28 May 2023

What is Tecun Uman? – Meet the warrior Tecún Umán from Guatemala

By Donald

In the history of America and the world, great characters have stood out for their bravery, gallantry and courage when defending their land and their people. One of these characters is Ahau Galel or Tecún Umána warrior prince of ancient Mesoamerican cultures, who today is recognized as a national hero of his country, Guatemala.

What does Tecun Uman mean?

Tekum Umam or “Great Grandfather” It is the name of a well-known indigenous person from the Kingdom of Q’umarkaj, belonging to present-day Guatemala, in South America.

According to historians, this is not a proper name or surname, but rather a qualification than the prince it was won. Likewise, they point out that the correct way to write it is “Tucum Umam” and not as “Tecún Umán” or “Tekum Umam”, which represent the most common ways of referring to it.

The title comes from the modern quiche language, which is not a dead language, as is commonly believed, but rather a language spoken in the border regions of Mexico and Guatemala. Currently, it is estimated that 7% of Guatemalans and more than 500 Mexicans speak this ancient language, inherited from Mesoamerican ancestors.

But exactly, who was the warrior Tecún Umán? The birth of this K’iche prince is estimated in the middle of the year 1500 in Totonicapán of present-day Guatemala. In his early days he was known as “Ahau Galel”, which translates as “Grandson of the King”. Time later he came to be called Tekum Umam.

Historical accounts tell that the prince, since he was born, had the destiny to train and prepare to be a recognized man, and he certainly succeeded. The great warrior is described as a multifaceted character, brave and energetic defender of his people, in addition to serving as a spiritual guide, these same characteristics being the ones that led him to be a target of the invaders. He was one of the last chiefs of the Mayan K’iche people and was killed in battle.

What did Tecun Uman do?

It was a big defender and protector of his people, reason for which he fought battles against the invaders. Many efforts were made by him to protect his lands from them. Furthermore, he was a spiritual figure who used to make offerings on a hill called pui’K’ieq, in Quetzaltenango. As warrior princehe and his people participated in several bloody battles.

The first battle took place near the Tilapa River, in an area that borders Suchitepéquez and Soconusco. The next one was in Zapotitlán, belonging to the same region as the previous one. Third battle it occurred on the slope of Quetzaltenango, currently known as Santa María de Jesús. On that occasion, the terrain was a disadvantage for the Quichés, and the Spanish benefited.

Although the battles were fierce, Tecún Umán and his people they never gave up or backed downOn the contrary, each fight comforted them and encouraged them to continue defending what was theirs, regardless of the results.

In fact, it is with this same energy that they plan a fourth meeting, in order to defeat the Spanish. This was organized in the ravines of Olintepeque, where the army of Mr. Utatlán was waiting. In this combat the command It was in charge of Prince Azumanché. The waters of the Olintepeque River were stained with the blood of the warriors who perished, for which reason the inhabitants referred to it as ‘Xequijel’, which means “river of blood”.

Then came the last battle against Pedro de Alvarado in 1524. For this fight, the Quiché warriors They knew that danger was lurking. They were aware thanks to the fact that they had a good network of informers or watchmen, for which they were preparing by placing obstacles made of stones, ditches, fortifications and other constructions that could protect them. However, the approaching army brought with it weapons, armor, and horsemen. The battalion was made up of:

  • Just over 130 men on horseback.
  • 120 soldiers.
  • allies: It is estimated that about 400 Aztec, Cholulteco, Tlaxcalteca and Cakchiquel men.

Historical accounts tell how the Spanish army very easily circumvented the obstacles that the Quichés had placed, who began to seek help to fight against those men with better weapons than them. For this very reason, the fear felt by the Quiché people was inevitable; however, they were not going to give up or allow themselves to be intimidated. For this reason, they decide to go in search of more help, entrusting the mission to the warrior they name as battle captain, the grandson of King Quicab, Tecún Umánwhich had the physical and spiritual preparation to defend its people from the approaching invaders.

On the way, the Spanish army and its allies met the Quiché warriors in the Pinal Valley, in Quetzaltenangobeginning a cruel and bloody confrontation, in which, Despite the strength, endurance and ferocity of Tecún Umán and his warriors, they would be killed, leaving only a river of blood on the battlefield. After the leader’s death, his warriors continued to fight and resist, leaving all his energy and strength on the battlefield. However, before that European artillery, they realized that they were only losing their people, so they decided to withdraw.

After these events, the Spanish Pedro de Alvarado continued to subdue the Quiché people, who, on one occasion, invited him to the K’iche’ kingdom. However, when there were rumors that he could be killed by them, Alvarado decided to act first by capturing the King and his people, and then ordering them to be burned alive. Likewise, he gave the order that Q’umarkaj be completely destroyed to prevent the Quichés that were still alive from uniting again and rising up against them. In the records, they report that the few survivors were forced to move to neighboring areas.

What was Tecún Umán like?

The prince was a man of strong and handsome build. According to records made by Pedro de Alvarado himself, in battle, the warrior wore beautiful headdresses made with numerous emeralds and quetzal feathers, one of the most beautiful birds that can be found in South America.

In addition, he was recognized by others and by his own people as the great chief or captain of the K’iche, characterized by being fierce, brave and defending the dignity of its people.

The death of this warrior was involved in wars, alliances and betrayal. According to the Annals of the Cakchiqueles, this is what is known about his death on the battlefield.

How was the death of Tecún Umán?

One version of the historical accounts tells that the cacique went out with his warriors in search of help and with the objective of come face to face with Alvarado’s Spanish army. In the course of the fierce and bloody battle, Tecún Umán finally crossed paths with the Spanish.

In the encounter, the cacique stuck a spear into Alvarado’s horse, which fell to the ground. When Alvarado got up, in the middle of the combat, he assassinated the warrior putting a steel sword in his heartbeing a stab wound the cause of death.

But is it really what happened? Some authors disagreesince there is a record in which they refer to the death of the warrior with the phrase “Xt Iq chirikh”, which means “he was killed from behind”, thus denying the first version. On the other hand, there is a legend told by the locals, which tells that a quetzal (a bird chosen as a symbol of freedom) flew up to his bloody chest, turning its plumage from green to red.

Where did Tecún Umán die?

The battle against the invaders took place in the Pinal plainsvery close to Xelajú in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

When did Tecún Umán die?

He fell in combat February 20, 1524.

When is the day of Tecún Umán?

The day March 22, 1960the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala through decree #1334declared Tecún Umán as National herobeing this a legend that fills his land with pride, a symbol of defense and resistance, and now he is remembered every February 20ththe day he died in battle.

On the other hand, Tecún Umán has received tributes on various occasions through poems, songs and statues or monuments in Guatemalan territory, being a reminder so that its history and its legacy are not forgotten.

Some of the following monuments that can be appreciated and visited are the following:

  • Statue in Guatemala City: Made by Roberto González and placed in 1965, it is close to Liberación Boulevard. It is 6.5 meters high.
  • Quetzaltenango Statue: Made by the sculptor Rodolfo Galeotti, it is located on Avenida 29, zone 7.
  • Monument in San Lucas Tolimán, Sololá: Work of the brothers Manuel and Daniel Coló. It is located near Lake Atitlán, in Pacoc. It is 5 meters high.

Others Tributes to the Cacique:

  • His image is embodied in the 50 cent bill Guatemalan.
  • a poem to the warriorwritten by Miguel Ángel Asturias and another by Rafael Mérida Cruz, a Spanish writer.
  • Waltz of Tecún Umándedicated by the musician Julián Paniagua.
  • In his honor, a city located on the border of Chiapas (Mexico) and Guatemala, bears his name.