Pok-A-Tok: The Mayan Ball Game

Updated on October 19, 2019
Haunty profile image

Haunty is a history buff who enjoys reading and writing about ancient history and cultures from around the world.

Maya Pok-A-Tok ballcourt with the ring in Chichén Itzá
Maya Pok-A-Tok ballcourt with the ring in Chichén Itzá

What Is Pok-A-Tok?

Pok-A-Tok is a fast-paced ball game played by the Maya of Central America. It is their most famous game, which is thought to have been invented around 2000 BCE. Pok-A-Tok was played in teams of one or two players in every major Mayan city. If there were two players in a team, they assisted each other.

The objective of the game was to get a ball through a narrow stone hoop placed on the court wall, often as high up as 20 feet from the ground. Players were not allowed to use their hands or feet—only their head, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hips.

Ball game scene on a Mayan vase
Ball game scene on a Mayan vase

How Was Pok-A-Tok played in Mayan times?

For the Maya, Pok-A-Tok was more than just a challenging game. It symbolized the struggle of life over death, and war and hunting. Pok-A-Tok was often played by prisoners of war, and the members of the losing team were offered as sacrificed to the gods.

Pok-A-Tok games would go on without interruption for long periods of time, often for days. Scoring was so difficult that when a player managed to finally get the ball through the ring located high up on the wall, the game usually ended.

This is not to say that the Maya didn't play the game just for fun. They did. Players would wear protective padding around their waists, and on one shin and forearm. Otherwise the hard, solid-rubber ball could have severely injured or even killed them. The balls were made from rubber from cau-uchu trees, and depictions of Pok-A-Tok show that the ball was as big as a basketball is today.

The padding, called yokes, was made of cotton stuffed into wooden frames. One of these yokes was found in a tomb at Tikal. However, even in games played for fun, the members of the losing team, or at least the captain, were killed in sacrifice to the gods. Who would want to actually play Pok-A-Tok for fun given those odds?

The ruins of Chichén Itzá in Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula has the biggest Pok-A-Tok court of all Mesoamerica. It is 545 feet long and 225 feet wide. The Great Ballcourt of Chichén Itzá has its walls covered with carved depictions of sacrifices made to the gods at the game’s end. Near the court, there is a stone platform decorated with hundreds of carved skulls.

Mayan Ballgame Video

Harvesting from a cau-uchu rubber tree.
Harvesting from a cau-uchu rubber tree.

Cau-uchu Trees and Rubber Harvest

Mesoamerican people used rubber by 1600 BCE. It was grown in the rainforest of the lowlands and then transferred by merchants to surrounding areas.

Making balls wasn't the only purpose of rubber. It was also used to attach stones to wooden handles, to seal bags that carried water, to water-proof clothing, and to make drumsticks for wooden drums. The Maya even coated their feet with layers of rubber to make shoes. Shaman-priests used rubber to treat lip and ear wounds.

During harvest, the Maya made diagonal cuts in the bark of cau-uchu trees to start the flow of latex down a central vertical channel and into their containers. The rubber was mixed with the juice of the morning glory vine to make it tough, strong, and very elastic—perfect for bouncing. It hardened within minutes, but before that would happen, the Maya shaped the rubber into different sizes of balls.

How to Make Your Own Rubber Ball

Do this in a ventilated area! You will need a jar of rubber cement and a brush.

  1. Spread a thin layer of rubber cement on a flat surface. Let it dry for a few minutes.
  2. Start pushing your fingers around on the tacky rubber cement. It will peel off and gradually stick together. Roll it around into a ball.
  3. Spread another layer of rubber cement on your work surface. After a few minutes, roll your ball around on the new layer. It will peel up and stick to your ball.
  4. Keep rolling it around, and all the rubber cement will gradually form into a bigger ball.
  5. Repeat this process as many times as you like, building up your rubber ball.

No hands.
No hands.

How to Play Pok-A-Tok at Home?

You can do this alone or in teams. You will need two pieces of paper, a pen, tape, a ball.

  1. Draw a circle about 5 inches in diameter onto each piece of paper. If you are playing by yourself, you will only need one piece of paper.
  2. Tape or tack a piece of paper on opposite walls slightly above your head to start. The higher the target, the more challenging the game will be.
  3. Divide into two equal teams and choose your targets. Working as a team, try to hit the center of the circle on your team’s target with the rubber ball without using your hands. The other team will try to take the ball away from you to hit their target, but they also cannot use their hands.
  4. The first team to hit the target wins a point. When both teams have scored a point on their target, move the target higher. Or make the game more challenging by only using your feet, legs, and head. Imagine trying to play Pok-A-Tok like the Maya did, with a heavy rubber ball and a 30-foot-high ring—and remember the penalty for losing in ancient Mayan culture was death!

