The Inca ball game: history and validity in Cusco

The Incas, like many ancient cultures of the world, practiced a ball game. This was called gayado although thousands of years ago it was also known as ‘chiukos’. This sport, more than soccer, is similar to current hockey. Two teams dispute a ball with carved wooden sticks (almost 4 kilos). Today some communities in Cusco and along the Andes Mountains continue to practice this sport in important festivities. Learn more!

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The ball game of the Incas

The Incas were the largest empire in South America, being founded as an empire in 1438 under the government of Emperor Pachacútec (1418 – 1471 AD), who ordered the construction of the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. Before, the Inca government was a curacazgo that did not achieve a great expansion beyond Cusco, its capital.

The emperor Pachacútec was the one who, in addition to expanding the Inca territory, managed to reorganize the Inca state, promoting religious festivities and the practice of collective rituals, such as the sport of gayado.

Even the Mochica culture (0 – 600 AD). rituals linked to the ball game were performed. It should be noted that this sport was practiced in Central America until 1,500 BC. Even today a similar game is still practiced in certain states of western Mexico (a sport that evolved from the famous Mayan ball game).

But this sport was also practiced in ancient Peru for about a thousand years before the Inca period, with some variations. Then it was called ‘chiukos’.

Just as soccer currently summarizes many aspects of societies; The Inca gayado fulfilled several important functions, which reflected the Inca imperial state.

The little information that is available about the practice of the Inca gayado comes from the Spanish chronicles of the 16th century, especially from Juan de Betanzos and Cristóbal de Molina.

The truth is that this Inca game was related to other similar rituals such as the physical tests of races, combats or resistance. Thus, the gayado was practiced on special dates within the ‘ayllus’ communities.

The objective was to involve the community, which celebrated and participated in the Inca rituals. That is, the Inca State consolidated its cultural beliefs in the towns that belonged to its territory.

However, it is worth mentioning, other historical sources suggest that it was a simple pastime or a game of adults with the spirit of a child.

Gayado de los incas

How was it played?

The Inca ball game was practiced by two opposing teams where both men and women participated.

The balls could weigh four kilos as they were made up of animal skins joined together, mainly camelids.

The Inca gayado had more similarities to hockey than to modern soccer. The two teams held some kind of carved wooden staff. The objective was to transfer the ball to the rival field.

The field was an immense pampa of great dimensions. The practice of this sport brought together the communities where they were celebrated with chicha (fermented corn drink).

The practice of gayado spread mainly in the Coyasuyo region, from the Bolivian Altiplano to the current city of Cusco. Even today it is still practiced in some towns of the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Cusco.

Other games and sports of the Incas

  • The huarachicuy – This sport, also called huarachico, was a ceremony in which the young Inca nobles passed to a stage of maturity or adulthood demonstrating their physical and tactical capacity through different sports tests such as fights, speed, strength and more. .
  • Chaco or hunting – This sport was practiced by all the members of the communities, especially the adults who demonstrated their ability to hunt wild animals such as vizcachas. High officials even summoned the most skilled for hunting tasks.
  • Huairusitha or piscasitha – This sport was also known as pishca. It was a board game with a kind of dice with up to five faces. The chronicles indicate that guinea pigs and articles of clothing were bet. They were also performed at wakes to avoid sleep
Juego de la pelota inca

Communities that practice gayado in Cusco and other regions

The gayado or hockey of the Incas is still practiced in various Andean communities, especially in southern regions such as Cusco or Puno.

In the district of Coya, province of Calca – Cusco, for example, it is practiced once a year, especially on the anniversary of the town (November 3). According to one of its inhabitants: “It is a custom of our Inca ancestors that continues in Coya to this day.”

Currently the gayado, as in Inca times, involves all communities including men and women. Participants usually drink corn chicha or the sweet frutilada. Communities such as Ccoyaccoscco and Coyaruna participate.

Another town where gayado is practiced is in Quiquijana, in the province of Quispicanchis – Cusco. There, in the main square, matches are played by the communities of Huray Calle and Kijllu Calle.

More interesting information

As in all sports activities in the towns of the Andes Mountains, the winning team of the gayado will be blessed with the best harvests of the year. The losers, on the contrary, will not be blessed by the Pachamama (goddess of the earth).

The Inca gayado was related to the Inca gods such as the pachamama. However, today, through a process of religious symbiosis, the gods brought by the Spanish also participate. This is how the parish priests of each town bless the game. In this way, the communities seek, despite the changes over time, to keep alive this custom that dates back five hundred years.

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