Lake Parime or Lake Parima is a legendary lake located in South America. It was reputedly the location of the fabled city of El Dorado, also known as Manoa, much sought-after by European explorers. Repeated attempts to find the lake failed to confirm its existence, and it was dismissed as a myth along with the city. Some explorers proposed that the seasonal flooding of the Rupununi savannah may have been misidentified as a lake. Recent geological investigations suggest that a lake may have existed in northern Brazil, but that it dried up in the late 18th century. Both "Manoa" (Arawak language) and "Parime" (Carib language) are believed to mean "big lake".
- 1 First attempts at discovery
- 2 Early maps
- 3 19th century explorations
- 4 The Nhamini-wi and the Lake of Milk
- 5 Recent research
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 Maps
First attempts at discovery
Sir Walter Raleigh began the exploration of the Guianas in earnest in 1594 and described the city of Manoa, which he believed to be the fabled city of El Dorado, as being located on Lake Parime far up the Orinoco River in Venezuela. Much of his exploration is documented in his books The Discoverie of the Large, Rich, and Bewtiful Empyre of Guiana, published first in 1596, and The Discovery of Guiana, and the Journal of the Second Voyage Thereto, published in 1606. How much of Raleigh's work is true and how much is fabricated remains unclear: his account indicates that he only succeeded in navigating up the Orinoco as far as what is now Ciudad Guayana and did not come close to the supposed location of Lake Parime. Raleigh says of the lake:
- "I have been assured by such of the Spaniards as have seen Manoa, the imperial city of Guiana, which the Spaniards call El Dorado, that for the greatness, for the riches, and for the excellent seat, it far exceedeth any of the world, at least of so much of the world as is known to the Spanish nation. It is founded upon a lake of salt water of 200 leagues long, like unto Mare Caspium.
According to Raleigh, the lake itself was the source of the gold possessed by the people of Manoa: "Most of the gold which they made in plates and images was not severed from the stone, but on the lake of Manoa, and in a multitude of other rivers, they gathered it in grains of perfect gold and in pieces as big as small stones."
At the same time, Raleigh's friend and colleague Captain Lawrence Kemys described the coast of Guiana in more detail in his Relation of the Second Voyage to Guiana (1596). Kemys says that indigenous people of Guiana traveled inland by canoe and land passages towards a large body of water on the shores of which he supposed was located Manoa, Golden City of El Dorado. One of these rivers leading south into the interior of Guiana was the Essequibo. Keymis wrote that the Indians called this river "brother of the Orenoque [Orinoco]" and that this river of Essequibo, or Devoritia,
- "...lyeth Southerly into the land, and from the mouth of it unto the head, they pass in twenty days: then taking their provision they carry it on their shoulders one days journey: afterwards they return for their canoas, and bear them likewise to the side of a lake, which the Iaos call Roponowini, the Charibes, Parime: which is of such bigness, that they know no difference between it and the main sea. There be infinite numbers of canoas in this lake, and (as I suppose) it is no other than that, whereon Manoa standeth."
In early 1611 Sir Thomas Roe, on a mission to the West Indies for Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, sailed his 200-ton ship, the Lion's Claw, some 320 kilometres (200 mi) up the Amazon, then took a party of canoes up the Waipoco (probably the Guayapo River) in search of Lake Parime, negotiating thirty-two rapids and traveling about one hundred miles before they ran out of food and had to turn back.
In March 1617, Raleigh and Kemys returned to Venezuela in search of Lake Parime and El Dorado. The expedition failed to uncover any new evidence of the lake and ended with the death of Raleigh's son Walter and the suicide of Captain Kemys.
