The Legend of El Dorado
The Spaniards had been in Colombia for over
thirty years and they had found gold, though not enough to feed their
Then, in 1539, when the first Spanish
expeditions reached the Muisca kingdoms of the distant interior, the
Conquistadors began to hear rumors of El Dorado, the Gilded Man, and the
golden ritual offerings thrown into the sacred, deep blue lake of
Guatavita.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 any other means was a vulgar and
common thing. Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, 1535 - 48
The Muisca Indians told of a ceremony performed on the appointment of a
new ruler: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 a raft and at his feet
they placed a great heap of gold and went four principal subject chiefs,
decked in plumes, crowns, bracelets, pendants, and earrings all of gold.
They, too, were naked, and each one carried his offering. As the raft
left the shore the music began, with trumpets, flutes, and other
instruments, and with singing which shook the mountains and valleys,
until, when the raft reached the center of the lagoon, they raised a
banner as a signal for silence.The gilded Indian then made his offering, throwing out alt 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 toward 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 recognized as
lord and king. From this ceremony came the celebrated name of El Dorado
which has cost so many lives. Juan Rodriguez Freyle, 1636.