Guatemala

Which of the following countries doesn't use the peso as their currency? Mexico, Philippines, Guatemala, or Argentina?

And the answer: Guatemala.

Photo courtesy: Keteka

The national currency of Guatemala, known as the quetzal, is named after the country's national bird. The quetzal is a colorful bird with a long tail, whose feathers were used as currency in ancient Mayan culture.

This sacred bird of the Andes has been used as the namesake of Guatemala’s currency since around 1925. President Jose Maria Orellana, whose image appears on the other side of a one-quetzal note, introduced the quetzal as an homage to the bird’s place in ancient Mayan tradition and culture.

Quetzalcoatl, the cultural force for good for both Mayas and Aztecs, was symbolized by the head of a serpent adorned with the feathers of a quetzal. The birds were so sacred that killing one was punishable by death-- thus the birds would be released after feathers were pulled.

Interestingly, the pyramid at Chichen Itza, Mexico was constructed in such a manner that sharp sounds made inside it produce an echo that mimics the call of the quetzal. While we may never know whether or not the shape and structure of the ancient temple was intentionally constructed to mimic the quetzal’s call specifically, the resemblance is palpable. Thus, beyond currency, the link between god and bird is strong in ancient Mayan and Aztec culture.  

Today, the quetzal remains a sacred bird in Guatemala. National parks work to protect its continued habituation in central and south America. Check out this gorgeous bird for yourself with the video below.


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