As a result of Raleigh's work, maps began to appear depicting El Dorado and Lake Parime. One of the first was the elder Jodocus Hondius' Nieuwe Caerte van het Wonderbaer ende Goudrycke Landt Guiana, which was published in 1596. Hondius' map depicts an elongated Lake Parime south of the Orinoco River, with the majority of the lake positioned south of the equator, and with Manoa on the northern shore, towards the eastern half of the lake. Manoa is noted as "the greatest city in the entire world." Hondius' map was subsequently copied by Theodore de Bry and published in his popular Grands Voyages in 1599. When Hondius published a completely revised edition of Mercator's Atlas in 1608, it included a map of South America featuring Lake Parime with the majority of the lake located south of the equator, and with Manoa again along the northern shore, although not quite so far east. The lake was printed on maps throughout the 17th century up until the early 19th century. It was believed to be somewhere in Guiana for several years. Some cartographers and naturalists moved the lake more to the southeast of the Orinoco River and north of the Amazon river, often situating it south of the mountains that border Venezuela, Guiana, and Brazil. However by the late 18th century, failure to confirm the lake's existence led to its removal from most maps. A 1792 map of the Rio Branco by José Joaquim Freire shows no sign of a lake, although there is now a Parimé River.
19th century explorations
Humboldt and Bonpland, 1799-1803
Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland considered Lake Amucu in the North Rupununi, which had been visited by the German surgeon Nicholas Horstmann,[Note 1] to be the Lake Parime described by Sir Walter Raleigh. Horstmann gave his journal and map to Charles-Marie de La Condamine who then gave the sketch to the French geographer Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville. The lake was incorporated into his Carte de l’Amerique Meridionale in 1748. In his Relation historique du voyage aux régions équinoxiales du nouveau continent, (1825), Humboldt indicated that Lake Amucu was in the same location as the purported Lake Parime or Roponowini described to Raleigh and was also a "large inland sea" when flooded; he noted that:
- "All fables have some real foundation; that of El Dorado resembles those myths of antiquity...No man in Europe believes any longer in the wealth of Guiana and the...town of Manoa and its palaces covered with plates of massy gold have long since disappeared; but the geographical apparatus serving to adorn the fable of El Dorado, the lake Parima, which...reflected the image of so many sumptuous edifices, has been religiously preserved by geographers."
Charles Waterton, 1812
- "According to the new map of South America, Lake Parima, or the White Sea, ought to be within three or four days’ walk from this place. On asking the Indians whether there was such a place or not, and describing that the water was fresh and good to drink, an old Indian, who appeared to be about sixty, said that there was such a place, and that he had been there...[but] probably the Lake Parima they talked of was the Amazons...In crossing the plain at the most advantageous place you are above ankle-deep in water for three hours; the remainder of the way is dry, the ground gently rising. As the lower parts of this spacious plain put on somewhat the appearance of a lake during the periodical rains, it is not improbable but that this is the place which hath given rise to the supposed existence of the famed Lake Parima, or El Dorado...On asking the old officer if there were such a place as Lake Parima, or El Dorado, he replied, he looked upon it as imaginary altogether. 'I have been above forty years,' added he, 'in Portuguese Guiana, but have never yet met with anybody who has seen the lake.' So much for Lake Parima, or El Dorado, or the White Sea. Its existence at best seems doubtful; some affirm that there is such a place, and others deny it."
Robert Schomburgk, 1840
In 1840 explorer Robert Schomburgk visited Pirara on the edge of Lake Amucu. He stated that this area of flooded Rupununi which linked the Amazon and Essequibo River drainages was most likely to be the Lake Parime:
- "The geological structure of this region leaves but little doubt that it was once the bed of an inland lake which...broke its barrier, forcing for its waters a path to the Atlantic. May we not connect with the former existence of this inland sea the fable of the Lake Parima and the El Dorado? Thousands of years may have elapsed...still the tradition of the Lake Parima and the El Dorado survived...transmitted from father to son."
Jacob van Heuvel, 1844
In 1844 the American author Jacob Adrien van Heuvel, a graduate of Yale and a law student, published an account of his travels in Guiana in which he investigated evidence for the existence of El Dorado and Lake Parima. The book described a journey to Guiana he had made in 1819-20 during which he questioned a "Charibe chief" named Mahanerwa about the existence of the lake. Mahanerwa drew a map in the sand, and stated that a large body of water lay southeast of the Orinoco. Van Heuvel superimposed this drawing onto John Arrowsmith's 1840 map of British Guyana, claiming that much of this body of water, some 250 miles (400 km) in length, was likely a "temporary inundation" but that "water must fill the savannah" for half the year at least and probably more.
