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SATURDAY, MAY 28, 2016
 
I had once seen a documentary about the Mayans who would play a game whose goal was to keep a ball of heavy clay in the air. They would use their feet, heads, hips, anything, to keep the ball in the air. This ball represented the Sun, and he who caused the ball to fall would be killed.

It seems this tradition lives on, though with a less severe-outcome. In China, I had recently seen on the television that some men were working together to keep a ball in the air. They dressed in colorful ceremonial garb, and you could see the effort they excerted by how much they sweated. What was particularly exciting would be when one man would hit the ball towards the ground, making it harder for another man to raise it back up. Often the ball would hit the ground, and while there was much visible anguish in the men who failed to hit the ball before it hit the ground, they were not killed.

Since the time of the Mayans, mankind has become more noble, and less violent. There's still a lot of killing, the TV tells me, but it's far less than before. Because we kill a lot less these days, the men who drop the balls get to live on. But their punishment is being forced to stand a step lower than the men who dropped the ball less, and watch as they are given gold. Depending on how much less they dropped the ball compared to others, some will be given silver, or bronze, which are notably less desireable amongst the humans. I have yet to see anyone not drop the ball, ever, but one with that talent would perhaps be given diamonds.

This form of punishment fuels the fire of mankind's latest criticism: that of greed. There is much pain in seeing others being given gold, and much pleasure in getting it. Those who are receiving the gold often hug, cry, and cheer loudly. Not only are the men proud, but their entire country of origin - and in fact, the host country will play the anthem of the country which brought to this world the greatest of the Ball-keeper-uppers.

Peculiarly this festival of keeping the ball of the Mayan Sun god in the air, often brings about much charity in people, and others are rewarded for often the most trivial of things. One girl who twiddled a ribbon - no obvious reference to the Mayan Sun god, but perhaps a reference to the Mayan god of Wind - was given some gold. Another man, who was particularly talented in twisting about as he jumped from great heights, into the water, was also given gold. Perhaps the most curious of all were the men who hit a smaller ball back and forth with paddles, at great speed. I interpret this to be some sort of Mayan demon, as it is significantly smaller than the ball representing the Sun god, and the men hit it much harder, as if to punish it. They too are rewarded with gold, perhaps for demonstrating such piety by beating the demon with their paddles.

The gold in particular is reminiscent of the sun god. Circular in shape, it sheens in the light, and is draped across the necks with a red, (sometimes blue) ribbon - blue being the sky, red being the sky with a setting sun.

Whatever festival this is, it has now come to a close. But I'm told there will be another Mayan Sun god festival again in four years - I suppose they wait every four years, out of respect for the leap year, in which the Sun gives us an extra day. 2008 was a leap year, and the next will be 2012.

In the meantime, I've heard that there is great perparation for the winter festival celebrating the Inuit gods of ice. Curiously though, I believe even with these festivals gold discs of the Mayan sun god are handed out quite charitably, for bizarre acts such as sliding down hills, skating on ice, and so on.

What curious creatures we are.


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