Who was Tecun Uman?

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The life of Tecun Uman is not thoroughly documented, and much of the truth of the man's life (including whether "Tecun Uman" was his real name) is a bit of a mystery. The mythology that surrounds his life and deeds also makes accurate reporting a difficult endeavor. However, what is generally known of Tecun Uman is that he was the last ruler of the K'iche' Mayan people before the Spanish fully colonized what is now known as Guatemala. Tecun Uman led a fierce resistance in 1524 against the Spanish conquistadors but ultimately was slain in battle by conquistador Don Pedro de Alvarado. His life is honored with legendary stories of his battle against the Spanish, with mythology claiming he was accompanied in battle by the quetzal, the highly revered national bird of Guatemala.

Even though Tecun Uman and his people were ultimately defeated by the Spanish colonizers, he became the official national hero of Guatemala in 1960 and has become a powerful symbol of Indigenous resistance against colonization. Indeed, Indigenous Guatemalan resistors currently fighting against detrimental extractive industries and deforestation are part of a long line of Indigenous struggle that has continued since 1524, when Tecun Uman bravely fought against his people's oppressors.

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