ballgame waist yoke in the form of a mythological Toad

Veracruz culture

Currently on View in K214.p1
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This yoke depicts the body of a toad, which is associated with the Earth Dragon deity, a symbol of the earth, rulership and fertility.

Both sides of this yoke depict heads of jaguars, an animal associated with rulers.

The curved shape of the yoke symbolizes a cave, an entrance to the Underworld.

It is not known if heavy stone yokes, like this one, were used in play or if they appeared only during rituals.

Wooden and hide yokes, which have not survived, were used during the game to volley a solid rubber ball.

The ritual ballgame was a pervasive religious and political feature of ancient Mesoamerica, the region encompassing most of Mexico and neighboring Central America.

The game served to maintain the cosmic balance of the sun and planets, and the cycle of death and rebirth.

At one time, the partially missing end of this yoke depicted a head.

The face at the end of this yoke is one of the Hero Twins, gods who played the ballgame against the Lords of the Underworld, and defeated them with cunning and skill.

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

A toad is represented abstractly here on a waist ornament used in the ritual ball game played for nearly three thousand years by the ancient Olmecs, Maya, and Aztecs. For ancient Mexicans of the Veracruz coast, this wide-mouthed, bug-eyed marine toad of the Bufo genus symbolized the Earth Dragon, which was associated with the duality of life and death. The spectacular ceremonial competition dramatized through athletics the opposites of good and evil, salvation and sacrifice. Elite players wore the yokes on the hips, with the opening to one side, using them to hit or deflect the solid rubber ball. Other yokes may have functioned as trophies to commemorate victories, or as ancestral heirlooms in burial caches.

This example is finely sculpted, with deep relief and bold contours. The color and shape of the yoke meld gracefully with its subject: a toad with arched brows, elongated almond-shaped eyes, swollen poison-emitting glands behind them, a large nose with open nostrils, and a broad mouth and extended tongue. Close observation reveals a second figure, a jaguar, symbol of royalty, superimposed on the sides. In a Mesoamerican expression of duality, the toad’s front legs fold to create a jaguar profile, while the back legs compose a jaguar skeleton.

Did players actually wear such a heavy object—or is it a commemorative sculpture of a lighter-weight version?

Sold in New York at Parke-Bornet Galleries (now Sotheby's) November 9, 1968, lot 77.

Object Information

Veracruz culture
creation date
4-3/4 x 15 x 15-1/2 in.
accession number
credit line
Lucille Stewart Endowed Art Fund
Public Domain
Native Arts of the Americas

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