© 2011 Haunty

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    • profile image

      7th grade assignment 

      3 months ago

      this helped a lot thanks.

    • profile image

      I need to know this for school reasons 

      4 months ago

      I need to know this for school reasons and i need to know thing there not aloud to do apart from use there hands more info

    • profile image

      OwO 

      5 months ago

      OwO whats this? nah, jk jk. This is a pretty good source for my project. thank you for this

    • profile image

      -_- 

      5 months ago

      Needs more content

    • profile image

      -_- 

      5 months ago

      WHAT did THEY wEaR??

    • profile image

      Your dead dog 

      5 months ago

      Love u

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      ERM... 

      5 months ago

      NOT VERY HELPFUL I AM DOING THIS AT SCHOOL AND NEED MORE INFORMATION

    • profile image

      broomie 

      5 months ago

      thanks

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      Me 

      5 months ago

      Need more info

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      Smart Allack Guy 

      5 months ago

      This is really helpful as I am learning about this at school and also having to do a homework project based on the Mayans. This is really helpful information. Thankyou and an excellent piece of info to help me, thank you.

    • profile image

      shy dude 

      5 months ago

      needs more info!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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      blablabla 

      5 months ago

      not very helpful:(

    • profile image

      You 

      6 months ago

      This is awesome!

    • profile image

      njjbhbhihpuhpiuhpuiuh 

      6 months ago

      I'm doing this for a prodgect

    • profile image

      Me 

      6 months ago

      What do you need to play pok ta pok

    • profile image

      St.Ants 

      6 months ago

      I like the informative page. The mayans are good

    • profile image

      Your,other 

      7 months ago

      I need help

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      7 months ago

      Sick

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      7 months ago

      I’m doing this for a project

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      Ajpw 

      7 months ago

      IKR OMG oml wtf

    • profile image

      Shinto 

      7 months ago

      Hey people how doing

    • profile image

      peppa pig 

      7 months ago

      this is super helpful (not) so sorry

    • profile image

      DoomGuy 

      7 months ago

      Pok-a-tok was in the movie eldorodo movie by pixar

    • profile image

      Minecraft Miner 

      7 months ago

      I think you should add why they played pok-a-tok

    • profile image

      flus lool2 

      7 months ago

      where do they piay at

    • profile image

      flus the lool 

      7 months ago

      who spend their time on this?

    • profile image

      I need help 

      7 months ago

      How did they make teams? I need this for a project.

    • profile image

      super 

      8 months ago

      this seriously did nooooooot help Me! so sooooory.

    • profile image

      Memez 

      8 months ago

      But where did they play pok a tok? I couldn’t find it in here, and i need to know where for a project. Sorry for complaining about this.

    • profile image

      Mlg king 

      8 months ago

      Mlg add fort nite is life I eat dogs

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      Kamurri 

      8 months ago

      This has good info but i think it need more dic#### oh I mean spasas

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      bed at 8:00 

      8 months ago

      wanna kees?

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      8 months ago

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      9 months ago

      Y’all trash at fortnite

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      9 months ago

      i izgood bec tis are gud

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      9 months ago

      i am causing my group to fail a project with grace

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      10 months ago

      This help with my work

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      10 months ago

      good vid

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      10 months ago

      One time someone threw deodorant at me.

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      10 months ago

      Thanks this really helped me btw how did you find out about all those facts.

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      10 months ago

      this was helpful

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      10 months ago

      Thanks for the information!!!!!!!!!!

      wow this helped a lot!!!!!

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      11 months ago

      Booooo no help for my history test

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      11 months ago

      this had very good information.

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      11 months ago

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      14 months ago

      great

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      15 months ago

      I once slapped a dog and threw a ball at it

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      15 months ago

      This will be in a new movie

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      16 months ago

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      16 months ago

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      17 months ago

      fortnite old

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      LeGoat 

      17 months ago

      thanks for the A

    • profile image

      Le cat 

      18 months ago

      Didn’t the rubber balls have skulls in them to make it slightly hollow and bounce easier

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      rehan 

      18 months ago

      im dum

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      18 months ago

      i loved reading your lovely website

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      18 months ago

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      19 months ago

      me too

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      19 months ago

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      19 months ago

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      21 months ago

      well done sherlock

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      21 months ago

      how many times a day did they play this game of pok a tok

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      22 months ago

      Here in belize we have a pok a tok team mexico also has check it on youtube

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      23 months ago

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      2 years ago

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      2 years ago

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      2 years ago

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      2 years ago

      how many players are there on each side

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      2 years ago

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      2 years ago

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      2 years ago

      The may didn't sacrifice it was the aztecks

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      2 years ago

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      2 years ago

      Good but I was wondering what happens if you whisper at the other end

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      2 years ago

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      2 years ago

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      2 years ago

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