Communities and Cultures

Aligned to elementary social studies learning standards, Really BIG Money teaches children about world cultures and supports the development of financial literacy.


Resplendent Quetzal bird, Guatemala, collected around 1923

Gift of The Honorable Charles E. Hughes 

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How big is this money?

The longest tail feather of this male quetzal (KET-sahl) bird is 21 inches long. Communities in Mexico and Central America once used quetzal tail feathers to make payments and also for special clothing.

Who used this bird’s tail feathers as money?

Communities in Mexico and Central America used quetzal tail feathers to pay taxes to Aztec rulers. The feathers were also made into headdresses and clothing for royalty and religious leaders. To get the feathers, people caught the quetzal and pulled out its tail feathers. But they let it fly away, and the quetzal’s tail feathers grew back. 

Aztec rulers made people pay taxes. This image shows two bundles of green quetzal tail feathers, ceremonial clothing and shields made from feathers, and beads. It made up part of the community’s payment. In the early 1500s, one community gathered 10,000 feathers each year.

Codex Mendoza, mid-1500s

Codex Mendoza, mid-1500s

Courtesy of Bodleian Library, Oxford University

The quetzal has been the name of Guatemala’s currency since 1925. This coin shows a quetzal bird and its long tail feathers.

20 quetzales coin, Guatemala, 1926

Gift of Robert Leon Hughes

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