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Guatavita - El Dorado

COLOMBIA | Sunday, 5 December 2021 | Views [56]

Guatavita - El Dorado

Guatavita - El Dorado

El Dorado -La Laguna di Guatavita

 One of the gold objects that I saw in the National Museum, and the one from which the photo didn’t come out, was an image of a prospective Muisca chieftain on a raft accompanied by priests. A larger copy of the original was in the museum in the Salt Castle, and that is the one that is in the photo gallery.  The myth of El Dorado, the city of gold, has fascinated people since the time of the Conquistadores. When Jorge mentioned that we could go to the lake from which the legend derives, I jumped at the chance.

The Laguna di Guatavita is not the large lake near the entrance to Guatavita village; that one is actually formed from damming up a number of the smaller rivers spiraling down from the surrounding mountains. During the damming process, the village of Guatavita was flooded and the people had to be relocated. The village and laguna are named after the Muisca chieftain who founded the clan. Prior to the Spanish arrival, the Muisca in the region had a tradition of naming their chieftain every 28 years.  There was a strenuous process of development before one was deemed worthy to be the leader. The line was hereditary, but not from father to son, but rather uncle to nephew.  If there were a number of nephews they had to pass a series of tests to see who would undergo the more serious rights of passage.  The 19 year old young man who appeared to be most worthy, was sent off to spend nine years in a cave in the surrounding mountains. The designated length of time derived from the nine month pregancy of a woman, as a shaman/chieftain he needed to be reborn through a more difficult process. He was not allowed out during the day, but only at night to see the stars.  Only two shamanic teachers were allowed to visit him, one for teaching and the other to bring food. When he had successfully completed his retreat, he would then be sent to the Kusmuy, a round house, with a fire in the middle surrounded by four pillars representing the four elements: earth, wind, fire and water. He would stay in the hut for three days and two nights, now accompanied by the five most beautiful girls from the villages. If he showed any preference for any one of them over the others, his hair would be cut off and he would be banished from the area. If he successfully overcame the temptation, then he would be stripped naked just before dawn and covered in gold powder. At sunrise he would walk with the village priests/shaman up the mountain to the laguna at about 3,200m where a raft was waiting for him.  The raft would take him to the middle of the laguna, (which was protected by the goddess Guatavita according to at least one myth) where he would dive in so that he was in touch with all four elements. The villagers would watch the ceremony from the top of the hills surrounding the laguna and throw gold votive figures of deities and former chieftains into the water to bless the new chieftain and hope for his success. When Coronado arrived, he heard about a city of gold and his Conquistadores went in search of it all through northern South America up to Mexico.  The brother of Conquistador Jimenez de Quesada, the founder of Bogota, Hernan Quesada, was searching for the city of gold when he came across the lake and found some of the votive figures. His troops then started to dig deeper into the hills surrounding the lake and uncovered a wealth of what appeared to be gold objects.  It wasn’t until many of the figures arrived in Spain that they found the ‘gold’ was 30% gold and 70% copper. That didn’t stop the Europeans from wanting access to the horde, however, and after the Spanish started digging a large V in the mountain with picks and shovels to get to the lake, the British arrived bombed it open and then built a tunnel to drain the lake so the figures could be easily retrieved.  Mother Nature, Bachue, had other plans, however, and the rains came so heavily that the tunnel collapsed, blocking the exit and the waters refilled the laguna. The Gap is still visible and the trail up above the laguna skirts around it.

Today, the area is in a nature reserve and the natural vegetation on the hills has been restored from the potato farms of the colonial and early republic periods. In the distance one can still see some of them from the viewpoints above the lake. The artifacts found in the region are now in museums in Bogota as well as in Spain, England and Germany. The legend, however, remains part of the traditional culture of the Muisca people, even though the last full-blooded member died in 1939.  Columbians in the region are making a valiant effort to keep their indigenous heritage alive by preserving both material and immaterial traditions, in the form of crafts, symbols, legends, and language. There is much that can be learned from them. For example, they believed in a balance of all aspects of the universe. Light/Dark, Sun/Moon, Sky/Earth, Male/Female etc. the spirits were satisfied when balance and harmony among the elements was present, and it was the chieftain’s job along with the shaman to maintain that harmony for the community.  I wonder what these leaders would say about our governments today….



Tags: history, myths


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