A Mayan Tale Retold
A long time ago in the mountains and rain forests of Guatemala, there was a powerful Quiche leader named Cacique. He longed for a son to succeed him and after many years Cacique’s wife bore him a baby boy named Quetzal, which means ‘beautiful’.
When Quetzal became old enough to be a Quiche warrior there was a celebration. Musicians blew ocarinas, beat slit drums and strummed charangos made from armadillo shells. Dancers with painted bodies writhed like snakes and whooped like spider monkeys.
During the ceremony, a sage came forward and placed a jade and obsidian necklace over his head and proclaimed,
“Your destiny has been decided, Quetzal. You will live forever.”
Everybody in the tribe cheered at these words except one warrior, Chiruma, the jealous younger brother of the chief. He had hoped that Cacique and his wife would never have a son so that he could become the next leader. The only way that could happen now would be if Chiruma could get rid of his nephew, Quetzal.
At the feast Chiruma scowled from the shadows as the tribe gorged on dog, guinea pig and iguana meat. He refused the avocados, the pineapples and the sweet potatoes offered to him by slaves, but he did smoke the tobacco pipe and drink the hot chocolate spiced with chilli.
After the celebration, all the warriors had to go to battle against a neighbouring tribe. They took their bows and arrows, clubs and shields. Many of the Quiche warriors were killed but Chiruma noticed that arrows fired straight at his nephew always veered passed without so much as scratching him. It was as if he had some magical protection. Then Chiruma realised that it must be the necklace given to Quetzal by the sage.
The next night, while the chief’s son was sleeping, Chiruma snuck into his room and stole the necklace. The following day when Quetzal was walking in the forest, Chiruma surprised him from behind a tree and shot his nephew straight through the heart with an arrow.
Quetzal fell to the ground. Chiruma would now be chief when his brother died.
He was about to walk away when Quetzal’s chest began to throb. Suddenly a bird emerged from out of his body and flew up onto a branch of a ceiba tree. This was no ordinary bird. It was the size of a parakeet with shimmering emerald wing feathers with a three foot tail with iridescent blues with a small yellow beak. And as it sang it had the most beautiful voice of any bird before or since.
As Chiruma looked in astonishment at the resplendent bird above, a jaguar leapt upon the jealous uncle and killed him with one bite.
Years later, in the year 1524, the Spaniard, Pedro de Alvarado marched with his army into Guatemala. He did not look in awe and wonder at the pyramids built without using iron or the wheel. He was not impressed by the written language in books and on stone, the mathematical skills or astronomical knowledge of the Mayans. He wanted to destroy their gods and plunder their gold.
Arriving in the highland city of Quetzaltengo, Alvarado
Next instalment to follow soon. Cliff Hanger