Our Independence Day is on September 15th. What best way to honour our 196 years of freedom than writing about one of our most iconic symbols, our national bird, and currency, the Quetzal.
There are more than a few types of quetzals found from southern USA to Central America. But our national bird is the magnificent Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus Mocinno).
Just look at him, isn’t he beautiful?
I wish these pictures were mine, I would be honored to one day make a photography of this unique creature. Unfortunately, it is very hard to find them in the wild, mostly because it is an endangered specie. WAIT! It is not endangered anymore, I just made a quick search and it is a relief to find out the reserves and the efforts to rescue it have paid off and take the Quetzal off the endangers species list.
However it is important to remark that it is impossible to find Quetzals in cages. This is a bird that needs to be free and if it is caged, it dies. This is one of the reasons it is our symbol of freedom.
It is medium size bird, around 40 cm tall. You may even think it is small, but wait until you see the tail, it is around 65 cm. It is because of the long tail that it is also known as the “serpent bird”and the protagonist of several Guatemalan narratives. After all, it a majestic creature.
The females are brownish color and the males are green with red chest, and they do not sing. This is important, but let me tell you more about it in the next section.
This is a story about the quetzal and our national hero, but more important it is a story about freedom.
When the Spanish conquerors came to America, they had several devises, gadgets, animals and objects that did not exist here. Many natives groups thought they were gods and did everything the Spanish asked for, for example, exchanging their gold for mirrors, and then later, when the time come, the Spanish burn alive their leaders.
There were other groups that were not so easily deceived and decided to oppose and defend their people from the conquest. This was the case of the K’iche people, whose prince was Tecum Uman.
When they confronted the Spanish, Pedro Alvarado appeared in the battled field mounted on a horse. There were no horses in the Americas, so when Tecum Uman fiercely attacked him, he killed the horse first, thinking that the horse and the man were the same beast. When the prince realized his mistake, it was too late and the conqueror thrust his speak into his heart. The death of the prince filled the land with sorrow and the Quetzal, that was his Nahual (like spirit animal) came down to mourn his death. It landed on the hero’s chest and thus tainted his chest feathers with the princes’ blood.
From that day, all male quetzals wear red chest and they have forever silent their song. These are the other reasons why the Quetzal is out symbol of freedom.
We have bird that cannot be captured, tamed or caged. A bird that reminds us of the shed blood of our people fighting for freedom. And yet it is a bird who has been endangered, at the verge of disappearing because of selfish hunters, who care only about prize or a trophy. That is what happens with people, how can we flourish and progress if we are under the chains of slavery? By chains I mean injustice, fear, corruption, poverty, inequality, insecurity, etc.
This is a land of beauty and wonders, but we have hunters, who put us down, who rob us, who take advantage of us and leave us bleeding. Hunters that are disguise themselves with promises and trick people to be loyal to them, but then burn us alive, what difference is there with the Spanish conquerors? Some of us chose to ignore the hunters and exchange their gold for mirrors, and some of us resist. Either our position we bleed, and we taint our land red because with the spears of those who are in power and abuse of it.
We are the Quetzal people, we are meant to be free. We haven an apparent freedom of 196 years, and we could be prosperous, but our cage is guarded by those who have excluded themselves from the rest of us and make selfish decisions, thrusting spears in our hearts. We are the quetzals, we do not need to sing, because we will remember our red history, but we need to spread our wings and fly. We are the quetzals who need to keep our heads up, strive for a better future and fight for real independence, one in which we will be truly free.