Today I want to write about two legends I discovered in the Boyaca region. These tales are both related to the Muisca people, a pre-Columbian community also known as the Chibchas.
THE LEGEND OF EL DORADO IS COLOMBIAN
Much is said about the conquest of El Dorado, but do you really know what the real story is? The obsession with finding gold for better days spans many eras, ethnicities and places.
What I didn’t know was that the origin of this legend took shape in the Boyaca region of Colombia in the 16th century. It has survived for centuries and is passed on to all generations today as a token of pride in Colombian heritage.
POWDER IN THE EYES
At that time, many heard of the New World and its golden mountains. We then begin to dream of these distant lands and their most sparkling treasures. The Spanish people then landed on the continent of South America along the Magdalena River from the Caribbean coast. He hears about the existence of a sacred lagoon called Guatavita which is located inland. It is said that a ceremony under the name of “valsa Muisca” takes place there.
A young cacique descendant (name used for the local ruler) is locked in a cellar for weeks to be purified. He is smeared with honey and turtle fat, then covered with a small amount of gold dust and gold and emerald jewelry like his ancestors did.
A DIFFERENT VISION OF WEALTH
His disciples take him on a raft and row to the middle of the lake. As an offering to the gods, the cacique then throws himself into Lake Guatavita to give back to the earth what belongs to him.
It is said that from the shore man looks like a god and is nicknamed “El Dorado.” The paradox is that at that time it was salt and not gold that the Muiscas worshiped. Its virtues of conservation and its exchange value were praised. Together with the elements like the sun, the moon and the earth, they founded the main beliefs of the Muisca culture. Gold, on the other hand, was only intended for ceremonial offerings.
OWNERSHIP OF THE NEW WORLD
The Spaniards will never meet this cacique chief that we hear about in Europe. However, they do discover Lake Guatavita and try to empty it (we note the date of 1545 for this event even if several speeches differ). When the water was withdrawn, gold coins appear along the banks but without any treasure. If this story doesn’t awaken your adventurous side and doesn’t make you want to go to Colombia …
The centerpiece of the Muisca raft is now on display at the Bogota Gold Museum, in the room dedicated to the offerings. It is considered to be one of the museum’s most renowned for its sophistication. It represents the origins of the Eldorado myth.
BELIEFS THAT PERSIST
There are many other legends among the Muiscas, such as that of the goddess Bachue. Coming from another sacred lagoon (Iguaque), she mates with her son. She teaches her children how to cultivate the land and develop the Muisca people before returning to the lake and transforming into a snake. It is the origin of the human race.
Colombians still draw on these legends which make sense in their daily lives. They believe in the elements of the sun, moon and earth as the elements of fertility. They also have many thermal waters where they practice treatments related to the legend of Bachue.