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Women playing a man's game : reconstructing ceremonial and ritual history of the Mesoamerican ballgame

  • Author(s): Ramos, Maria Isabel
  • et al.

In a few rural vicinities of Sinaloa, Mexico, there is a sport played by the Mexican peoples whose roots are embedded in the pre-Hispanic past. It is called ulama, a game in which an eight-pound rubber ball is propelled using either the hip or the forearm. As was custom for many pre-Hispanic cultures and time periods, men are at the forefront of these games; however, recent ethnographic studies have revealed that women have also played ulama since the early nineteenth hundreds. There is also evidence suggesting that women may have played the game in ancient times. Ceramic female ballplayer figurines found in archaeological contexts throughout Mexico help support this theory. Yet, while these ballplayer figurines and ethnographic reports point to the inclusion of women in the rubber ballgame, scholars are still reluctant to address them and continue to treat the game solely as a male activity. This dissertation is dedicated to the study of women ballplayers and the importance of their participation in the modern and ancient rubber ballgame of the Americas. It is a subject of great value that may inform us about the social roles, material practices, and human relationships of past and present Mexican societies. It is also challenging because little or no information is available on women's roles in the game, and ceramic female ballplayers specifically. Nevertheless, with archaeological evidence from past excavations, and ethnographic accounts by past ballgame scholars, as well as my own, I approach the subject through a comprehensive analysis of terracotta figurines, ancient codices, sixteenth century colonial sources, and oral accounts provided by ulama players and community members from Sinaloa. What I intend with this investigation is to contribute to the body of knowledge pioneered by past scholars who have concerned themselves with the marginal treatment of women in Mesoamerican art history. While the hypothesis presented here may not definitely answer all questions that concern women ballplayers, it certainly seeks to produce critical inquiries about the formation of social identities and statuses of women

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