El Dorado

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This article is about a mythical city of gold; for other uses see El Dorado (disambiguation).

El Dorado (pronounced: [el doˈɾaðo], English /ˌɛl dəˈrɑːd/; Spanish for "the golden one"), originally El Hombre Dorado (the golden man), El Indio Dorado (the golden native), or El Rey Dorado (the golden king), is the term used by Europeans to describe a tribal chief of the Muisca native people of Colombia, South America, who as an initiation rite, covered himself with gold dust and dove into Lake Guatavita. Later, it became the name of a legendary "Lost City of Gold", also known as Manõa, that fascinated explorers since the days of the Spanish conquistadors and was supposedly located on Lake Parime in the highlands of Guyana, South America.

Imagined as a place, El Dorado went from a city to a kingdom and an empire of this legendary golden king. In pursuit of the legend, Spanish conquistadors Francisco Orellana and Gonzalo Pizarro departed from Quito (Viceroyalty of Peru, now capital of Ecuador) in 1541 in an expedition towards the Amazon Basin, as a result of which Orellana became the first known person to navigate the entire length of the Amazon River.

El Dorado or Eldorado is now the name of numerous places, especially mining towns, in South America, the United States and elsewhere, as well as the name of many films and TV shows, pieces of music, sports teams, and other items.

Muisca indigenous people[edit]

Main articles: Muisca people and Muisca mythology

The Muisca occupied the highlands of Cundinamarca and Boyacá departments of Colombia in two migrations from outlying lowland areas, one starting ~1270BCE, and a second between 800BCE and 500BCE. At those times, other more ancient civilizations also flourished in the highlands.

In the mythology of the Muisca, Mnya the Gold or golden color, represents the energy contained in the trinity of Chiminigagua, which constitutes the creative power of everything that exists.[1] Chiminigagua is, along with Bachué, Cuza, Chibchacum, Bochica, and Nemcatacoa, one of the creators of the universe.

The tribal ceremony[edit]

The Zipa used to cover his body in gold dust and, from his raft, he offered treasures to the Guatavita goddess in the middle of the sacred lake. This old Muisca tradition became the origin of the El Dorado legend. This Balsa Muisca (Muisca raft) figure is on display in the Gold Museum, Bogotá, Colombia.

The original narrative can be found in the rambling chronicle, El Carnero, of Juan Rodriguez Freyle. According to Freyle, the king or chief priest of the Muisca, in a ritual at Lake Guatavita near present-day Bogotá was said to be covered with gold dust which he then washed off in the lake while his attendants threw trinkets made of gold, emeralds and precious stones into the lake.

In 1638, Freyle wrote this account of the ceremony, addressed to the cacique or governor of Guatavita:[Note 1][2]

The ceremony took place on the appointment of a new ruler. Before taking office, he spent some time secluded in a cave, without women, forbidden to eat salt, or to go out during daylight. The first journey he had to make was to go to the great lagoon of Guatavita, to make offerings and sacrifices to the demon which they worshipped as their god and lord. During the ceremony which took place at the lagoon, they made a raft of rushes, embellishing and decorating it with the most attractive things they had. They put on it four lighted braziers in which they burned much moque, which is the incense of these natives, and also resin and many other perfumes. The lagoon was large and deep, so that a ship with high sides could sail on it, all loaded with an infinity of men and women dressed in fine plumes, golden plaques and crowns.... As soon as those on the raft began to burn incense, they also lit braziers on the shore, so that the smoke hid the light of day.

At this time, they stripped the heir to his skin, and anointed him with a sticky earth on which they placed gold dust so that he was completely covered with this metal. They placed him on the raft ... and at his feet they placed a great heap of gold and emeralds for him to offer to his god. In the raft with him went four principal subject chiefs, decked in plumes, crowns, bracelets, pendants and ear rings all of gold. They, too, were naked, and each one carried his offering .... when the raft reached the centre of the lagoon, they raised a banner as a signal for silence.

