Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Hockey is important to Canadians, although the real national sport is lacross which predates hockey by many years having been played by indigenous peoples of the region. But, you only get hockey night in Canada and there is endless chatter in the media about teams and playoffs. When the Olympics come around Canada's pride and sense of identity is carried by the hockey team. But a form of hockey can be found at least 3500 years ago in Mexico, the center of this game being Michoacan.
Archeological artifacts from the above date show small clay sculptures of figures carrying what are clearly hockey sticks. This game is still practiced today and is undergoing a resurgence among the local indigenous community (Purepechas) and the non-indigenous. Traditionally, there were 5 people per side, the sticks made of a single piece of wood with a curve created by the growth of a branch. The sticks may be decorated and are quite heavy. The ball (our puck) can weigh no more than 500 grams (just over one pound) and is made of a stone covered in a foam-like material and then this is covered with a woven material (perhaps originally from cactus fibre) applied in such a way as to not allow the adherence of water. This ball is then soaked in gasoline and set afire. The ball can be hit with a very strong blow, sending it flying throw the air with the opposition only able to stop it with their sticks. There are frequent injuries to the players and almost always a little tension to the game as the ball may strike the clothing of an observer, go under a nearby car or land on a plastic tarp of neighboring food stalls.
The game appears to be very competitive but in fact it is pure ritual. Perhaps the equivalent of Canadians singing the national anthem prior to a hockey game, a shaman-like person opens the game with the playing of a conche shell, the recitation of verses giving thanks for the air, water, land etc. and then turning to the four directions. While this goes on the players have placed their sticks in a pattern around the ball. At the close of this ceremony they kneel to touch the earth. The purpose of this ritual in unclear but there is clearly an exotic and mysterious feel in the air. Perhaps the significance is carried in the fire ball. The new year for the local indigenous people is February 1 and the new year is ushered in with a ceremony of the new fire. The fire ball must have some connection to the importance of fire in this ritual.

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