|As you begin to settle into your new beach front lot here on the Yucatan Peninsula you are entering a land that is rich with history and culture. This place was once the home of the Ancient Maya, one of the classical civilizations of Mesoamerica. Originating in the Yucatán Peninsula around 2600 B.C., the Maya rose to prominence around A.D. 250, inhabiting the eastern part of Mexico.
There was a distinct class system in ancient Maya times which was deeply divided. At the top of the social ladder was the ruler, thought to be a direct descendant of the gods. Priests were an important part of Mayan society, followed by kings and rulers in terms of importance. The lower class consisted of the farmers and workers who made up most of the civilian population. Between the ruling class and the farmer/laborer, there was an educated nobility who were scribes, artists and architects. Everything in Mayan life was dominated by religion and the gods. The exact number of Mayan deities is unknown, but there were gods to explain many of the forces in nature, the movement of the sun and moon, the harvest and defeat of enemies. The chief god Itzamna had many manifestations and controlled many aspects of the environment while his wife, Ixchel, was the goddess of fertility, childbirth and weaving.
Even the main source of entertainment for the ancient Mayans, the Ballgame (Pok ta Pok), was governed by the gods. The Ballgame was not just an exciting and dangerous sporting competition, it was a complex ritual based on religious beliefs. The Ballgame consisted of two teams maneuvering a ball with only the use of their feet and hips in an ‘I’ shaped court. The ball was of a crudely processed rubber made from the sap of a rubber tree.
|Most balls were hollow, but some used a human skull for the center. To score, one team had to get the ball through the opponent’s hoop which was suspended on either side of the court. The outcome of this game affected the lives of everyone playing and watching. The game was used to make important legislative decisions, settle disputes and even decide the victor of a war with another village or tribe. What happened as a result of the ballgame is still in question. Findings tell of how the captain of the winning team would offer his own head for sacrifice (thought to be an honor) while other theories hold that it was the captain of the losing team that was sacrificed. To ancient Mesoamericans, life was an everyday struggle between good and evil.
They believed that the only way to keep the sun shining, crops growing and people healthy was to sacrifice a valuable human being – a ballplayer.Even today, descendents of the Mayans living on the Yucatan Peninsula still follow some of their ancient religious practices. While stopped at a restaurant I was intrigued to find that the waitress had returned from the state capital Chetumal where she visited with a Mayan Shaman priest. She told us how he had exorcised a snake which had been put in her throat, making it sore and preventing her from working. Apparently, the snake was thought to be the result of a spell… possibly put upon her from the competing restaurant down the street? The snake had been exorcised but the sore throat remained…