The gilded Indian then ... [threw] out all the pile of gold into the middle of the lake, and the chiefs who had accompanied him did the same on their own accounts. ... After this they lowered the flag, which had remained up during the whole time of offering, and, as the raft moved towards the shore, the shouting began again, with pipes, flutes and large teams of singers and dancers. With this ceremony the new ruler was received, and was recognised as lord and king.

This is the ceremony that became the famous El Dorado, which has taken so many lives and fortunes.

We also have this account by poet-priest and historian of the Conquest Juan de Castellanos, who had served under Jimenez de Quesada in his campaign against the Muiscas, written in the mid-16th century but not published until 1850:[3]

The Quest of El Dorado

An alien Indian, hailing from afar,
Who in the town of Quito did abide.
And neighbor claimed to be of Bogata,
There having come, I know not by what way,
Did with him speak and solemnly announce
A country rich in emeralds and gold.

Also, among the things which them engaged,
A certain king he told of who, disrobed,
Upon a lake was wont, aboard a raft,
To make oblations, as himself had seen,
His regal form overspread with fragrant oil
On which was laid a coat of powdered gold
From sole of foot unto his highest brow,
Resplendent as the beaming of the sun.

Arrivals without end, he further said,
Were there to make rich votive offerings
Of golden trinkets and of emeralds rare
And divers other of their ornaments;
And worthy credence these things he affirmed;
The soldiers, light of heart and well content,
Then dubbed him El Dorado, and the name
By countless ways was spread throughout the world.

"He went about all covered with powdered gold, as casually as if it were powdered salt. For it seemed to him that to wear any other finery was less beautiful, and that to put on ornaments or arms made of gold worked by hammering, stamping, or by other means, was a vulgar and common thing." Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, Spanish Historian, 1478-1557

From ritual to myth and metaphor[edit]

El Dorado is applied to a legendary story in which precious stones were found in fabulous abundance along with gold coins. The concept of El Dorado underwent several transformations, and eventually accounts of the previous myth were also combined with those of a legendary lost city. The resulting El Dorado myth enticed European explorers for two centuries. Among the earliest alleged stories was the one told on his death bed by "Martinez", ammunitioner for Spanish adventurer Diego de Ordaz, who claimed to have been rescued from shipwreck, conveyed inland, and entertained by "El Dorado" himself (1531).[citation needed](Antonio de Berrio, then acting governor of Trinidad, official copy of the records of San Juan de Puerto Rico, as recounted by Sir Walter Raleigh. The fable of Juan Martinez was founded on the adventures of Juan Martin de Albujar, well known to the Spanish historians of the Conquest; and who, in the expedition of Pedro de Silva (1570), fell into the hands of the Caribs of the Lower Orinoco)

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Europeans, still fascinated by and ignorant of the New World, believed that a hidden city of immense wealth existed. Many searched for this treasure, in quests that ended in the loss of countless lives. The illustration of El Dorado's location on maps only made matters worse, as it made some people think that the city of El Dorado's existence had been confirmed. The mythical city of El Dorado on Lake Parime was marked on English and other maps until its existence was disproved by Alexander von Humboldt during his Latin-America expedition (1799–1804)[4]

Meanwhile, the name of El Dorado came to be used metaphorically of any place where wealth could be rapidly acquired. It was given to El Dorado County, California, and to towns and cities in various states. It has also been anglicized to the single word Eldorado.

El Dorado is also sometimes used as a metaphor to represent an ultimate prize or "Holy Grail" that one might spend one's life seeking. It could represent true love, heaven, happiness, or success. It is used sometimes as a figure of speech to represent something much sought after that may not even exist, or, at least, may not ever be found. Such use is evident in Poe's poem "El Dorado". In this context, El Dorado bears similarity to other myths such as the Fountain of Youth and Shangri-la. The other side of the ideal quest metaphor may be represented by Helldorado, a satirical nickname given to Tombstone, Arizona (United States) in the 1880's by a disgruntled miner who complained that many of his profession had traveled far to find El Dorado, only to wind up washing dishes in restaurants.[citation needed]

Prelude: gold and greed[edit]

Spanish conquistadores had noticed the native people's fine artifacts of gold and silver long before any legend of "golden men" or "lost cities" fired the imagination of kings and commoners alike. The prevalence of such valuable artifacts, and the natives apparent ignorance of their value, inspired speculation as to a plentiful source for them.

