Sinaloan ulama player in action.

Ollama (Spanish pronunciation: [uˈlama]) is a ball game played in Mexico, currently experiencing a revival from its home in a few communities in the state of Sinaloa. As a descendant of the Aztec version of the Mesoamerican ballgame,[1] the game is regarded as one of the oldest continuously played sports in the world and as the oldest known game using a rubber ball.


Main article: Mesoamerican ballgame

The word ollama comes from the Nahuatl word ōllamaliztli [oːlːamaˈlistɬi] from ōllama [ˈoːlːama] (playing of a game with a ball), related to the word ōlli [ˈoːlːi] (rubber, rubber ball). Ōllamaliztli was the Aztec name for the Mesoamerican ballgame (meaning roughly the process of playing the ball game), whose roots extended back to at least the 2nd millennium BC and evidence of which has been found in nearly all Mesoamerican cultures in an area extending from modern-day Mexico to El Salvador, and possibly in modern-day Arizona and New Mexico.[2] Archaeologists have uncovered rubber balls dating to at least 1600 BC,[3] ballgamer figures from at least 1200 BC, and nearly 1500 ancient ball courts.[2][4]

Due to its religious and ritual aspects, Spanish Catholics suppressed the game soon after the Spanish conquest. It survived in areas such as Sinaloa, where Spanish influence was less pervasive.[5]

As part of its nationwide revival, the game now has a home in the capital Mexico City, at a cultural centre in the Azcapotzalco neighborhood.[6]


Ulama games are played on a temporary court called a tastei ([tas.te], from tlachtli [ˈt͡ɬat͡ʃt͡ɬi], the Nahuatl word meaning "ballcourt"). The bounds of these long narrow courts are made by drawing or chalking thick lines in the dirt. The courts are divided into opposing sides by a center line, called an analco. A ball that is allowed to cross the end line, the chichi or chivo, will result in a point scored for the opposing team. Points or rayas ("lines", so named for the tally marks used to keep score) are gained in play. The scoring system provides for resetting the score to zero under certain conditions, which can make for lengthy games.

The modern-day game has three main forms:

The object of the game is to keep the ball in play and in-bounds. Depending on the score and the local variant of the rules, the ball is played either high or low. A team scores a point when a player of the opposing team hits the ball out of turn, misses the ball, knocks the ball out of bounds, touches the ball with any part of the body aside from the hip, accidentally touches a teammate, lets the ball stop moving before it reaches the center line, or even if they fail to announce the score after they have scored a point.

The first team that scores eight points wins. If both teams end up having the same number of points after a turn, both sides begin again from zero. One record-setting game reportedly lasted for eight days.[citation needed] Most modern games are stopped after about two hours.

Aztec ullamaliztli players performing for Charles V in Spain, drawn by Christoph Weiditz in 1528. Note the similarity in dress to the modern-day ulama player above.

Ulama balls

See also Mesoamerican rubber balls

Sports governance


In Mexico and the United States, ulama de cadera is governed by Asociación de Juego de Pelota Mesoamericano (Mesoamerican Ballgame Association) or AJUPEME, which is a non-profit ulama sports association founded by Armando Uscanga and Reyna Puc. The organization has two branches in each of the respective countries: AJUPEME Mexico and AJUPEME USA.[9]

In Belize, ulama de cadera is governed by the Belize Hipball Association.[10]

International tournaments

Mesoamerican Ball Game Championship
Year Host Gold Silver Bronze
2019 Orange Walk Town, Belize  Mexico  Belize  USA
2022 Xcaret (Playa del Carmen), Quintana Roo, Mexico  Belize  Mexico  USA

See also


  1. ^ Leyenaar (2001) p. 123.
  2. ^ a b Fox, John. The ball : discovering the object of the game, 1st ed., New York : Harper, 2012. ISBN 978-0-06-188179-4. Cf. Chapter 4: "Sudden Death in the New World" about the Ulama game.
  3. ^ See El Manati article for information on the recovery of the earliest rubber balls.
  4. ^ Taladoire counts 1560 courts discovered as of the year 2000, p. 98.
  5. ^ Leyenaar (2001) p. 128.
  6. ^ In pictures: The ancient ballgame making a comeback Archived September 8, 2019, at the Wayback Machine, BBC, 4 September 2019
  7. ^ For a more in-depth look at hip ulama and forearm ulama, see Leyenaar (2001).
  8. ^ Federación Mexicana de Juegos y Deportes Autóctonos y Tradicionales, A.C.
  9. ^ ajupemeusa. "ajupeme-usa". ajupeme-usa. Retrieved June 9, 2024.
  10. ^ Gladden, Charles. "Belize's Pok-ta-Pok/Ulama team wins gold in Mexico | Amandala Newspaper". Retrieved June 9, 2024.