Tag Archives: Traditions

Quetzal splendour, magnificent and tender.

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.

Features

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.

Stories

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.

Some thoughts

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.

Advertisements

Guatemalan Tamale, to enjoy and be jolly

A delicious delicacy from my country that I am dying to introduce to you.

You can a dish called “Tamale” (rhymes with “Bali”) in almost all countries in Latin America. But it is more traditional in the area of Mesoamerica, that is Mexico to Costa Rica. However, each country has its own speciality and they are all different in their own way.

Over all, it is masa made from maize, filled with mysterious ingredients and wrapped and steamed in a special leaf.

If you have been in a Chinese-speaking country, like Taiwan, you can think about it as a ZongZi (粽子) or Rice Dumplings. You know! the one eaten mostly for the dragon boat festival. If you are not so sure about this festival, maybe you want to check out my post about the Dragon Boat in Tainan.

Zongzi to the left, Tamale to the right

The main difference between the Zongzi and Tamale, besides the obvious shape is that the ZongZi is made from rice and not masa.

Masa Made from Maize

Masa is the Spanish word for dough, but if I straightly write “dough”, you might think that Tamales are made of wheat flour. The dough for tamales is made from corn, but not the yellow corn, it is made from the white one. We usually use the word “corn” to refer to the yellow one and the “maize” to the white one.

This was a simple explanation, but let me give you some interesting details. The flour made form the white corn is called “Nixtamal”. This word is in “Nahuatl”, a local language, and it is formed from the words Nextli, meaning “ashes” and Tamalli which means “uncooked corn dough”.

Mysterious Ingredients

I say “mysterious”, because it depends on the ingredients to determine the kind of tamale.

The traditional Guatemala Tamale only has recado (thick tomato sauce) with chicken or pork meat….. maybe olives, but actually adding any other ingredient would stop it from being really traditional. However, in other countries they do add other vegetables and they are also delicious.

Traditional Guatemala Tamale

You can eat a tamale at anytime, but on Saturday evenings tamale-selling-places  get a red lantern out to indicate they have tamales for sale. Another traditional time to have this delicious food is for Christmas. However, because of the amount of time it takes to make them, we do not usually make them at home, which means that at the beginning of December we go crazy making our tamales order with the person who, to our opinion, makes the tastier tamales of all. Tamales make the perfect combination for our traditional Christmas day. And this year will be the first time in 9 years, that I will have tamales for Christmas again, I am so excited for this.

The Special Leaf

The mixed dough and the ingredients are wrapped in banana leaf and steamed until ready. But do not worry, you do not have to eat the leaf, this would be hard to do, and I guess not very tasty. However, tamales are traditionally presented still with their leaf, and it has to be nicely tucked in.

Variations

In Guatemala there is a large variety of tamales, the difference mostly depends on the ingredients and size.

Small

Tamales blancos (White tamales): Made only with the dough and wrapped in corn leaf.

Tamalitos de Chipilin (Small tamales of Chipilin): Also wrapped in corn leaf, but the dough is mixed with chipilin. This is a leaf that grows mostly in Guatemala and Honduras. These are one of my favorite types of tamales and I love to eat them with with cheese.

Tamalitos de Elote (corn tamales): The dough of these ones is made from the yellow corn, and they are a little sweet.

Medium

Chuchitos (no translation): They have a bell shape and they are made only with the dough and thick tomato sauce. I love to have these as an afternoon snack.

Big ones

Tamal Negro (Black Tamale): They are sweet. Some sugar is added to the dough and instead of vegetables, purnes and raisins are used. But even though they are sweet, they are still made with chicken.

Paches (no translation): These are the sames as tamales, but instead of the corn dough, potatoe is used.


Wow… writing so much about tamales made me hungry, but thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed my article.

Follow and Like!

The Dragon Boat Festival – Euphoric and Exceptional

Oh the dragon boat! What a fantastic time to be in Asia, and in our case, in the wondrous Taiwan. This is a great festival specially if you or any of your friends is taking part of the competition. Even if you are not, you get extra holidays off, a night market that takes places during the day near your local river and Rice Dumplings, rice dumplings everywhere.


Continue reading The Dragon Boat Festival – Euphoric and Exceptional