Prior to the time of Spanish conquest of the Muisca people and discovery of Lake Guatavita, a handful of expeditions had set out to explore the lowlands to the east of the mighty Andes in search of gold, cinnamon, precious stones, and anything else of value.

During the Klein-Venedig period in Venezuela (1528–1546), agents of the German Welser banking family (which had received a concession from Charles I of Spain), starting with German conquistador Ambrosius Ehinger's first expedition in July of 1529, launched repeated expeditions into the interior of the country in search of gold.[citation needed] German conquistador Nikolaus Federmann had spent years in the late 1530’s searching the Colombian plateaus, Orinoco Basin and Venezuelan lowlands searching in vain for El Dorado. Then there was Philipp von Hutten (1541–1545), who led an exploring party from Coro on the coast of Venezuela.

Spanish explorer Diego de Ordaz, then governor of the eastern part of Venezuela known as Paria. was the first European to explore the Orinoco river in 1531-32 in search of gold. A veteran of Cortez's campaign in Mexico, Ordaz followed the Orinoco beyond the mouth of the Meta River but was blocked by the rapids at Atures. After his return he died, possibly poisoned, on a voyage back to Spain.

The Search for El Dorado[edit]

The earliest reference to the name El Dorado was in 1535 or 1536, before Spanish contact with the Muisca people.

In 1535, Captains Anasco and Ampudia were dispatched by Spanish conquistador Sebastian de Belalcazar, one of Francisco Pizarro's chief lieutenants, to discover the valley of Dorado in pursuit of the splendid riches of the Zaque, or chieftan of Cundinamarca, described by a wandering Indian of Tacumga.

After the death of Ordaz while returning from his expedition, the Crown appointed a new Governor of Paria, Jeronimo Ortal, who diligently explored the interior along the Meta River between 1532 and 1537. In 1535 he ordered Captain Alonso de Herrera to move inland by the waters of the Uyapari (today the town of Barrancas de Orinoco). Herrera, who had accompanied Ordaz three years before, explored the Meta River but was killed by Achagua Indians near its banks while waiting out the winter rains in Casanare.

In 1536 Gonzalo Díaz de Pineda had led an expedition to the lowlands to the east of Quito and had found cinnamon trees but no rich empire.

Quesada brothers' expeditions[edit]

It was stories of El Dorado that in 1537 drew the Spanish conquistador Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada and his army of 800 men away from their mission to find an overland route to Peru and up into the Andean homeland of the Muisca for the first time. A little further to the north, Spanish conquistador Hernán Pérez de Quesada (brother of Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada) set out in September of 1540 with a large party of 270 Spaniards and countless Indian porters to explore the Orinoco Basin, but they likewise found nothing before turning around and returning to Bogotá. Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada also led another expedition starting from Bogotá in 1569 to conquer territory east of the Andes[relevant? ].

The Muisca towns and their treasures quickly fell to the conquistadores. At the same time, the Spanish began to hear stories of El Dorado from captured natives (mostly Indians), and of the rites which used to take place at Lake Guatavita.[more information needed] The Spaniards also found much gold on these natives, which led them to spread the word that El Dorado was near. The news of the gold was changed by word of mouth to the extent that it was said that the gold on these natives was proof that there was a kingdom of immense wealth in the south of the New World, or modern day South America.

