From Rainfall to Rituals: Thoughts on the Cultural Significance of Mesoamerican Ballcourts in the So
Last night, amidst the rain and thunderstorms in the southside of Phoenix, a transformation occurred. The water fell, pooling in our gardens and on the roadways, an early arrival of the monsoon season. These consecutive rainy nights in May infuse the air with heightened humidity and a refreshing coolness, painting a vivid morning landscape.
As an ardent admirer of the mornings, I have made it my routine to rise with the sun, cherishing the serene ambiance. These early hours grant me the opportunity to engage in my yoga practice, savor a cup of coffee, and relish a time when most of my neighbors remain submerged in their dreams. To preserve this sacred moment, I consciously abstain from reaching for my phone for the first hour or two after awakening. This deliberate act allows me to delve into my thoughts and explore various ideas, as I did this morning.
Stepping outside to prepare my yoga mat, I instantly felt the weight of the air, heavy with moisture. The palpable humidity intertwined with the warmth, creating a crispness that evoked reflections on the ancient peoples who once inhabited this very land, known today as the Sonoran Desert. They constructed settlements alongside desert waterways like the Salt and Gila Rivers, nurturing their distinct customs and rituals. During my tenure at Arizona State University, I had the privilege of studying and learning from the remnants they left behind.
In an era before modern nation-states erected borders and fences, the ancient peoples of North America thrived within a robust trade network. Merchants traversed vast lands and waterways, engaging in commerce and exchange with distant towns and peoples. The presence of tropical bird feathers and marine shells found in the desert enticed contemplation, suggesting ancestral connections to civilizations of the past. Lately, my focus has centered on the ballcourts of the Sonoran Desert, which exhibit striking similarities to the Mesoamerican games played by various cultures in the central Mexico valley, including the Mexica, Mixtec, and Maya.
As the damp air enveloped me, and the scent of the moist desert filled my senses, I couldn't help but ponder how the ancient inhabitants of this land celebrated days like this. Water, their most precious resource, held the power to bestow life or seal the fate of their village. We know that the ballgame played in Mexico carried ritualistic and political significance. Yet, it is conceivable that the game played in the desert also held ritualistic and social connotations.
In my mind's eye, I envision players summoned to the ballcourt on a morning such as this, to partake in festivities honoring the rains. Villagers would gather around the court, their voices intertwining in chants while offering smoke as homage, for rituals surely constituted a daily and communal endeavor. On a crisp morning like today, I imagine these people expressing gratitude to their divine spirits and ancestors, acknowledging the blessings and hope the rains bring for a prosperous future.