Monday, 23 December 2013

Guest Blog - 'Forgotten Americas' by author Zoe Saadia

Hi Ali, thank you for welcoming me and my pre-Columbian Americas to A Woman’s Wisdom.

I guess I had better start with a quick explanation. My passion for pre-Columbian Americas puzzles everyone, myself included. Curiously, it blossomed in the snows of St Petersburg, on the other side of the globe. Since I was a child, I have been obsessed with everything indigenous to America, passionately disliking Westerns and the way these movies generalized its amazing variety of cultures and nations. Needless to say, my family and friends learned to avoid the troublesome topic altogether as I grew up…and they still do!

So, born behind the Iron Curtain (ouch!), I was whisked away to Israel as a teenager. Whilst I fell in love with everything Middle Eastern, I still moved to North America a few years later, following my boyfriend who went to work there.

However, those few years in sunny California decided my fate. I had found what to do with my passion, aside from driving my friends and family crazy. It took more than ten years of research, then more years still to battle the world of the written word, but here I am writing novels on pre-Columbian Americas and feeling better with the ability to do something about this entirely neglected chunk of history.

You see, dry history is boring. It’s for a few scholars to enjoy. The majority of us regular people do not seek to memorize a date or a name.  I think we are right, for what is history if not an account of notable people’s lives? And usually those lives were full of action and adventure; otherwise they would not have been recorded.

So the element of action-adventure is strong in my stories although they are all grounded in solid, thoroughly researched historical events. Different continents or times aside, people were always people with their basic needs, urges and desires; whether in ancient Rome, Aztec Tenochtitlan or modern-day New York.

Take gambling for example. Was there a place/country/empire/continent without this perfectly human passion? I don’t think so. And of course pre-Columbian America was no different.

What would you bet whilst watching a fierce ball game where the players were not afraid to hurt themselves? A kernel of maize?  A good obsidian knife? A gold necklace studded with precious stones?

Well, why not? In the Mexican Valley (today’s Mexico City) and its surroundings, throughout many important city states, small villages and regular towns men and women whether commoners or nobles, warriors or peasants (practically everyone) could have been found crouching on mats engaged in this pastime, with Patolli, a bean game, being the most popular of them all.

Patolli was a game of luck and skill, requiring practice and a measure of strategic thinking, with the player depending on the caprice of the rolling beans, as well. The players would gamble whatever they felt fit; from blankets to food and precious stones to even their freedom. And the onlookers would hold their breath, liking to watch the game as much as they liked to participate in it.

In the alleys of the marketplace or in the warriors’ camps, in the Palaces and the dwellings of the nobles as much as in the cane-and-reed houses of the poor, people would challenge each other readily, trusting Xochipilli, the God of Gambling, to watch over their luck. Before the beginning of the game this God would be offered sincere prayers, and sometimes even a part of the offerings out of the betting pool.

The game would begin with twelve figurines commencing to race up the board, six for each player. The goal of the game was to move one’s figurines across the board, from the starting squares to the finishing ones. To do that the players would cast five beans (the word “patolli” means beans) which were marked with a dot on one side of each bean.The players would move their figurines according to the number of dotted sides each toss displayed - two dots, two moves, three dots, three, but if the beans displayed all dots the lucky man’s figurine would jump ten squares all at once.

And so, each figurine that completed its turn across the board would win its owner a bet. Six figurines, six bets. Then someone would always go away richer and happier than the other.

Of course there were other ways to lose one’s possessions. Totoloque was a simpler game, but one that required more skill and fitted the warriors best. The players tossed small pellets as close to the target as possible. Each player had five tries and the one who scored more hits would win the bet.

There were also spectacular ballgames, where the players displayed their athletic skills and the warrior’s stamina, hitting a heavy rubber ball with their hips and elbows only, not letting it touch the ground. It gave a perfect excuse for the onlookers to bet wildly, putting it all on their favorite team and its chances of winning.

And so, Mesoamericans dared fate time after time. Between wars and politics and betting games, the people around Lake Texcoco didn’t complain about being bored. Well, most of the time!

Zoe Saadia is originally from Russia and is a very successful author of novels celebrating the pre-Columbian Americas and their culture. Her books can be found on her Amazon page. She can also be contacted through Twitter and Goodreads.

Having survived the failed raid on the enemy lands, Tekeni had no illusions. He was nothing but an enemy cub, adopted into one of the clans, but not accepted, never for real. To fit in was difficult, to run away - impossible. To get into trouble, more often than not, was the only available option. They did not expect anything else from him, anyway.

However, when a meaningless row during a ballgame grew out of proportion, resulting in a fight, Tekeni found himself in truly grave trouble. Neither he nor anyone else could have foreseen the chain of events and the consequences this fight would release when the highly esteemed but controversial Two Rivers, a man who professed unacceptable notions and ideas of negotiating peace with the neighboring nations, decided to help Tekeni out.


  1. I love reading this, Zoe and Ms Apple! But you know how fab I think Zoe's stuff is ~ and I really think you ought to be regressed to find out your past lives, Z!! Nice one xx

    1. I love Zoe's books too. I'm fascinated by ancient cultures and civilisations and Zoe's books make the pre-Columbian's really come to life.


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