Sebastin de Belalczar's expedition[edit]

Pizarro and Orellana's discovery of the Amazon[edit]

In 1540, Gonzalo Pizarro, the younger half-brother of Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish conquistador who toppled the Incan Empire in Peru, was made the governor of the province of Quito in northern Ecuador. Shortly after taking lead in Quito, Gonzalo learned from many of the natives of a valley far to the east rich in both cinnamon and gold. He banded together 340 soldiers and about 4000 natives in 1541 and led them eastward down the Rio Coca and Rio Napo. Francisco de Orellana accompanied Pizarro on the expedition as his lieutenant. Gonzalo quit after many of the soldiers and natives had died from hunger, disease, and periodic attacks by hostile natives. He ordered Orellana to continue downstream, where he eventually made it to the Atlantic Ocean. The expedition found neither cinnamon nor gold, but Orellana is credited with discovering the Amazon River (so named because of a tribe of female warriors that attacked Orellana’s men while on their voyage.)

Parime Lacus on a map by Hessel Gerritsz (1625). Situated at the west coast of the lake, the so-called city of Manoa or El Dorado

Lake Guatavita gold[edit]

Conquistadores Lázaro Fonte and Hernán Perez de Quesada attempted (unsuccessfully) to drain the lake in 1545 using a "bucket chain" of labourers. After 3 months, the water level had been reduced by 3 metres, and only a small amount of gold was recovered, with a value of 3000–4000 pesos (approx. 100,000 USD today; a peso or piece of eight of the 15th century weighs .88oz of 93% pure silver).

A later more industrious attempt was made in 1580, by Bogotá business entrepreneur Antonio de Sepúlveda. A notch was cut deep into the rim of the lake, which managed to reduce the water level by 20 metres, before collapsing and killing many of the labourers. A share of the findings—consisting of various golden ornaments, jewellery and armour—was sent to King Philip the 2nd of Spain. Sepúlveda's discovery came to approximately 12,000 pesos. He died a poor man, and is buried at the church in the small town of Guatavita.

In 1801, Alexander von Humboldt made a visit to Guatavita, and on his return to Paris, calculated from the findings of Sepúlveda's efforts that Guatavita could offer up as much as $300 million worth of gold.

In 1898, 'The Company for the Exploitation of the Lagoon of Guatavita' was formed and taken over by 'Contractors Ltd.' of London, in a deal brokered by British expatriate Mr Hartley Knowles. The lake was drained by a tunnel that emerged in the centre of the lake. The water was drained to a depth of about 4 feet of mud and slime.[citation needed] This made it impossible to explore, and when the mud had dried sitting and being baked by the sun, it had set like concrete. A haul of only £500 was found, and auctioned at Sothebys of London. Some of these artifacts were donated to the British Museum.[5] The company filed for bankruptcy and ceased activities in 1929.

In 1965, the Colombian government designated the lake as a protected area. Private salvage operations including attempts to drain the lake, are now illegal.[citation needed]

Governor Antonio de Berrio's expeditions[edit]

Spanish Governor of Trinidad, Antonio de Berrio (nephew of Jiménez de Quesada), made three expeditions to the Guyana region in 1584, 1585 and 1591.

Sir Walter Raleigh[edit]

In 1595 Sir Walter Raleigh set sail following one of the many old maps to El Dorado, aiming to reach Lake Parime in the highlands of Guyana (the supposed location of El Dorado at the time). He had set many goals for his expedition, and believed he had a genuine chance at finding the so-called city of gold. First, he wanted to find the mythical city of El Dorado, which he suspected to be an actual Indian city named Manoa. Second, he hoped to establish an English presence in the Southern Hemisphere that could compete with that of the Spanish. His third goal was to create an English settlement in the land called Guyana, and to try to reduce commerce between the natives and Spaniards.

Though Sir Walter Raleigh never found El Dorado, he was convinced that there was some fantastic city whose riches could be discovered. Finding gold on the riverbanks and in villages only strengthened his resolve.[6] In 1617, he returned to the New World on a second expedition, this time with his son, Watt Raleigh, to continue his quest for El Dorado. However, Sir Walter Raleigh, by now an old man, stayed behind in a camp on the island of Trinidad. Watt Raleigh was killed in a battle with Spaniards. Overall, the second expedition was a disaster. Upon Raleigh's return to England, King James ordered for him to be beheaded for disobeying orders to avoid conflict with the Spanish.[7] He was executed in 1618.

