MEXICO CITY – Residents of the northern Mexico City borough of Azcapotzalco – one of the city’s most impoverished areas – are now able to play the pre-Columbian ball game known as ollamaliztli, more than 500 years after its disappearance.
“It is very important because (this) is a very troublesome area and we are giving (residents) a life alternative,” said Juan, coordinator of the Xochikalli project, which has undertaken various rehabilitation programs aimed at recovering the area’s cultural roots through an assortment of workshops and activities.
The court is a replica of the ancient Pre-Columbian ball courts, complete with the traditional masonry hoops built along the two tall parallel stone walls that flank the yard – the only difference being the fact that it lies in the middle of one of Latin America’s largest slums.
Previous to each match, participants carry out an old Meso-American ritual at dusk, which includes the burning of incense, the beating of drums and the blowing of seashells.
Ollin, a cultural promoter and trainer, said that the main goal of the game is to “play ball” and have fun, scoring points when either team – each typically with four players, although the number of members may vary – gets the three-kilo (6.6-pound) hard rubber ball on the opposing squad’s side.
Getting the ball through the three-meter (9.8-feet)-tall stone hoop, however, means an automatic victory, a feat that requires “arduous training,” said Ollin.
As many as half of the 32 Mexican states have ollamaliztli teams, although getting a chance to play is complicated due to the scarcity of venues to practice the sport, which forces most players to improvise their own makeshift courts.