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The Purepecha Pelota de Fuego (Ball of Fire), a novel game to welcome the New Year.


One novel celebration is these parts is the observance of the Purepecha New Year, a festival that more or less is celebrated around December 31 although the actual date can be as late as the first part of February.

One thrilling feature of the festivities is the game of Pelota.

The ceremony begins with speeches in both Purepecha and Spanish by the elders. Traditional music and dance follows. The area's famous Baile de los Viejitos or the Dance of the Little Old Men is traditionally the highlight. This dance is actually performed by very young boys.

Then the game of pelota begins. It is a sport somewhat related to lacrosse but with a few unique variations. For one, the object of the game is not to win but to play. Goals are scored however and points gained by whacking the ball with a curved stick through a very nebulously marked area. The game lasts as long or as little as the players want it to last.

The players are dressed in matching uniforms of white shirt and white trousers and wear huaraches or sandals. Each player wears a colored bandana around his head. Since they are all identically attired, the players themselves must know who is playing for which side. There is no padding unless the woven belt around the waist counts as such.

A referee is not needed as there are no rules.

The most spectacular performance is always at night up on the level field of the Yacatas in Tzintzuntzan. The darkness focuses attention on the other very unique feature of the game…the ball. This consists of a wooden sphere wrapped in kerosene soaked cloth and ignited. The fiery sphere careening up and down the field and sometimes into the spectators is a most impressive sight.

It is a tough sport. At one game, a player was inadvertently whacked with a stick and knocked out. The players retired to the sidelines to confer amongst themselves and with the elders regarding what should be done. One of the elders announced that the players had decided to continue the game so play resumed around the fallen player and the ambulance that soon arrived to remove him from further harm.

At times, pelota is performed in the Plaza Grande in Pátzcuaro and the ball has been known to roll under cars parked around the square. To date, none of these vehicles have sported a gas leak which could well have added more of a dramatic finish to the game than anyone would want.


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