A Mayan Tale Retold
Long 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’.
The day he was born, a wise man 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.
As the boy grew up the uncle secretly tried to kill his nephew by several ways on many occasions but each time mysteriously failed.
When Quetzal became old enough to be a Quiche warrior there was a ceremony. 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.
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 chillies.
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 past 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 many years ago by the wise man.
Quetzal returned from the battle triumphant. He had fought furiously and killed twenty men.
The next night, while the chief’s son was sleeping, Chiruma snuck into his room, stole the necklace and wore it himself. 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, a small yellow beak and a three foot tail with iridescent blue feathers. And as it sang it had the most beautiful voice of any bird before or since.
Suddenly it flew down towards the murderer and took the necklace up into the tree.
As Chiruma looked in astonishment at the resplendent bird above, a jaguar leapt upon him killing 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 Mayan 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 plunder their gold and destroy their gods.
Arriving in the highland city of Quetzaltenango, Alvarado’s conquistadors wearing metal helmets and shining armour attacked the natives with guns and knives. The Mayans fought back with clubs and spears and wicker shields. Flying back and forth above the battle was a quetzal, the guardian bird of Tecun Uman ,the Maya chief.
At the height of the battle the red headed Alvarado charged on horseback towards Tecun Uman.
The warrior hurled his club hitting the Spaniard on the head but Alvarado’s lance pierced through the chief’s chest and he fell to the ground.
As the fighting continued the quetzal bird flew down and rested on Tecun’s wound to comfort the chief in his final moments. There was nothing else the bird could do. When the great leader died, the quetzal flew off, his chest crimson with the blood of the fallen warrior.
From that moment on, all male quetzals have their breast feathers the colour of blood.
Nowadays, the quetzal bird is Guatemala’s national symbol. It’s on the flag and is the name of the country’s currency. Artists weave quetzal patterns into their Guatemalan cloth.
The quetzal symbolizes that just as the evil Chiruma could not destroy his nephew, nor will the spirit of the Maya ever be destroyed.
Beyond the Mediterranean Sea and behind the Atlas Mountains lies the ancient Berber town of Taroudant.
In that town you’ll find a place to stay a while – La Maison Anglaise – a house where travellers rest and play.
Roof top pots hold vibrant red and purple blooms; perfumed breezes bathe guests beneath the azure sky.
Down below amidst the orange grove there is a garden of sparrows chatting and chirping from sunrise to sunset.
In the high red clay walls of that garden are a hundred holes where sparrows nest and secrets linger.
If you put your hand into some of those holes a snake might bite or a scorpion sting.
But if you dare to put your hand into others you might find a sultan’s ring, a snake charmer’s flute, a bottle of argan oil or a beeswax candle.
I reached into one of those holes and pulled out a tale not heard for a thousand years or more.
And this is the story I found …
Not last year but the year after that, there was a man who moved into the old cottage on the edge of the village. He had lived in the city all his life and liked hustle and bustle and things to do.
In the countryside time tick-tocks slowly but the man knew how to keep himself busy. One day he moved his bed from one side of the room to the other. On another, he swapped the front door with the back door. He took off the old roof and put on a new roof. He knocked down walls to make the rooms bigger and then built new walls to make the rooms smaller.
One afternoon he looked out of the window. His eyes followed the path to the bottom of the garden which led to something he didn’t like the look of. Beside the old oak tree in the corner, there was a row of straggly trees and scruffy bushes cluttering up the place and making it look untidy. What on earth was it?
He phoned the farmer across the lane who told him that it was a higgledy-piggledy hedge. A higgledy-piggledy hedge? He didn’t like the sound of that. He walked down the garden path to take a closer look.
Most of the creatures living in the higgledy-piggledy hedge were hiding by the time the man arrived. Only the flutterbies and bumbly bees flitted and buzzed about the purple and pink, the blue and the red, the yellow and white flowers swaying in the summer breeze. But the man didn’t notice any of these, nor did he see the ladybird lazing on a leaf beneath his nose.
‘A higgledy-piggledy hedge at the bottom of my garden? This won’t do at all,’
he said out loud. ‘What’s needed here is a nice new fence. A wall of wood, all
stiff and straight and neat and tidy. That’s what I want to see.’
