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The importance of the Red Guara in the Mayan culture

The Guara Roja or Guacamaya , as it is known in the Copan Valley, was of great importance in the Mayan Culture, and its beautiful plumage was an object of veneration for the ancient Mayans.

This beautiful bird not only represented its gods, but its plumage represented the sun and the sky . For the Mayans, the red color of their plumage symbolized the rays of the sun, the yellow the sun as such and the blue the sky.

The Guara Roja or Macaw today holds the title of being the National Bird of Honduras as it flies freely through the ruins of its ancestors in Copán.

The importance of the Red Guara in the Mayan culture
Sculpture of a Macaw head in Copan Ruinas, Honduras

The Macaw in Mayan sculpture

Such was the impact of the Ara Macao for the Mayan Culture that it can be found represented in many of the sculptures at Copán Ruinas.

According to records of the Archaeological Park of Copán Ruinas , in the depths of the Acropolis, inside temple 16, there is a mask representing the name of the founder of ancient Copán, K’nichYax Kuk-Mo, which means First Quetzal-Resplendent Macaw .

Throughout the Copan Ruinas archaeological site there are different representations of macaws; from the ball court built by the first king to the last one built by 18 Rabbits, all were decorated and have markers that represent macaws, Copán being considered to have the most beautiful ball court in the Mayan World.

Mythology of the Macaw in the Mayan culture

Within the Mayan culture, the Scarlet Macaw was considered the embodiment of the fire of the sun unfolding from the sky to the Earth, like the sun’s rays.

They related it to the god Vucub Caquix (‘seven macaws’), who, according to the Popol Vuh, considered himself more important than the sun and was punished for it.

According to tradition, another of his deities, K’nichYax Kuk-Mo (translated as ‘Fire Macaw with the Sun’s Eye’), descended in the form of a scarlet macaw to a temple of the same name dedicated to him in the city of Izamal, to burn the offerings of men, whose smoke rose to the sky symbolizing the pleas of the people.

It was then related to solar fire, which represents both the energy that allows life on Earth and the one that causes death if it occurs in excess.

They went to this deity to seek a remedy for some problem, such as pests or droughts, mainly because it was also considered that this deity was the one that originated them.

The Guara Roja or Scarlet Macaw – National Bird of Honduras

An image of him appears in the Dresden Codex, with the head of a macaw and a human body, holding a torch in each arm, symbols of drought and destruction.

However, fire also represented the principle of change and the means of communication with the gods, so the macaw’s relationship with these elements is neither exclusively negative nor positive.

Equally important was its link with temporality, which implies its relationship with the weather, climatic conditions and the succession of day and night, stemming from its rhythmic behavior with large peaks of activity in the morning —at sunrise sun—and in the afternoon—at sunset.

This was of great importance in ancient civilizations due to their dependence on temporary factors to ensure their subsistence through agriculture.

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