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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Green like power, red like blood


Quetzal Quest: The Story of the Capture of the Quetzal, the Sacred Bird of the Aztec and the Mayas, the 1939 book by Prof. Victor Von Hagen (1908 - 1985; here in its very good Italian version of 1984), retraces the history of the fateful contact between Europe and America following a green thread: the amazing feathers used by the Aztecs to embellish the headdresses of their leaders. One of such "crowns" was given Hernán Cortés, and is now kept in the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna, Austria. Moctezuma the proud, bloodthirsty conqueror had met one worse than him.

From the first feathers and aviaries seen by the Conquistadores to the European explorers who found the actual bird in the forests of Central America in the 19th century, there have passed centuries marked by violence, exploitation, and mostly unilateral influences, as well as scientific discoveries. Very interesting are the sections devoted to the books, both those that were produced by the natives, and the European volumes that described the languages and societies of the American peoples, starting almost immediately after the first contact.

Quetzal Quest, in its rich text and pictures, puts the whole story together especially from a cultural viewpoint, focusing on the habits, the arts & crafts, the political structures, the natural environments, the chronicles, the very lives of people/s who proved unlucky enough to be waiting for the wrong "god" in the right time. The Indian convert, interpreter, and "courtesan" Doña Marina -- her real name has remained unknown -- could have played the role of the protagonist in some Renaissance long poem or tragedy.