In his 1848 edition of Raleigh's The Discovery of the Large, Rich, and Beautiful Empire of Guiana, Schomburgk dismissed Van Heuvel's propositions:
- "Mr. Van Heuvel visited the coast regions of Guiana without penetrating into the interior, and his conclusions respecting this lake rest only upon what he learned from some Indians, whose language he did not understand, and upon the maps of Sanson, D'Anville and others of the last century; and although fully acquainted with Humboldt's writings, "who," he says, "effaced without sufficient grounds that wondrous lake," Mr. Van Heuvel has fully restored it, and gives to it a length of from two hundred to two hundred and fifty miles, and a breadth of about fifty miles. Out of it flow the rivers Parima and Takutu into the Rio Negro and the Amazon; the Cuyuni, the Siparuni, and the Mazaruni, into the Essequibo; and the Paragua into the Orinoco. A single step backwards in our geographical knowledge is much to be regretted, and all who take interest in that science ought to aid in preventing the dissemination of such absurdities."
The Nhamini-wi and the Lake of Milk
The Tukano and Piratapuias tribes of the upper Negro River tell a story of the Nhamini-wi (the "narrow path"). The Nhamini-wi was a pre-Columbian road that traveled from the mountains in the west where the "house of the night" was located. The trail began at axpeko-dixtara, or the "lake of milk"[Note 2] in the east. In 1977 artist and explorer Roland Stevenson found ruins north of the Negro River in the Uaupés River basin that are believed to be the remnants of the Nhamini-wi. Led by indigenous guides Stevenson found old and collapsed stone walls that were dotted every twenty kilometers along an east-to-west line.
Stevenson followed the vestiges of the road eastward to find the lake and ended up in Roraima, Brazil, in the plains of Boa Vista. Upon examining the region Brazilian geologists Gert Woeltje and Frederico Guimarães Cruz along with Roland Stevenson found that on all the surrounding hillsides a horizontal line appears at a uniform level approximately 120 metres (390 ft) above sea level. This line registers the water level of an extinct lake which existed until relatively recent times. Researchers who studied it found that the lake's previous diameter measured 400 kilometres (250 mi) and its area was about 80,000 square kilometres (31,000 sq mi). About 700 years ago this giant lake began to drain due to epeirogenic movement and by the early 19th century it had dried up.
Roraima's well-known Pedra Pintada is the site of numerous pictograms and petroglyphs dating to between 9000 and 12000 years ago. Designs 10 metres (33 ft) above the ground on the sheer exterior face of the rock were probably painted by people standing in canoes on the surface of the now-vanished lake. Gold which was reported to be washed up on the shores of the lake, was most likely carried by streams and rivers out of the mountains where it can be found today.
Geological evidence for an ancient lake
Geologic research suggests that sedimentary rock in this region, known as the Takutu Basin or the Takutu Formation, was formed during the late Paleozoic, roughly 250 million years ago, and that the basin connected with the Atlantic via the Takutu Graben. The geologic history of the Takutu Graben is characterized by one phase of volcanic activity and three depositional phases of sedimentary rocks. Rifting (due to divergent tectonic plate movements) began to form in a lake or delta environment in the Late Triassic to Early Jurassic periods, between 200 million and one hundred and fifty million years ago. Starting around 66,000 years ago, sea level rise and more humid conditions created flooded zones north of the confluence of the Rio Negro and the Solimões River, in what is now Roraima.
The drainage system of the Rupununi Savannahs is unable to carry a high volume of surface runoff and as a result, most rivers flood in the wet season. In a few places ground water drainage is impeded by clay, and ponds and lakes persist for several months.