Post Elizabethan expeditions[edit]

In 1637-38, Acana and Fritz, two monks, severally undertook journeys to the lands of the Manoas.

In 1740, Don Manuel Centurion, Governor of San Thome del Angostura, embarked upon the Caura and Rio Paragua, encountered the most dreadful sufferings and occassioned the deaths of several hundred persons. Their survey of the local geography, however, provided the basis of another set of expeditions starting in 1775.

In 1775 to 1780, Nicholas Rodriguez and Antonio Santos, two entrepreneurs employed by the Spanish Governors, set out on foot and reached the Uraricuera and Rio Branco, but of course found nothing.

Epilogue: gold strikes and the extractive wealth of the rainforest[edit]

By the mid-1570's, the Spanish silver strike at Potosí in Upper Peru (modern Bolivia) was producing unprecedented real wealth.

In 1603, Queen Elizabeth I of England died, bringing to an end the era of Elizabethan adventurism. A bit later, in 1618, Sir Walter Raleigh, the great inspirer, was beheaded for what was ostensibly insubordination (and not the least propagating tales of improbable and unattainable kingdoms of gold and emeralds while expending lives and the king's fortune on fruitless and disastrous expeditions).

In 1695, bandeirantes in the south from Sao Paulo struck gold along a tributary of the Sao Francisco River in the highlands of State of Minas Gerais, Brazil. The prospect of real gold overshadowed the illusory promise of "gold men" and "lost cities" in the vast interior of the north.

Between 1799 and 1804, Alexander Humboldt conducted an extensive and scientific survey of the Guyana river basins and lakes, concluding that seasonally flooded confluence of rivers may be what inspired the notion of a mythical lake, and of the supposed golden city on the shore, nothing remained.

It appears today that the Muisca obtained their gold in trade, and while possessed in passing of great quantities of it over time, no great store of the metal was ever accumulated.

Popular culture[edit]

Automobiles[edit]

Frequent allusions are made to the legend, in many forms of culture and media.

Film[edit]

  • The Road to El Dorado (2000) is an American animated comedy film by DreamWorks Animation, which tells the story of two 16th-century Spanish men who discover the mythical city and are declared gods by the inhabitants. The story is set in Central America, not in Colombia, and incorporates elements of Hernán Cortés's campaigns.

Literature[edit]

Perhaps the best-known literary references are those in Milton's Paradise Lost (1667, Book xi. 408–411) and in Voltaire's Candide (1759, chs. 18, 19). A portion of Candide is set in El Dorado, city made of material finer than gold and diamonds, which are just considered mud and rocks in the road.

"Eldorado" (1849) is both the title and subject of a satirical, four-stanza poem by Edgar Allan Poe, about a knight's search for the legendary city.

El Dorado is also referenced in Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness (1899), in which the Eldorado Exploring Expedition journeys into the jungles of Africa in search of conquest and treasure, only to meet an untimely demise.

Music[edit]

Television[edit]

  • The Mysterious Cities of Gold (1982) is an animated miniseries that follows the fictional story of several children and a group of Spanish explorers as they search for El Dorado in the Americas during the 16th century. In the story, El Dorado is but one of seven cities of gold hidden around the world.

Video Games[edit]

  • In Journeyman Project 3, the player finds himself in the legendary city. The first time the player arrives, the city is completely destroyed. On further visits, the player find a thriving civilization on the brink of destruction by alien forces who seek a small item they believe to be their birthright.
  • The main storyline of Kingsisle's MMORPG game Pirate101 is based on finding El Dorado. The players have to find the many pieces of the map made by Marco Polo, which provides the exact time and location in which to find the portal to El Dorado.
  • The PlayStation 3 game Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is based on a search for El Dorado and on its connections to Francis Drake. Expecting to find a city of gold, the searchers find a huge gold statue, later discovered to be a golden coffin containing the victim and the remains of an ancient plague.
  • In Expeditions: Conquistador, El Dorado can be found in the Mexican jungle, as a city full of riches. Exploring it will trigger af fight with natives, and an encounter with the Aztec god Xipe Totec.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^