The man went indoors to look at pictures of axes, saws and shredders in glossy catalogues. A big bonfire was something to look forward to. He imagined the blazing flames and the billowing smoke as the hedge crackled and burned. The thought of the smell of the smoke made him want a bacon sandwich and so he fried up some rashers and squashed them between two chunks of bread for his supper.
Meanwhile in the higgledy-piggledy hedge at the bottom of the garden, the ladybird told the flutterbies who told the wren, who told the slow worm, who told the dormouse, who told the hedgehog, who told the rabbit who told the robin, who told the old oak tree what the ladybird had heard.
‘What!’ growled the old oak tree. ‘A nice new fence instead of a higgledy- piggledy hedge? You can’t live on a wall of wood all stiff and straight and neat and tidy!’
‘No we can’t,’ pipped the ladybird,
‘the higgledy-piggledy hedge is our home.’
‘No we can’t,’ spluttered the flutterbies,
‘the higgledy-piggledy hedge keeps us warm in winter.’
‘No we can’t,’ tweeted the wren,
‘the higgledy-piggledy hedge is where I lay my eggs in spring.’
‘No we can’t,’ squeaked the dormouse,
‘the higgledy-piggledy hedge keeps me cool in the summer.’
‘No we can’t,’ hissed the slow worm,
‘I like to snuggle in autumn’s fallen leaves.’
‘No we can’t,’ barked the hedgehog,
‘without the higgledy-piggledy hedge I’m just a hog.’
‘N-n-no w-w-we c-c-can’t,’ stuttered the rabbit,
‘I c-c-can’t m-m-make a-a-a w-w-warren i-i-in a-a-a w-w-wall o-o-of w-w-wood.’
‘No we can’t,’ chirped the robin,
‘It’s our larder where all the nuts and berries grow. How would he like to live on a nice new fence?’
‘No you can’t,’ growled the old oak tree,
‘a wall of wood, all stiff and straight and neat and tidy? That won’t do at all. You can’t live on a nice new fence!’
Sleep did not come easily for the man that night. Branches groaned and leaves rustled outside in the dark. It sounded as if the old oak tree was walking towards the house. ‘Don’t be silly,’ he thought. But still, he pulled the covers over his head until at last, in the early hours of the morning, he drifted off.
But there was no rest in his dreams either. When he’d fallen asleep his bed had been soft and cosy, but now it felt hard and rough. He turned over and saw that his bed had changed into a wall of wood. He rubbed his eyes and saw that it was exactly what he wanted to build at the bottom of the garden. It was his nice new fence. A wall of wood, all stiff and straight and neat and tidy. And he was on top of it!
OOPS! Not for long. He fell off with a BUMP!
He climbed back up and tried to lie down on it again. But the top was so narrow he rolled over and fell off onto the other side. BONK!
Oh, but he was so tired. He leaned against the fence and closed his eyes, but after a while that made his feet ache and his head dizzy.
He scrambled up the nice new fence again and tried to sleep with his body dangling down on either side, but this made his tummy sore.
Then he straddled it as if it was a skinny horse, but a cold wind blew from one side and hot air blasted from the other. Half of him was frozen and half of him was scorched.
The fence stretched ahead and behind him into the distance. ‘Longer than the Great Wall of China,’ he thought. And it was a dull brown colour. ‘It’s not very interesting,’ he sighed.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was nothing else to look at. No animals, no birds, no flowers, no trees. Just him and the nice new fence. Nothing to do but pull splinters out of his bottom.
And what was there to eat? He leant down and chomped a chunk out of one of the many millions of dull brown planks. It didn’t taste too bad but the idea of eating wood for the rest of his life turned his tongue to sandpaper.
He was beginning to wish he’d never had the idea of putting up a nice new fence at the bottom of the garden when the fence began to wiggle like a giant worm. He held on tightly as it wriggled like an eel. Then it squiggled like a snake and began to bounce up and down like a bucking bronco.
WOAH! He couldn’t hold on any longer and was tossed into the air … WHEEEEE! … he landed with a CRASH! on his bedroom floor.
The man picked himself up and drew back the curtains.
The sun was shining on the old oak tree. The birds were singing and rabbits were scampering to and fro. Flutterbies and bumbly bees flitted and buzzed about the purple and pink, the blue and the red, the yellow and white flowers swaying in the summer breeze. A ladybird leapt from a leaf and flew off into the field beyond.