In 1987-1988, an expedition led by John Hemming of the Royal Geographical Society of London failed to uncover any evidence of the ancient city of Manoa on the island of Maracá in north-central Roraima. Members of the expedition were accused of looting historic artifacts but an official report of the expedition described it as "an ecological survey."
- In 1739, Nicholas Horstmann, a German surgeon employed by the Dutch, traveled up the Essequibo River. In 1740 he crossed over to the Rio Branco and descended it to its confluence with the Rio Negro, where he was arrested by the Portuguese.
- So-called because of a calcific sediment carried by the river. Alfred Russel Wallace mentions this peculiar coloration in "On the Rio Negro," a paper read at the 13 June 1853 meeting of the Royal Geographical Society, in which he says: "[The Rio Branco] is white to a remarkable degree, its waters being actually milky in appearance."
- Humboldt, Alexander von, Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America During the Years 1799-1804, (chapter 25). Henry G. Bohn, London, 1853.
- Marc Aronson, Sir Walter Ralegh and the Quest for El Dorado, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000. ISBN 039584827X
- Sir Walter Raleigh, The Discoverie of the Large, Rich, and Bewtiful Empyre of Guiana (1596; repr., Amsterdam: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1968)
- The Discovery of Guiana, and the Journal of the Second Voyage Thereto (1606; repr., London: Cassell, 1887)
- Paul R. Sellin, Treasure, Treason and the Tower: El Dorado and the Murder of Sir Walter Raleigh. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011.
- Robert H. Schomburgk, The Discovery of the Large, Rich, and Beautiful Empire of Guiana: With a Relation of the Great and Golden City of Manoa... Etc. Performed in the Year 1595, by Sir W. Ralegh, Knt... Reprinted from the Edition of 1596, with Some Unpublished Documents Relative to that Country. Ed., with Copious Explanatory Notes and a Biographical Memoir, Hakluyt Society, 1848.
- John Knox Laughton, "Kemys, Lawrence" Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 30.
- Renzo Duin Wayana Socio-Political Landscapes: Multi-Scalar Regionality and Temporality in Guiana, doctoral dissertation, University of Florida: Gainesville.
- Lawrence Keymis, A Relation of the Second Voyage to Guiana, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1596.
- Alírio Cardoso, "The conquest of Maranhão and Atlantic disputes in the geopolitics of the Iberian Union (1596-1626)," Rev. Bras. Hist. vol.31 no.61, São Paulo, 2011.
- James Seay Dean, Tropics Bound: Elizabeth's Seadogs on the Spanish Main, The History Press, 2013. ISBN 0752496689
- James Alexander Williamson, English colonies in Guiana and on the Amazon, 1604-1668, Oxford, 1923; p. 54.
- Roe, Thomas
- Michael J. Brown, Itinerant Ambassador: The Life of Sir Thomas Roe, University Press of Kentucky, 2015; p. 15. ISBN 0813162270
- "Sir Walter Raleigh," NNDB Database
- "The map of 'the powerful and gold-bearing kingdom of Guiana" by T. de Bry, 1599.
- "MERCATOR, G./ HONDIUS, J. - Typus Orbis Terrarum, Amsterdam, 1608.
- Eliane Dotson, "Lake Parime and the Golden City."
- Map of the Branco or Parimé River and of the Caratirimani Uararicapará Majari, Tacutú and Mahú Rivers
- Peter Rivière, ed. The Guiana Travels of Robert Schomburgk, 1835-1844: Explorations on behalf of the Royal Geographical Society, 1835-1839, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2006; p. 274. ISBN 0904180867
- "Raleigh's El Dorado"
- Neldson Marcolin, "Mapa feito na França em 1748 delineou novas fronteiras do Brasil continental depois do Tratado de Tordesilhas," Espelhos do Mundo, Ed. 225, Nov. 2014.
- Charles Waterton, Wanderings in South America, Cassell & Co, Ltd: London, Paris & Melbourne. 1891.