    "Era costumbre entre estos naturales que el que había de ser sucesor y heredero del señorío o cacicazgo de su tío, a quien heredaba, había de ayunar seis años metido en una cueva que tenían dedicada y señalada par esto, y que en todo este tiempo no había de tener parte con mujeres, ni comer carne, sal ni ají y otras cosas que les vedaban; y entre ellas que durante el ayuno no habían de ver el sol, sólo de noche tenían licencia para salir de la cueva y ver la luna y estrellas y recogerse antes que el sol los viese. Y cumplido este ayuno y ceremonias se metían en posesión del cacicazgo o señorío, y la primera jornada que habían de hacer era ir a la gran laguna de Guatavita a ofrecer y sacrificar al demonio (sic) que tenían por su dios y señor. La ceremonia que en esto había era que en aquella laguna se hacía una gran balsa de juncos, aderezábanla y adornábanla todo lo más vistoso que podían, metían en ella cuatro braseros encendidos en que desde luego quemaban mucho moque, que es el sahumerio de estos naturales, y trementina, con otros muchos y diversos perfumes. Estaba a este tiempo toda la laguna en redondo, con ser muy grande, y hondable de tal manera que puede navegar en ella un navío de alto bordo, la cual estaba toda coronada de infinidad de indios e indias, con mucha plumería, chagualas y coronas de oro, con infinitos fuegos a la redonda; y luego que en la balsa comenzaba el sahumerio lo encendían en tierra, en tal manera, que el humo impedía la luz del día.



    "A este tiempo desnudaban al heredero en carnes vivas y lo untaban con una tierra pegajosa y lo espolvoreaban con oro en polvo y molido, de tal manera que iba cubierto todo de este metal. Metíanle en la balsa, en la cual iba parado, y a los pies le ponían un gran montón de oro y esmeraldas para que ofreciese a su dios. Entraban con él en la balsa cuatro caciques, los más principales, sus sujetos, muy aderezados de plumería, coronas de oro, brazales y chagualas y orejeras de oro, también desnudos, y cada cual llevaba su ofrecimiento. En partiendo la balsa de tierra comenzaban los instrumentos, cornetas, fotutos y otros instrumentos, y con esto una gran vocería que atronaba montes y valles y duraba hasta que la balsa llegaba al medio de la laguna, de donde, con una bandera, se hacía señal para el silencio.

    "Hacía el indio dorado su ofrecimiento echando todo el oro que llevaba a los pies en el medio de la laguna, y los demás caciques que iban con él y le acompañaban hacían lo propio, lo cual acabado abatían la bandera, que en todo el tiempo que gastaban en el ofrecimiento la tenían levantada, y partiendo la balsa a tierra comenzaba la grita, gaitas y fotutos con muy largos corros de bailes y danzas a su modo, con la cual ceremonia recibían al nuevo electo y quedaba conocido por señor y príncipe.

    "De esta ceremonia se tomó aquel nombre tan celebrado del Dorado, que tantas vidas ha costado."

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.culturarecreacionydeporte.gov.co/portal/bogotanitos/mitos/chiminichagua
  2. ^ Freyle, Juan Rodríguez (1636). Conquista y descubrimiento del Nuevo Reino de Granada [El Carnero]. 
  3. ^ Castellanos, Juan de (1850). "Parte III, Canto II". Elejias de Varones Ilustres de Indias. Madrid. 
  4. ^ Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America During the Years of 1799-1804 by Alexander von Humboldt, Chapter 25
  5. ^ British Museum Collection [1]
  6. ^ Sir Walter Raleigh.
  7. ^ Drye, Willie. National Geographic. El Dorado Legend Snared Sir Walter Raleigh.
  8. ^ El Dorado (1966) – Trivia
  9. ^ "'We're Taking No Prisoners'". Kerrang!. 9 June 2010. Retrieved 9 June 2010. 

External links[edit]