11 - Historical Narratives
The spectacular ritual to appease a grieving wife will evolve into a crowning celebration that will catch the attention of European explorers in search of fantastic realms. In the afterword we talk about the stories of two conquistadors that almost lost their minds in search of gold and fame.
1. Myths, Legends, and Folktales from Latin America. Golden Tales. By Lulu Delacre. Published by Scholastic Press.
2. Stories, Myths and Legends for Children from Latin American. Coedition Latino Americana.
3. Mitos y Leyendas Colombianos. Selección y adaptación Fabio Silva V. Panamericana Editorial.
4. 1491 New Revelations of The Americas Before Columbus. Charles C. Mann. Vintage.
5. Historia Mínima de Colombia por Jorge Orlando Melo.
6. La expedición de Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada por el Rio Magdalena, Jorge Augusto Gamboa: http://www.banrepcultural.org/biblioteca-virtual/credencial-historia/numero-283/expedicion-gonzalo-jimenez-de-quesada-por-rio-magdalena
Realizado por: Jorge Augusto Gamboa M. Antropólogo y máster en historia, Universidad Nacional de Colombia. Investigador, Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia.
7. Sir Walter Raleigh's First Journey to El Dorado (1595): https://www.thoughtco.com/walter-raleighs-journey-to-el-dorado-2136440
The legend of El Dorado
Version by Carolina Quiroga-Stultz
El Dorado by Edgar Allan Poe
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.
But he grew old—
This knight so bold—
And o'er his heart a shadow
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.
And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow—
"Shadow," said he,
"Where can it be—
This land of Eldorado?"
"Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,"
The shade replied—
"If you seek for Eldorado!"
Centuries ago many Europeans believed that somewhere in the New World there was a city of gold. Most of the men who came in search of this extraordinary place, died. They were either killed, committed suicide or lived a miserable life. That is why many assumed that only a valiant or a fool could find El Dorado.
After many expeditions, those Europeans concluded that this place full of riches had to be located somewhere in what is today, Colombia. Because there were rumors about a tribe of natives that would perform an unbelievable ritual to appease a goddess. They would pour offerings of precious jewels into a lake. The Europeans thought: what a waste!
In the land of the Chibcha people, in between the altitudes where the Andean Mountains split in two mountain chains the Guatavita Lake sits, and in its waters lives a snake. Known as the goddess of the lake. Who was once a woman named, Chie.
Chie was the wife of a Zipá. A Chibcha ruler who was very busy with his job, his plans, and his multiple wives. Feeling the husband's neglection, Chie fell in love with a warrior. When the Zipá found out, he threw a party for his wife.
Everyone was happy, until the main course was served. When Chie looked at it, it was her lover's head. Chie ran away in tears. Later, she walked into the depths of the Guatavita Lake where she drowned her sorrow, and became a snake. The goddess of the lake.
The Zipá felt remorse. He went after his wife. But she was gone. The Xeques or the priests, said that Chie was under the waters, surely deceased. The Zipá sent them to retrieve her body but the snake told them: Don't bother! After that, the repentant husband instated a ceremony that was performed ever since.
Were he sailed to the center of the lake in a raft loaded with offerings to appease his wife. The Zipá would cover himself in golden dust. Then he would pour the offerings into the waters, and dive in hopes to meet her. But he always returned alone. Either, he did not find her, or she refused to come back home. He never said. And this is how he spent the rest of his days.
Time passes and by the end of the 15th century a ritual to appease a grieving wife, had evolved into a ceremony around the crowning of a new Zipá. It was now believed that the goddess of the lake could weigh a man's heart, and tell if he was fit to rule or if he should die.
By the year of 1505 great excitement reigned in Bacatá, the Zipá's house. The Chibchas were thrilled. Baldini, the soon to become a new Zipá appeared to be serene and majestic. Although his body was carved in the hustles of war, he owned a gentle and wise heart. His tanned skin shows a certain pallor [palor], a result of a rigorous fast to purify himself for the ceremony.
