Central America, Earth, Guatemala, North America

Guatemala – The Glorious Quetzal bird

detail of quetzal bird in flight, Guatemala 0.50 quetzal banknote, front, 50 centavos, one half quetzal

His tail feathers may be 3 feet long, and colored blue green. His head is golden green with a rounded crest. His back is blue, tinged with gold.  His belly is crimson red. He is glorious in flight.

To the Mayans, he symbolized the movement of creation and the will of the Creator to come to earth. Kings and priests wore ceremonial garments decorated by their iridescent feathers. They saw the combination of the quetzal and the serpent in their god Qetzal Coatl, “the plumed serpent”, the Animator of all creation. He is glorious in flight.

 

Front, 50 centavos , one half quetzal, Guatemala
Tecun Uman, heroe national, detail from front of half quetzal banknote, Guatemala

Tecun Uman was the great leader of the Maya in the age of the Spanish conquest.

The Spanish cavalry charge shocked the Mayans who had never seen horses.  Tecun Uman, clothed in quetzal feathers and accompanied by his animal spirit guide, the quetzal bird, stood up to meet the horse mounted leader of the Spanish army, Alvarado, face to face.  Thinking the mounted man and horse were one single being, he attacked and slew the horse.  Turning round and seeing the still armed Alvarado dismounted, he realized his mistake, attacked again and died on Alvarado’s spear.  His quetzal spirit guide was so grieved, he landed on Tecun Uman’s fallen chest, his breast feathers mixing with the hero’s blood, and died.

Forever after, the quetzal’s breast was red and his song not heard.  And if a quetzal was ever placed in captivity, it died, making it a symbol of liberty.

one half quetzal bank note, back, Guatemala

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tikal Temple I, detail from back of one half quetzal banknote, Guatemala

Buried deep in the rainforest, these temple grounds appear to have escaped the notice of the Spanish conquistadors.

This fabulous pyramid standing as tall as a 10 story building was lost in the jungle until its rediscovery in the 19th century by Alfred P. Maudslay.

In his own words: I was naturally anxious and expectant on this my first visit to a Central American ruin, but it seemed as though my curiosity would be ill satisfied, for all I could see on arrival was what appeared to be three moss-grown stumps of dead trees covered over with a tangle of creepers and parasitic plants . . We soon pulled off the creepers, and . . . set to work to clear away the coating of moss. As the curious outlines of the carved ornament gathered shape it began to dawn upon me how much more important were these monuments, upon which I had stumbled almost by chance, than any account I had heard of them had led me to expect. This day’s work induced me to take a permanent interest in Central American Archaeology, and a journey which was undertaken merely to escape the rigours of an English winter has been followed by seven expeditions from England for the pur­pose of further exploration and archaeo­logical research.”1

The archaeological record of Tikal dates from around 1000 BC.  It was a thriving city from around 300 BC until its decline between 700 AD and 900 AD.2

For more stories from Central America on this website, click here.

creator god, Itzamna, detail from front of One-Half Quetzal banknote, Guatemala

 

Footnotes

  1. Expedition magazine, Alfred P. Maudslay, Pioneer Maya Archaeologist.
  2. History of the Tikal Ruins thoughtco.com

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