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Male quetzal with red chest in flight

RESOURCE: the story of how the male quetzal got his red chest

The rare resplendent quetzal - pictured here - is the national emblem of Guatemala, visible every day on the country’s flag, bank notes, coins, stamps... This, ‘the most beautiful bird in all the Americas’, has always been a sacred symbol of preciousness not just to the Maya people but throughout ancient Mesoamerica. The story of how the male quetzal got his red chest involves a poignant tale of a Quiche Maya warrior prince, who became Guatemala’s national hero...
(Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: Tecun Uman, Guatemala’s national hero
Pic 1: Tecun Uman, Guatemala’s national hero (Click on image to enlarge)

First, the legend itself:-
This is a picture of a well-known and much loved Maya leader holding a shield in one hand and a maquahuitl - an obsidian-bladed broadsword - in the other. He was a brave warrior prince, and one of the last rulers of the Quiche Maya people. His name was Tecun Uman, and today he is Guatemala’s national hero, remembered every year on February 20th., the anniversary of his death. Some believe his name means Ancient One of Quetzal Feathers. Notice his beautiful headdress with long quetzal feathers – his spirit guide was a quetzal bird.

Pic 2: ‘Accompanied by his spirit guide, he led his warriors into battle against the Spanish...’
Pic 2: ‘Accompanied by his spirit guide, he led his warriors into battle against the Spanish...’ (Click on image to enlarge)

Accompanied by his spirit guide, he led his warriors into battle against the Spanish...
The Maya, just like the Aztecs, had never seen a horse before, so they thought the horse and the man on top were all one creature. Tecun Uman made the mistake of attacking the horse first, which gave the Spanish soldier, Pedro de Alvarado, a chance to attack him directly. He was killed instantly by a spear through his heart.

Pic 3: ‘The quetzal flew down and landed on Tecun Uman’s chest, and was instantly stained red…’
Pic 3: ‘The quetzal flew down and landed on Tecun Uman’s chest, and was instantly stained red…’  (Click on image to enlarge)

The quetzal, filled with grief and sadness, flew down and landed on Tecun Uman’s chest, and was instantly stained red… The Maya believe that ever since that day, the male quetzal has had a red chest, but that he will never sing again until his people are free...

NOTES
• ‘Tecun Uman was declared Guatemala’s official national hero on March 22, 1960. He has inspired a wide variety of activities ranging from the production of statues and poetry to the retelling of the legend in the form of folk dances and prayers. Despite this, Tecun Uman’s existence is not well documented, and it has proved difficult to separate the man from the legend.’ (Wikipedia)

Pic 4: Tecun Uman on Guatemalan money
Pic 4: Tecun Uman on Guatemalan money  (Click on image to enlarge)

• Tecun Uman features on Guatemalan money: very prominently on the face of the Q0.50 (half-a-quetzal) note and on the back of a few now rare coins, such as this one from 1965. The quetzal features on every Guatemalan bank note, coin and stamp.
• February 20th is also celebrated as the Day of the Marimba - Guatemala’s national musical instrument, usually played by four musicians in a row at one time!
• The (male resplendent) quetzal is the name of Guatemala’s unit of currency.

Picture sources:-
• Quetzal photo: public domain
• Colour illustrations: drawn specially for Mexicolore by and © Steve Radzi/Mexicolore
• Statue of Tecun Man: Wikipedia
• Coin photo: downloaded from https://aprende.guatemala.com/cultura-guatemalteca/civismo/tecun-uman-heroe-nacional-de-guatemala/.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Sep 16th 2019

Learn more about the quetzal...

Learn more about Tecun Uman from Wikipedia
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