Baldini led the procession that came down the hill. At the shores of the Guatavita Lake, four men joined him. A priest, two warriors, and a member of the nobility. A raft loaded with offerings awaited. The Chibchas gathered around were wearing their best dresses.
The five men removed their robes, and were covered with golden dust. The gilded men stepped on the raft, and sailed at last. When they reached the center of the lake, the priest raised a red flag. The solemn moment was about to start. Silence reigned. The warriors poured the offerings into the lake to call the snake.
Next the priest raised a white flag. After this, the Chibchas would know if Baldini was meant to rule them. Baldini walked forward, and took a deep breath. He knew what to tell the goddess, but, what if he wasn't flawless. Will he have to stay? or will he be blessed to rule for many days?
Baldini plunged into the waters and went down into the depths of the Guatavita lake, where Chie awaited. Outside, the four men on the raft could only see circles on the surface of the waters. Minutes passed. The Chibchas began to wonder if they needed to find a new Zipá. His visit to the goddess of the lake was taking longer than usual. When people began to ask each other, what they should do? Baldini emerged triumphantly.
Oh! Everyone was relieved. They truly respected and admired Baldini. Now, with the goddess blessing the festivities could begin. The Chibchas celebrated with drinks, food, competitions, music, dances, and of course stories. The people were overjoyed. Yet, they ignored that Chie had delivered a bad omen. Their world would soon be over. Baldini had to play a crucial part, if he wanted them to last.
About 20 uneventful years passed. Until one day the Zipá, heard rumors of a strange group of bearded men coming from the east, in search of treasures and disturbing the peace. This expedition was led by the European Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada. An ambitious Spaniard determined to succeed where others had failed. He was in search for El Dorado. The legend had remained.
A neighboring kingdom of the Chibchas revealed to Quesada about the strange ceremony the Chibcha's use to perform to appease a goddess. Quesada requested a meeting with the Zipá, and demanded all riches they had. Baldini promised to deliver them, under one condition, the Chibchas needed 3 days to gather all that. Oh! Quesada dreamed in delight, El Dorado was his, at last!
However, by the end of the third day, Quesada was enraged. The Chibchas did not show up. Oh! They would meet his wrath. With his army of conquistadores, Quesada erupted into Chibchas' Kingdom. But no one was around. The Chibchas vanished. What a dishonest kind!
Quesada, the Conquistador that came closer to El Dorado than anyone else, died in poverty at an old age.
Indeed, over the centuries, attempts to drain the waters of Guatavita Lake had been conducted. But every time, a natural disaster followed, and many died. It is said, that Chie, the goddess of the lake still guards from under the waters, like a mother does, her sons and daughters. Because they were always the true treasure worth it to last.
Very well dear listeners let’s talk about the story. Today I will talk about 2 men that went in search of this legend and how their stories ended. But first, let’s talk about the Chibchas.
The Chibchas were located in what is today Colombia, were conquered in the year 1538.
Politically, the Muiscas were the largest group pertaining to the Chibcha family who were a group of city-states similar to the Incas. There are accounts of the spectacular ritual they performed once a year.
Where the chieftan whose body was coated with gold dust, rode out in a canoe or raft loaded with gold and jewels. Then he would bathe in the waters until the gold was washed away. Similar rituals were performed in other lakes, such as Iguaque. Which was a sacred place believed to be the place from which Bachué, the mother of the Muiscas had come out, carrying a child, that later became her husband, but that is another story.
The anecdote about the gilded men is presumably the origin of the legend of El Dorado. But my theory is that most of the Conquistadores already had preconceived ideas of rich, and fantastic kingdom awaiting to be discovered by these adventurous men that of course would have to defeat some terrible monsters, and endure treacherous odyssey. Ideas that were passed down through their own folklore, the travels of many sailors and explorers, and of course from the wars against the moors.
And if we add to these deliriums the conquest of Peru, that is the Inca empire, with all its riches, many thought there had to be more magnificent kingdoms such as the Incas awaiting for these adventurous and brave men. And one of those men that dreamed of being immortalized was Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada.
