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Post Laguna de Guatavita: Origin of El Dorado Legend
Created by John Eipper on 06/18/18 7:00 AM

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Laguna de Guatavita: Origin of El Dorado Legend (John Eipper, USA, 06/18/18 7:00 am)

On June 16th we escaped from hubbub of Bogotá to tour the Laguna de Guatavita, origin of the El Dorado legend.

This small lake about 90 minutes north of Bogotá had sacred significance for the Muisca people. Succession occurred matrilineally.  A new cacique (chieftain) was selected from among the sons of the current cacique's oldest sister, and administered a test of sobriety and resolve:  He was stripped naked and presented with five nude virgins, who spent an entire night dancing and attempting to seduce the youth.  If he yielded to the temptation, he was immediately replaced by a different candidate.  If the young man proved his abstemious mettle, he was covered with honey and gold dust and taken to the sacred lake.  After spending another night in contemplation and ritual bathing, he would be presented with his beautiful new bride.

The story of the Golden Honey Man and the precious objects thrown into Guatavita piqued the interest of the greedy European, who spent the next 300 years attempting to recover the treasures, first by digging and hauling water out with gourds and buckets, and then by more ambitious projects to drain the entire lake.  By the 19th century, rapacious Brits were invited in with their dynamite.  As a result, one side of the crater was blasted away, and the water fell to 50 feet below its original level (it used to be above the top of my head in photo 1).  Fortunately, the Guatavita area is now a national preserve entrusted to the Muiscas, who serve as guides and ambassadors to visitors.  The above story comes from Clara, the guide during our trek, which started out in driving rain, but then turned beautiful once we performed a spiritual "cleansing" at the entrance.

Ever owned or merely coveted a Cadillac Eldorado?  Well, thank the Muiscas, their preternaturally chaste chief and the natural splendor of Guatavita.

(The weekend's huge news in Colombia:  right-wing candidate Iván Duque won a decisive victory on Sunday--54% to 41% over leftist Gustavo Petro.  Duque supporters feared that Petro would "Venezuelize" Colombia.  Petro backers lament that Duque, a youthful political newcomer, will be little more than a puppet of his #1 sponsor:  strongman and former president Álvaro Uribe.)

Aldona and John at Guatavita overlook

Laguna de Guatavita, North of Bogotá

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  • El Dorado (Arkansas) and Chipola (Florida); from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 06/20/18 4:23 AM)

    Gary Moore writes:

    Great to hear JE's exposition of the real roots of the El Dorado legend (June 18),
    whose wishful echoes have reached from El Dorado, Arkansas [that's Ell-duh-Raider,
    pardner] to Chipola, Florida (à la Seven Cities of Cibola, strained through another
    great wish, which put the whole Appalachian Mountain chain on Renaissance
    parchment as being the envisioned home of a gilded paradise, "Great Apalachee"--which was not entirely a myth, but boiled down to some palm thatch near Tallahassee).

    In these bold tracks, our intrepid Humboldtian moderator, braving the
    anti-"Venezuelización" election of Colombia's angst, has now added his customary
    footsteps of wisdom.

    JE comments:  We head back to the gilded paradise of Royal Oak today, but Gary Moore's kind words will give me the energy to endure three flights and four airports (Pereira-Bogotá-Ft Lauderdale-Detroit).  Gracias, Amigo Gary.  I'd love to see an image of that Renaissance parchment.

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    • Great Apalachee Explained; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 06/21/18 12:41 PM)

      Gary Moore writes:

      JE asked on June 20th about the Renaissance maps that referred to the whole
      of eastern North America as "Great Apalachee" (hence the name
      of the mountain chain long after people had forgotten the mythical

      In school, those of us corrected for misspelling the mountains
      may have wondered at the illogic: Shouldn't it be Appala-CHAIN--for a
      chain of mountains? Well, I don't have the actual parchment, but the
      roots are this: Pánfilo de Narváez, one of the more repugnant of conquistadores,
      landed his troops near Tampa Bay in 1527, before De Soto, before St. Augustine
      (the town), but still looking for gold. Asking and sometimes torturing the local
      natives to find where the gold was (one of his methods was to unleash his
      brace of mastiffs), Narváez began getting cooperative replies: "Yes, there is a
      great city of gold, but not right here. You've got to leave here and go up the
      trail to get the good stuff." As he went, the tales conflated with vague native
      knowledge that some kind of kingdom did lie to the north (in the present
      Florida panhandle), and that the people there were called the Apalachee.
      Red-beard eventually found the real Apalachees, in mound-builder elevated
      lodges thatched with cabbage palm, and some interesting social dynamics,
      but no gold.

      (I think JE has previously narrated the sequel, when
      Pánfilo died in his quest and the sole conquistador survivor was
      Cabeza de Vaca, plus a slave named Esteban.)

      On maps back in Europe,
      the mountains became the "Apalachee-an" before anybody really knew
      what they were. The Apalachees themselves survived as later Spanish
      serfs, until complicated wars around 1700 found the English raiding
      south into Florida, whereupon the remaining captive Apalachee villages were
      burned and the survivors carried to the Carolinas as slaves, not only by the
      British but by various native groups of enslavers. I dimly guessed in school
      that the funny look the teacher gave me when I complained about the
      spelling of "Appalachian" meant that sensible people didn't venture into
      such mazes.

      JE comments:  Narváez also fought against Cortés in Mexico, and had an eye put out in the melee.  Appalachia is one of those words that somehow got re-pronounced in the last twenty years.  It used to be Appa-LAY-shuh.  Now it's Appa-LATCH-shuh.  See also Carnegie, which has shifted its stress from the first to the second syllable.  (Old Andrew himself was a penult guy, but years of radio broadcasts from CARnegie Hall set the mood for two or three generations.)

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