‘A nice new fence might not be such a good idea after all,’ thought the man, ‘but that higgledy-piggledy hedge at the bottom of the garden could do with a trim and a tuck to tidy it up a bit. Perhaps the farmer across the lane will show me how to do it?’
© Clive PiG
Anton often wondered how long the goldfish would survive if he swallowed it.
He wasn’t squeamish about such matters as he was the sort of boy who could scoff fifty Brussels sprouts – raw. He’d won the school’s prune eating competition twice. And once he’d downed a litre of Anastasia’s Apocalyptic Concoction without being sick for almost half an hour.
Besides, he’d be doing the little creature a favour. It would have much more fun swimming in his tummy for a while rather than around and around a big glass bubble forever.
He wasn’t worried about his parents finding out. They were too busy to notice such trifling matters. His sister would be the problem as she was quite attached to it. But he could deal with her.
Anyway, if the goldfish didn’t die he could always fish it out later and put it back in the bowl. That would confuse Clarissa.
Carefully he lowered the small green net into the water and scooped the goldfish out. It wriggled and splashed water onto the table.
For a few split seconds he watched the glittering creature gasping for life and then he lifted it to his face, opened his mouth and slapped the back of the net so that the flickering fish shot onto his tongue and slid down his throat like a kid on a water chute.
Wheeee! Down it shot into his stomach.
It tickled a bit but not much. It was only a little fish. Nothing to make a fuss about. It wasn’t the size of that salmon he’d seen in the river last autumn. He wouldn’t have been able to swallow that in one go.
Hurriedly he wiped the table, then dried the net on a tea towel and put it away in the drawer.
The bowl seemed lonely now that nothing was moving around inside. He thought about emptying it and then putting it on his head and being an astronaut for the rest of the afternoon.
Still, as it was, he had enough to occupy him. He wondered if the goldfish might glow in the dark. Then he thought that he should have probably swallowed a tropical fish as it might be too warm inside his tummy for a cold water fish. If only the goldfish could contact him to give him a clue about what was going on.
Anton was beginning to realise he hadn’t planned this experiment properly.
Suddenly his insides began to throb. He held his stomach and it was moving like when Clarissa was in Mum’s tum.
Then it all went still.
Anton had forgotten all about the baby grass snake he’d swallowed last summer.
The idea of a reptile growing inside him turned his stomach. He rushed into the garden and picked up a frog from the pond. Dangling it upside down at arm’s length, he opened his mouth and waited for the snake to rise to the bait.
An hour later he felt the grass snake stirring in his belly and glide up his throat until its head was looking out of his mouth. Its tongue flickered and then it shot forward and swallowed the frog whole.
Anton quickly snapped his mouth shut and bit off the end of the snake’s tail. He spat it out as the wounded snake dropped to the lawn and slithered off into the compost heap.
After wiping his mouth he looked at his watch and seeing it was only 3 o’clock he found himself at a loose end. But then Anton remembered the goldfish bowl and wondered whether it would fit easily or would he have to rub some butter on it to slip it onto his head?
Anton went back into the house to find out.
© Clive PiG 31/10/2014 – 18/03/2016
This little PiGGy went to London. Not to visit the Queen but to tell tales at Number 10.
The fantastic Flamingo Chicks Dance School ( http://www.flamingochicks.co.uk/news/4590691130)
were in need of some tale telling entertainment after their tip top dramatic dances performed in front of Samantha Cameron last Tuesday evening at Number 10.
The troupe included children who are blind, autistic, have conditions such as Down’s Syndrome and cerebral palsy or are undergoing cancer treatment, yet none of them let the difficulties they face get in the way of their fun – they focus on what they can do, enjoying every second of being able to move and laugh with friends.
They performed extracts from Le Corsaire, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, The Firebird, Sleeping Beauty and La Bayadere in front of guests including families and volunteers, as well as the dance school’s patrons Tamara Rojo, Prima Ballerina and Artistic Director at English National Ballet, and Rosaleen Moriarty Simmonds OBE, a leading campaigner for equality for disabled people.
King’s School, Manila.
Thanks to Authors Abroad and the enthusiasm of teacher David Bogle, I prolonged my Adventures in Storyland at a relatively new school in the Philippines.