- "Pirara and Lake Amucu, The Site of Eldorado, printed by Georges Barnard, from 'Twelve Views in the Interior of Guiana', by Robert Herman Schomburgk, 1840."
- Graham Watkins, Pete Oxford, and Reneé Bish. Rupununi: Rediscovering a Lost World, Earth in Focus Editions; November 1, 2010 ISBN 0984168648.
- Robert Hermann Schomburgk, A Description of British Guiana, Geographical and Statistical, Surpkin, 1840; p. 6.
- Jacob Adrien Van Heuvel, El Dorado: Being a Narrative of the Circumstances which Gave Rise to Reports, in the Sixteenth Century, of the Existence of a Rich and Splendid City in South America, to which that Name was Given, and which Led to Many Enterprises in Search of it; Including a Defence of Sir Walter Raleigh, in Regard to the Relations Made by Him Respecting It, and a Nation of Female Warriors, in the Vicinity of the Amazon, in the Narrative of His Expedition to the Oronoke in 1595, J. Winchester, 1844.
- D. Graham Burnett, Masters of All They Surveyed: Exploration, Geography, and a British El Dorado, The Heritage of Sociology Series; University of Chicago Press, 2001. ISBN 0226081214
- Dalton Delfini Maziero, "El Dorado Em busca dos antigos mistérios Amazônicos," Arqueologiamericana. [Portuguese]
- Comparison between white and black waters
- Stevenson, Roland. Uma Luz nos Mistérios Amazônicos. Manaus: SUFRAMA, 1994. [Portuguese]
- Roland Stevenson, "Parime: Finding the Legendary Lake."
- Jeff Shea, The March 2013 Paragua River Expedition: Penetration into The Meseta de Ichún of Venezuela, Explorers Club Report #60.
- D. S. Hammond, "Socio-economic Aspects of Guiana Shield Forest Use," in Tropical Forests of the Guiana Shield Ancient Forests in a Modern World, Edited by D.S. Hammond, CABI Publishing, pp. 381-480.
- Reis,N.J.; Schobbenhaus,C.; Costa,F . "Pedra Pintada, RR - Ícone do Lago Parime." In: Winge, M.; Schobbenhaus, C.; Souza, C.R.G.; Fernandes, A.C.S.; Berbert-Born, M.; Queiroz, E.T.; ( Edit. ) Sítios Geológicos e Paleontológicos do Brasil, 2008.
- J. A. Fonseca, "A Misteriosa Pedra Pintada (Roraima)" [Portuguese]
- "Significant gold deposits in Roraima Basin – study," March 22, 2009
- Pedreira AJ, Lopes RC, Vasconcelos AM, Bahia RBC (2003), "Bacias Sedimentares Paleozóicas e Meso-Cenozóicas Interiores," (Paleozoic and Meso-Cenozoic Sedimentary Basins) in Geologia, Tectônica e Recursos Minerais do Brasil. A. Bizzi, C. Schobbenhaus, R. M. Vidotti e J. H. Gonçalves (eds.) CPRM, Brasília, 2003. [Portuguese]
- Frailey, CD., Lavina, EL., Rancy, A. and Pereira de Souza, J., 1988. "A proposed Pleistocene/Holocene lake in the Amazon Basin and its significance to Amazonian geology and biogeography." Acta Amazonica, vol. 18, p. 119-143.
- The Takutu Graben
- Emilio Alberto Amaral Soares, "Depósitos pleistocenos da região de confluência dos rios Negro e Solimões, Amazonas," Doctoral thesis, University of São Paulo, Institute of Geosciences, 2007. [Portuguese]
- Hans ter Steege, Gerold Zondervan, "A Preliminary Analysis of Large-Scale Forest Inventory Data of the Guinana Shield," unpublished research.
- Rafael Videla, "El Dorado: El Gran Descubrimiento de Roland Stevenson." [Spanish]
- John Hemming, Steve Bowles, and Fiona Watson. "Maracá Rainforest Project Brazil 1987-1988," Royal Geographic Society, 1988.