The Resplendent Quetzl: "feathers more valuable than gold"

Among the many commodities that have been used as money -- such as seashells, tobacco, salt -- the tail feathers of the Resplendent Quetzl -- after whom the national currency of Guatemala is named -- may be the most picturesque.  Its tail feathers are said to grow to two feet in length -- three times its body length.


Photo courtesy of Wikipedia


According to the Wikipedia,

"The Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) plays an important role in Mesoamerican mythologies. The Resplendent Quetzal is Guatemala's national bird, and an image of it is on the flag and coat of arms of Guatemala. It is also the name of the local currency (abbreviation GTQ). ...

"The Resplendent Quetzal was considered divine, associated with the "snake god", Quetzalcoatl by Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations. Its iridescent green tail feathers, symbols for spring plant growth, were venerated by the ancient Aztecs and Maya, who viewed the quetzal as the "god of the air" and as a symbol of goodness and light. Mesoamerican rulers and some nobility of other ranks wore headdresses made from quetzal feathers, symbolically connecting them to Quetzalcoatl. Since it was a crime to kill a quetzal, the bird was simply captured, its long tail feathers plucked, and was set free. Quetzalcoatl was the creator god and god of wind, often depicted with grey hair. In several Mesoamerican languages, the term for quetzal can also mean precious, sacred, or erected." observes:

The name quetzal is an ancient Mayan term for tail feather, and the bird itself represents liberty. Ancient people believed the Quetzal would not survive in captivity, it would rather die than be held prisoner. So rather than killing these birds for their feathers, the Maya would pluck them and set the birds free to grow new feathers.

And although no primary sources are cited, vividly retails the lore of the Quetzal feathers:

Exotic Aztec headdresses, created from the feathers of the male Resplendent Quetzals, were worn in ancient Aztec ceremonies.

They were worn only by the great Aztec Gods, Priests, Warrior Chiefs.

The  Aztec  tribes  would  capture the male Quetzals,  and keep them alive, then they would remove their tail feathers, and then release the  great birds, back into the rainforest, to grow new feathers. 

In this way,  they  always had a growing supply, of beautiful Quetzal  feathers, for their leaders and ceremonies.

The  ancient  Mayans, treasured the male's iridescent, emerald tail  feathers, they were more valuable than gold, and if anyone was caught killing their sacred bird, they
were punished instantly.

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