Happy Tuesday, Morton Belizers:
Today, we traveled to Dangriga, Belize. On the way, we stopped by the Belize Zoo and saw many of the native animals that I discussed in yesterdays message. My favorite were the big cats! I am attaching a picture of Junior Buddy, a six-year old Jaguar who was born at the zoo, and was absolutely beautiful. We were actually able to get into a smaller cage within his cage to get close enough to him and feel his fur. I have a video of him licking my head last year, so I will have to dig it out to share with you.
Excellent questions today, everyone. I have so much more that I could have talked about with each of these, and I look forward to talking with you in person to discuss more about them. For now, here is a brief explanation.
Question 2: What do you know about the game pok-a-tok that they played in the ancient ball court and did you always die if you lost? Ball court ruins have found in each of the Mayan city-centers. Attached is a picture we took of the ball court at Xunantunich (in the background). I will find a better picture to show you. The rules have been loosely defined, but it seems that each city-center had different rules of the game, based on the layout of the courts and the stone carvings representing the games. These carvings depict a game that was played with a very heavy rubber ball made from the sap of rubber trees. Players had to use their elbows, shoulders, hips and knees to get the ball into a series of hoops to score points. Sounds like a cross between basketball and soccer, doesn’t it?
Many of these games were played with high stakes: death. You might think that the losers were the ones who were killed after the game, but surprisingly, there is also evidence that the winners were killed after the game. This is hard to understand, but there was significant spiritual meaning to winning the game. This message will get very long if I continue to elaborate, so it might be best for me to discuss this in person when I come visit on June 3rd. Just know that winning, and therefore being sacrificed to the Gods was a major honor for the Mayan people, and therefore the players played their hardest to be the winners, and then be offered to the Gods in sacrifice. So, to answer your question, when the games had high spiritual implications, it could have been either the losers or the winners that were killed after the game. We can discuss this more soon.
Question 3: Do you have any update on the destruction of that monument? I have not heard any updated information. That site is a few hours north of where we are. I do know that the landowners and construction workers could face up to 10 years in prison and 10 thousand dollars fine if they are convicted of willfully destroying the temple. Since it is already political, that might not even happen. Sad but true.
Tomorrow, we are working in the city of Dangriga with the town council to determine what open spaces they have and what they can do to improve the space for public use. After this work, we are packing up and taking a 45 minute boat ride to South Water Caye, a very small (about 9 acres) island on the Belize Barrier Reef… the second largest barrier reef in the world, second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. We will be staying two nights on the island working with the South Water Caye Marine Reserve and the Smithsonian Institution Marine Research Station on nearby Carrie Bow Caye. While there is solar powered internet on South Water, it is very weak. I will do my best to answer your emails over the next two nights. If you do not hear from me, you’ll understand that the internet wasn’t strong enough to get the message out.
Until you hear from me again, enjoy learning about Belize and the Mayan people. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!
Dr. Chris Atchison
Georgia State University