Quesada was appointed by Pedro Fernandez de Lugo to explore the Magdalena River until he could reach Peru. In truth, they thought the Inca Empire, and its riches were just down the river. So, 800 men were appointed, 600 men would go on foot following the route the last expedition had taken. While the other 200 men would go on boats. Both groups were supposed to meet in Sompallón and continue together from there.
On April the 6th, 1536, the expedition left from Santa Marta (north of Colombia). Quesada departed with 600 men from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta where they had to defend themselves from hostile groups. However, along the way the expedition made some allies, who became their interpreters.
But the locals were not their only concern. The unknown climate, diseases, wild animals also took a toll on Spaniards, and the Natives who had joined them. Finally, they made it to Sompallón, and met the men who had sailed on boat through the river, and together the expedition continued following the same route. But still some men did it on foot and the others on boats.
In the meantime, the rains, the mosquitos, and the snakes did not give anyone a break. Hunger was lurking even though they were able to plunder different local tribes. But after 8 miserable months, the Spaniards understood that this was not the path that would lead them to Peru.
Nonetheless, when they were considering going back is when they heard rumors of another place full of riches. It was not be the Inca gold, but it could turn out to be a good substitute for it.
About 210 miles from the river the expedition noticed something unusual. The native villages they met by the river, did not consume the same type of salt as the other villagers they had previously met. These new villagers did not trade the salt coming from the sea. Instead they traded granulated salt, shaped in blocks with other tribes that lived up in the mountain range. From up there also came fine painted blankets. All these merchandises gave the Spaniards the idea that there had to be a highly developed community producing them.
At this point the tired expedition had less than 400 men. It was in the year 1537 that the conquistadores took the road to the mountain chain through the Opón river, and arrived to the high plateau cundiboyasense where they met the Muiscas and a cruel war was fought. The Spaniards won but only 170 of their men survived. It was on top of the Chibcha’s Kingdom that the Spanish established the cities of Santa Fé, later Bogotá today the capital of Colombia, and Tunja and Vélez.
Most of the stories have been romanticized, like the one you heard, but the truth is that it was the wars, diseases brought by the Spaniards, what destroyed the Chibchas.
The second person I would like to introduce is Gonzalo Pizarro, half-brother of Francisco Pizarro the conquistador of the Inca Empire. Since Gonzalo was a troublemake,r and his half-brother, now was governor of Peru, thought he could give to the restless brother something to do. So, Francisco convinced Gonzalo to go in search of El Dorado.
In 1541, he left Quito, -today capital of Ecuador-, leading an expedition of approximately 280 Spanish soldiers, 2000 pigs, and 4000 highland natives’ slaves. Now if you are wondering, didn’t they get the news about the other Gonzalo? In those times the news traveled very slowly, and even so, many thought: someone else could get lucky, right?
However, soon Gonzalo Pizarro’s quest went from a utopian, and idyllic search to a calamitous disaster. Since he had no clue where to look, the expedition ended up wandering randomly by eastern foothills of the Andean mountains. Pretty much by what is today the Amazon Rain Forest. Within weeks most of the horses had died. The native slaves also fell ill due to exhaustion in the humidity of a hot foreign land. Still, the expedition kept pushing into the thick forest.
Since they couldn’t find villages to plunder, they ended up eating the pigs, later the dogs and finally lizards. So, when most of the men were sick. The second in command, Francisco de Orellana, suggested to Gonzalo that they should to split up.
Orellana’s group would go up the Napo river by boat, while the others would continue the current route on foot. History tell us that after 9 days Orellana found food, but they never came back for Gonzalo and his men. As a result, Gonzalo gave up and went back home. And of course, those two, Gonzalo and Orellana became mortal enemies. But that is another story.
And this is all for now. Tres Cuentos warns you to reconsider those ambitions based on fantasies or dreams of heroic adventures, in reality, they do not tend to be as glorious and fancy as in the movies. Next time, we will travel back to Guatemala to listen the story of a forbidden love, were religion and racism forced two lovers to make a drastic decision.
Nos escuchamos pronto adios!
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