Sunday, August 17, 2014

Flaming Hockey Balls

Pelota Purépecha is hockey for pyromaniacs!  This ancient Mesoamerican version of field hockey uses a flaming ball.  Traditionally played at Purepecha (a Mesoamerica new years) around December 3.  In most places it is usually played in the streets surrounding the squares, with the flaming ball occasionally rolling under or hitting nearby parked cars.
The sport takes place in a marked area measuring 35 meters long and 6-8 wide, each team consists of five players armed with sticks, similar to a hockey sticks, called uarhúkua.  While often played during the day, it is predominantly a night time sport where the darkness focuses attention on the fiery sphere being hit up and down the play area ...and sometimes into the spectators.  The zapandukua is the fiery ball of about 15 cm in diameter consisting of a wooden core wrapped ​​with cotton layers and bound with rope, which is then soaked in kerosene and ignited.
The games duration is determined by the team captains before.  It may be based on a number of goals or on a time limit.  Traditionally players wear a team coloured bandanna, however, these days it has changed to a coloured sash like belt.  There is no sissy shin padding, gloves or flame retardant fabric.  Basic rules are: Don't be off side at the start.  No pushing other players or grabbing their stick.  Don't kick or step on the ball (or you will burn your foot).  No intentionally stopping the ball with your body (or you may set yourself on fire).
Recently, pelota purépecha has started making a comeback as the Mexican government is pushing to revive its ancient past times. In Mexico the Mexican Sports Confederation is printing rule books for this and other ancient games, the confederation is trying to start teams for pelota in schools nationwide. Government instructors are holding seminars to teach the game to school gym teachers and how best to dodge the fiery ball launched by excited, pyromaniac students.

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