View Slideshow 1 of 5 At the end of practice at the Xochikalli cultural center in Mexico City, ulama ballgame players perform a brief dedication to Aztec gods.
Drums rumble between the stone walls lining the court. An ancient ritual is underway. The smell of incense wafts across the concrete, as wiry men and a woman wearing leather waist wraps and headbands volley a ball back and forth. They use only their hip bone to hit it.
Emmanuel Kalakot tilts his head back and blows into a conch shell horn. The sound echoes off the brick walls of the apartment complex next door. For an instant, this doesn’t really feel like 2018.
"It’s not so much about returning to a moment that once was," says Kalakot, 40. "But we want to take something that was great in its time and make it great again, in a new, contemporary way."
Kalakot is leading a small group of players in the return of a millennia-old tradition to Mexico City: the ballgame known as ulama .
"There was a kind of pan-Mesoamerican ballgame played with the hip and we can say that it was prevalent, probably played in the majority of places," in the period around 200 A.D. to 900 A.D., says Manuel Aguilar, an archaeologist from California State University, Los Angeles, and a leading scholar on ulama .
The players — mostly with no more than a couple of years’ experience — make it look easy. They gracefully jump to hit a cantaloupe-sized solid rubber […]