The Hero with a Thousand Holds

The region of the world stretching from Mexico to Costa Rica – traditionally referred to as “Mesoamerica” – was, in its pre-Columbian heyday, home to empires that mapped time, carved words out of mid-air, and raised some of the most magnificent cities on Earth. And from the Olmec to the Toltec, from the Aztec to the Maya, one element of their shared regional culture we can clearly discern was their deep reverence for the local apex predator – the jaguar. Whether as a symbol of imperial authority, death, storms, or individual martial might, the jaguar has been an omnipresent element in Mesoamerican religion and ritual from 3000-year-old stone carvings of “were-jaguars” right up to the present day.

In this episode, we trace the origins of combat rituals that saw men cloak themselves in jaguar skin and spill each other’s blood in hope of ensuring a bountiful harvest; rituals that survived the rise and fall of empires and the brutality of the Spanish conquest, and still inspire modern Mexican “jaguars” to take up the mantle and fight for the honour of their neighbourhood and their state.

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