By Manuel Aguilar, PhD, Cal State University, Los Angeles, CA
The Ballgame: a place of transformation
A Place of Transformation
The ballcourt was an extremely powerful place. It was the transitional portal between the world of the gods and the world of humans. As a source of sacred power it was a place where transformations occur: Death-Life, Underworld-Middleworld, Humanity-Divinity, Drought-Fertility.
With the advent of the Spanish colonization, the ballgame lost its ritual character and almost disappeared. Certain varieties of it only survived in some areas of the states of Sinaloa where it is called Ulama, Michoacan and Guerrero where it is called Pelota Purapecha or Tarasca, and Oaxaca where it is called Pelota Mixteca.
The ballcourts as architectural forms of the landscape disappeared, but not their meaning and symbolism as portals to the Underworld. That function was retained by the Christian cemeteries of the diverse communities at present time. In this context, the cemeteries for Christianized indigenous populations of today are not places of frustration, but the environment for the contact with the ancestors and the related connections with the supernatural realm of the eternal life. Thus, the modern cemetery for the indigenous populations is a transitional place between the World, the Supernatural world (Heaven) and Underworld, that substitutes for the Pyramid-Tomb complex and the Ball Game. The cemetery is then, a modern ballcourt, the portal that divides Life and the Afterlife.