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From Ball Court to Ball Park – A Story of two Faiths

Having had the opportunity to visit Baltimore’s Camden Yards this summer, and seeing the Orioles finally succumb to the Kansas City Chiefs, preventing their first entry to the World Series in over 30 years, I became aware of baseball fans’ commitment to their team. In the Dominican Republic, the engagement with “béisbol” is more than that, its pure devotion, a religion second only to Catholicism (Trivia question: which is the only country that has a bible in its flag? Bingo!). La pelota is worshipped on Sundays, the players are the priests, and Sammy Sosa is a demi-god (and more than in regards of the golden liquid that is flowing through his veins. The sport dominates the language, the culture, the daily routine.

A Spatial Connection

So is there a connection or even continuity between ancient traditions and modern times? This is difficult to answer, but there is evidence for at least a spatial connection.

There are a number of ceremonial plazas in the Greater Antilles, stone ringed planar fields, also defined as ball courts, where a game, the Taino called batey was played, as recorded in early Spanish accounts. Similar to the juego de pelota on the mainland of the Americas, two teams fought for the possession of a rubber ball.

In February, when searching for Amerindian activity in the Northern Dominican Republic with other members of the Nexus1492 team, Dr. Jorge Ulloa Hung from the Museo del Hombre Dominicano, and Eduardo Herrera Malatesta from Leiden University, we also had the opportunity to visit Chacuey in the province of Dajabón. Located in the Cordillera Central, the area was recorded as an Amerindian sacred place, a large ceremonial plaza, with petroglyphs in a nearby riverbed. Declared and marked as a national historic site, an instrumento astronómico megalítico, the stunning petroglyphs still exist, the plaza however received us in a condition different from what we expected from the literature regarding Caribbean ball courts. In the 1980s, a road was built alongside of it, cutting a corner of the plaza, but moreover, the stones have been removed since, and part of the area has been leveled to serve the new “pelota” game, as a baseball field.

Considering this as a possible exception I checked for the situation of other known ceremonial plazas on remote sensing imagery. Corral de los Indios, one of the largest known ball courts in the Greater Antilles, not far from San Juan de la Maguana on the southern side of the Cordillera, shows the same pattern. Bypassed and delimited by the modern road, the stones have been removed; the nearby triangular layout of a baseball field is clearly visible in Google Earth.

Corral de los Indios

Corral de los Indios has been recorded and lamented before, but limited funding has so far prevented to take action and secure the area.

But who am I to complain. Considering the reuse of Gothic churches in the Netherlands as night clubs, beer breweries and restaurants, maybe we have to understand this situation in a way of “heritage management”, the inclusion and use of the ancient sites in today’s spirit, honoring and memorizing relics of the ancient culture by modern means.

Coordinates (paste into Google Earth):
Corral de los Indios: 19Q 264190 2086010 *Zone*East*North
Chacuey: 19Q 230750 2158270 *Zone*East*North

By Till Sonneman

Further Reading used partly for the information in the text:

Nicholas J. Saunders(2005) The Peoples of the Caribbean: An Encyclopedia of Archaeology and Traditional Culture

Franklin Domínguez Cruz (posted October 19, 2006) La Vida taina y la plaza de Chacuey

Julia Alvarez (posted November 28, 2014) Driving the Seam of Hispaniola

History of Dominican Baseball (in Spanish): Historia de Beisbol dominicana

Ricardo Alegria (2010): Ballcourts of the Greater Antilles.

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