Defying Verticality: Acrobatic Games and Ritual Entertainment in Mesoamerica

Gerardo Gutierrez
Assoc. Professor, Department of Anthropology
University of Colorado Boulder
October 14, 2016 – 3:30p – Silsby 312

Iconographic representations in ceramics, epigraphy, painted codices, and ethnohistorical sources suggest that Mesoamerican acrobacy and games were performed not as mere entertainment, but as “ritual merriment.” By this I mean that game, joy, and laughter were driving forces in the creation of the universe and rested at the core of Mesoamerican religious beliefs and practices. In their multifaceted nature, the creator gods were jokers and tricksters, hence the universe is merely the crystallization of divine, loud, chaotic laughing. Within the known iconographic corpus of Mesoamerica there are at least 20 representations of human figures assuming challenging contortionist positions. Similarly, there are abundant references to equilibrists, funambulists, and jugglers, providing opportunities to explore the context, practice, and meaning of acrobatics in the pre-Columbian period.