The text that we now call Popol Wuj (Pop Wuj, Popol Vuh) is, as its K'iche' authors explain in the opening passages, a new recording of an ancient story that is no longer "visible" or intelligible to humankind: "mahabi chic ilbal re popo vvh" (ya no ay líbro comun, original donde verlo; Ximénez 1r).
Christenson (2007: 106; 2004: 66) translates the term as "headdresses," one of the five fine objects that adorn the Hero Twins as they journey to Xibalba. The others are leather, yokes, arm protectors, and face bands.
Christenson (2007: note 245, page 106) notes that "Depictions of Precolumbian ballplayers in ancient Maya art often show the lower arms wrapped with a protective device." Image #1209 above, "Ball game inside ball-court," from Justin Kerr's database of Maya vases, offers one such example.
Arm protectors are one of the five fine objects that adorn the Hero Twins as they journey to Xibalba.
The others are leather, yokes, feather headdresses, and face bands.
As Allen Christenson (2007: 106) explains, athletic prowess is symbolically passed down to the Hero Twins from their fathers through the physical objects used to play the ballgame (kik'): yokes (b'ate), kilts or hides (tz’u’m), armguards (pach' q'ab'), panaches of feather (yachwach), headbands (wach sot), and the ball itself (kik’ or cha’j). These are collectively called their “implements” (chokonisan) or “equipment” (etz’ab’al).
Christenson (2007: note 244, pages 105-106) rightly points out the difficulty of documenting this object in alphabetic sources. He writes: "Unfortunately b'ate does not appear in any early colonial dictionaries, perhaps because the ballgame ceased to be played soon after the Spanish conquest. Thus the names for the equipment used in the game fell out of usage. From the description found later in the Popol Vuh text, the ball bounces off of this article in the process of playing the game.
Tedlock points out that cha’j is used for the game ball in Xib’alb’a while kik’ -- which also means "blood" or "resin" -- refers only to the ball of Juajpu and Xb’alanke.
Perhaps this wordplay solidifies a semantic connection for the Maya, allowing kik to refer to balls and, more distantly, to humans’ interaction with the supernatural through sacrifice or ball game challenges.
The Mesoamerican ball game famously provides the central mode of conflict between Xib’alb’a and the two sets of brothers in the Popl Wuj. Although the exact rules and purpose of the game are unknown, it is clear that it held significance far beyond that of a simply recreational activity.