‘Thank you very much for arranging for Clive to visit our school on Monday. The kids, parents and teachers loved having him here and are begging for him to come back in the future!’ David Bogle
Gilbert Carpio Contreras told me about Balagtasan – a form of poetry that is a kind of Filipino Slam …
Balagtasan is participated by two or more protagonists who engage in a debate on a selected subject. Each protagonist expresses their views in verse and with rhyming. Refutations shall also be done in the same manner. A judge, known as the lakandiwa if male or lakambini if female, will decide the winner of the balagtasan. The judge shall also announce the winner in verse and with rhyming. The participants are also expected to impress before a watching audience.
Sounds like something to try out in UK.
Also after rummaging around the library I found this great tale to tell …
Ended the day with a swim and a sunset.
This Filipino adventure started with a capital letter and it ends with a full STOP!
Book Week at one of my favourite schools in the world – The British School Manila.
HIGHLIGHTS ON CAMPUS
Apart from sharing stories and running poetry workshops with all of Primary School …
Between 7 and 9am on the Thursday I signed 21 copies of ‘PiG’s Tales’, performed at the assembly for students, teachers and parents plus rose from a coffin and twice told a spooky tale to two different sets of Year 12 and 13 students in a Halloween grotto.
Jumping out from a corner of the staff room and blasting the teachers with a manic version of
my rap poem ‘Rover’ before staff meeting.
Running the best storytelling workshop I’ve ever delivered to such enthusiastic parents
Selling and signing 175 books.
Big thanks to Gwyn Prosser-Davies for booking me and to Liza Harfield, Dave and Lochie who looked after me so well. Can’t not mention my brother baldy, Glenn Hardy either.
HIGHLIGHTS OFF CAMPUS
Telling Spooky Tales at SM Aura Mall and watching the Rugby World Cup Final at The Handlebar with the fun loving staff at BSM plus all and sundry. One of those nights when more is forgotten than remembered. At least I got back to the Seda Hotel in one piece. Wouldn’t have if I’d met this particularly Filipino apparition …
The manananggal is female and capable of severing its upper torso and sprouting huge bat-like wings to fly into the night in search of its victims. The separated lower torso roots itself into the ground awaiting the return of its other half. The word manananggal comes from the Tagalog word tanggal, which means “to remove” or “to separate”.
The manananggal preys on sleeping, pregnant women, using an elongated proboscis-like tongue to suck the hearts of foetuses.
Sprinkling salt, smearing crushed garlic or ash on top of the standing torso is fatal to the creature. The upper torso then would not be able to rejoin itself and would perish by sunrise.
Zombies, werewolves and vampires, eat your heart out.
Well not quite, but I did stay in a fabulous farmhouse on a polder next to one. It all started on a lazy Sunday afternoon in Devon. Tea in Topsham followed by a Flybe flight from Exeter to Schiphol Airport (which is 4 metres below sea level) in the Netherlands. The day ended with a night ride in a tiny solar powered boat gliding between ghostly swans and clucking coots.
Thanks to Michele Velthuizen for such a memorable welcome and for inviting me to run storytelling and writing workshops at the American School of The Hague. Michele is the librarian at the Middle School and I had great fun sharing my Top Ten Tale Telling Tips.
Picked up three Dutch stories along the way, The Lady of Stavoren, The Dragon of Utrecht and a tale about a tapeworm that’s way too rude for this blog but meet me on a bar stool and buy me a glass or two of organic grape juice and I’ll shoot from the lip.
After two days with one Michele I hopped on the train and to Amsterdam to hook up with a second with a double ll Michelle. Michelle Andis is Head of Libraries at the International School of Amsterdam.
Had a great three days telling tales to students and hanging out with Paul Stickland – the Pop Up King and author and illustrator of Dinosaur Roar. Also enjoyed meeting teenage fiction author Cliff McNish who gave me some interesting insight into the publishing world.
Another highlight was actually being able to sing and play one of my childhood faves – A Mouse Lived In A Windmill In Old Amsterdam – in Amsterdam, to the reception classes.
Oh, and by the way I sold loads and loads of PiG’s Tales. Can’t be bad.
Big thanks to Authors Abroad for setting up a fab five days in the Netherlands.