told AFP: “There are some basic fundamentals in the indigenous worldview: the unity of our physical, intellectual, emotional and energetic beings. A lot of times, when people lose their way, it’s because they don’t have that unity. We help find it again”. Like many community initiatives, resurrecting the game has the ultimate goal of keeping kids and teens off the streets and away from drug and alcohol addiction. 

Contemporary Mexico is now obsessed with this indigenous sport.

Credit: Instagram. @thinkmexican

Popular culture seems to be obsessed with this game, and it wouldn’t surprise us if a league opened soon. Even the highly popular Netflix show Club the Cuervos dedicated a few episodes of its last season to theorizing what a modern league of juego de pelota would look like! 

And of course touristy places use it to lure gringos!

Credit: Instagram. @josueissac

Touristy places such as the Xcaret park in the Yucatan Peninsula stage their version of the game! You can watch it here.

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These Are The Top 11 Gods And Goddesses Of The Aztec Empire That You Should Know About

Culture

These Are The Top 11 Gods And Goddesses Of The Aztec Empire That You Should Know About

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Mexico’s Aztec community, whom the Spanish conquistadors met in Mexico during the 16th Century, believed in a complex and diverse realm of gods and goddesses. Many experts have identified at least 200 different gods/goddesses, divided into three groups: the heaven or the sky; the rain, fertility and agriculture; and, finally, war and sacrifice.

It was in 1325 that the Aztec people moved from their legendary one of Aztalan to an island in Lake Texcoco – where present-day Mexico City stands. Legend has it that the Aztecas saw an eagle holding a rattlesnake in its talons, perched on a cactus. Believing this vision was a prophesy sent by the god Huitzilopochtli, they decided to build their new home on that exact site. And so the city of Tenochtitlán was founded.

To this day, this story of their great migration from their legendary home of Aztalan is pictured on the coat of arms of Mexico. It is clear, then, that mythology and religion played a key role in Aztec culture. So we’ve rounded up eleven of the most important gods and goddesses that you should know about.

1.) Huitzilopochtli – Father Of The Aztecs

Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Huitzilopochtli (pronounced Weetz-ee-loh-POSHT-lee) was the patron god of the Aztecs. During the great migration from their legendary home of Aztalan, Huitzilopochtli told the Aztecs where they should establish their capital city of Tenochtitlan and urged them on their way. His name means “Hummingbird of the Left” and he was the patron of war and sacrifice. His shrine, on top of the pyramid of the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan, was decorated with skulls and painted red to represent blood.

2.) Quetzalcoatl – God of Light and Wind

Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Counted among the most important of Aztec gods (and Mesoamerican divine entities), Quetzalcoatl, regarded as the son of the primordial god Ometecuhtli, was venerated as the creator of mankind and earth.

Also known as Kukulkán to the Maya and Gucumatz to the Quiché (of Guatemala), etymologically, the very name ‘Quetzalcoatl’ comes from the combination of the Nahuatl words for the quetzal – the emerald plumed bird, and coatl or serpent. As for his aspects, often considered as the Aztec god of wind and rain, Quetzalcoatl also espoused a variety of avenues like science, agriculture, crafts, and even merchants. 

3.) Tlaloc – God of Rain and Storms

Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Tlaloc (pronounced Tláh-lock), the rain god, is one of the most ancient deities in all Mesoamerica. Associated with fertility and agriculture, his origins can be traced back to Teotihuacan, the Olmec and the Maya civilizations.

Tlaloc’s main shrine was the second shrine after Huitzilopochtli’s, located on top of the Templo Mayor, the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan. His shrine was decorated with blue bands representing rain and water. The Aztec believed that the cries and tears of newborn children were sacred to the god, and, therefore, many ceremonies for Tlaloc involved the sacrifice of children.

4.) Tezcatlipoca – God of The Night

Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Tezcatlipoca (pronounced Tez-cah-tlee-poh-ka)’s name means “Smoking Mirror” and he is often represented as an evil power, associated with death and cold. Tezcatlipoca was the patron of the night, of the north, and in many aspects represented the opposite of his brother, Quetzalcoatl. His image has black stripes on his face and he carries an obsidian mirror.

The Aztec god was also associated with a range of various concepts, including north, hurricanes, war, rulership, eternal youth, divination, sorcery, and jaguars.

5.) Xipe Totec – God of Fertility and Sacrifice

Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

A deity of agricultural renewal, vegetation, seasons, goldsmiths, and liberation, Xipe Totec was counted among one of the major Aztec gods and goddesses. And while his related concepts and powers seem fairly innocuous, the worship (and its mode) of Xipe Totec was anything but. This is somewhat discerned from his ominous name roughly meaning – ‘our lord with the flayed skin’.

The Nahuatl moniker comes from the mythical narrative where the Aztec god flayed his own skin to feed humanity, thus symbolizing how maize sheds its outer skin cover before germination (‘rebirth’).

6.) Coatlicue – The Mother Of Gods

Credit: Museo Nacional de Antropología / UNAM

Venerated as the “mother of gods and mortals”, Coatlicue was the feminine god who gave birth to the stars and moon. Her face was made up of two fanged serpents, her skirt of interwoven snakes and she wore a necklace of hands, hearts and a skull.

Coatlicue was as feared as she was beloved, symbolising the antiquity of earth worship and of childbirth. She was also associated with warfare, governance and agriculture.

7.) Tonatiuh – God of The Sun

Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Tonatiuh (pronounced Toh-nah-tee-uh) was the Aztec sun god. He was a nourishing god who provided warmth and fertility to the people. In order to do so, he needed sacrificial blood. Tonatiuh was also the patron of warriors. In Aztec mythology, Tonatiuh governed the era under which the Aztec believed to live, the era of the Fifth Sun; and it is Tonatiuh’s face in the center of the Aztec sun stone.

8.) Centeotl – God of Maize

Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Centeotl (pronounced Cen-teh-otl) was the god of maize, and as such he was based on a pan-Mesoamerican god shared by Olmec and Maya religions. His name means “Maize cob Lord”. He was closely related to Tlaloc and is usually represented as a young man with a maize cob sprouting from his headdress.

9.) Chalchiuhtlicue – Goddess of Running Water

Credit: @KaneLadit / Twitter

The wife (or sometimes sister) of Tlaloc, Chalchiuhtlicue was the goddess of running water and all aquatic elements. Like other water deities, Chalchiuhtlicue was often associated with serpents. She was mostly depicted wearing a green or blue skirt from which flows a stream of water.

Chalchiuhtlicue was also the patroness of childbirth and a protector of newborn babies.

10.) Mayahuel – Goddess of The Maguey

Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Mayahuel (pronounced My-ya-whale) is the Aztec goddess of the maguey plant, the sweet sap of which (aguamiel) was considered her blood. Mayahuel is also known as “the woman of the 400 breasts” to feed her children, the Centzon Totochtin or “400 rabbits”.

11.) Mictlantecuhtli – God of The Underworld

Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Among the major Aztec gods and goddesses, Mictlantecuhtli was the deity of death and the underworld and was usually associated with creatures like owls, spiders, and bats (along with the direction of the south).

In the mythical narrative, Mictlantecuhtli played his role in delaying the Feathered Serpent from gathering the bones of humans in his underworld realm Mictlán. And it was only after Quetzalcoatl tricked him that humanity was ‘revived’ from bones and blood of the gods.

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Coronavirus Sparks History Lesson In Mexico As Citizens Learn About Cocoliztli

Things That Matter

Coronavirus Sparks History Lesson In Mexico As Citizens Learn About Cocoliztli

latinamericanstudies.org

Mexico is struggling to combat the effects of the global Coronavirus pandemic. So far, the country has almost 25,000 confirmed cases and nearly 3,000 deaths, with the worst still expected to come. With the country confronting one pandemic, it’s been forced to look back into history at another pandemic of epic proportions some 500 years ago.

We all know that the arrival of the Spaniards to the Americas brought disease and famine that left millions of Native Americans dead. However, one epidemic in particular has always mystified both modern-day scientists and Indigenous cultures that survive to this day.

During the 16th century, Mexico suffered a demographic catastrophe with few parallels in world’s history. In 1519, the year of the arrival of the Spaniards, the population in Mexico was estimated to be between 15 and 30 million inhabitants. Eighty-one years later, in 1600, only two million remained.

Cocolitzli was a massive epidemic that killed millions of Indigenous Mexicans – particularly the Azteca – shortly after the arrival of the Spanish.

From 1545 to 1550, Aztecs in what is today southern Mexico experienced a deadly outbreak. Anywhere from five to 15 million people died. Locally, it was known as cocoliztli, but the exact cause or causes has been a mystery for the past 500 years.

Based on the death toll, this outbreak is often referred to as the worst disease epidemic in the history of Mexico. Subsequent outbreaks continued to baffle both Spanish and native doctors, with little consensus among modern researchers on the cause.

It’s long been accepted that Europeans brought with them smallpox and other contagious diseases that wiped out Native populations. In fact, before the cocolitzli outbreak, smallpox killed an estimated eight million Indigenous Mexicans in just over a year.

What did this cocolitzli outbreak look like across the country?

The outbreak started in 1545 when disaster struck the Aztec nation. The disease had a very short course, lasting three to five days. It started abruptly with high fever, vertigo, severe headache, insatiable thirst, red eyes and weak pulse. Patients became intensely jaundiced, very anxious, and restless. Subsequently, hard painful nodules appeared behind one or both ears, sometimes so large that they occupied the entire neck and half of the face. 

Within five years as many as 15 million people – an estimated 80% of the population – were wiped out in an epidemic the locals named “cocoliztli”. The word means pestilence in the Aztec Nahuatl language. Its cause, however, has been questioned for nearly 500 years.

Scientists have tried to identify the cause of the epidemic and it turns out it might have been from a common type of bacteria.

Credit: Christina Warriner / YUCUNDAA ARCHAEOLOGICAL PROJECT

According to study author Åshild Vågene from the Max Planck Institute, the strain is a bacterial infection that causes a type of enteric fever nearly identical to typhoid. While that specific strain of salmonella is much rarer today, Vågene says it would have spread similarly. Any food or water contaminated with the strain would have turned deadly once ingested.

Salmonella enterica—subset Paratyphi C to be exact—was present in the DNA of ten different individuals buried at the only known burial site, Teposcolula-Yucundaa, associated with cocoliztli.

Historians and archaeologists have long suspected that a blood-borne illness was responsible for cocoliztliDepictions by both Spanish and indigenous artists show the infected with nose bleeds and coughing up blood.

“This is one of the diseases that doesn’t leave any visible clues on the skeleton,” Vågene told National Geographic, adding that very few diseases do.

The epidemic has many worried about Covid-19’s effects on today’s Indigenous communities.

It’s difficult to say why the cocoliztli was so deadly for the Indigenous community, but they may also have been suffering from malnourishment as a result of a great drought that afflicted the region at the time.

If the bug wasn’t present in the Americas before European arrival, the locals may have lacked a strong natural immune response to the disease and made them more susceptible. Whatever the pathogen, it swept through the region like a storm. At the time, historian Fray Juan de Torquemada wrote, “In the year 1576, a great mortality and pestilence that lasted for more than a year overcame the Indians … the place we know as New Spain was left almost empty.”

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