Residence: Los Angeles, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 04-19-19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish
AC: “I don’t necessarily no why they call it the Legend of ‘El’ Dorado because it’t not a person, it’s not a thing, it’s a ritual. What this ritual is the ritual in which a person of a tribe of the Muisca civilization in present day Columbia the leader is chosen. So the Legend of El Dorado is the ritual and process through which this selected individual goes through. Typically, actually always I believe, the this individual is the current leader’s or the Casique’s (the leader is called the Casique) nephew from his sister’s side. This is because in the Muisca civilazation women were actually very highly regarded and they were the only people who could really discipline. So they had more power than men in most cases. So it is typically the oldest son of the eldest sister of the current Casique if that makes any sense. So as soon as the individual is chosen he was sent off to a cave in sacred ground. I forget what it is called but it is sacred because of gods and stuff. This guy goes here for like six years in seclusion and he can’t eat what a lot of people would consider luxury. For example stuff like salts, I believe it was like chili peppers and meat. So really the only thing he could eat were like fruits right, so he was on a dietary and social restriction. He could have no sexual pleasure, like he had to have a complete mind over matter kind of situation.
“So something about the Muisca people is…something that is significant to this is their religion. I am kind of jumping all over the place because I haven’t been through it in a while. So in the Muisca religion there was this evil god who came down and started terrorizing the Musica people. Essentially he made the Muisca people turn evil. So then there was another goddess Bachué who is essentially our version of Jesus Christ I guess and she came down and saved everybody and he banished the evil god. Because of all the darkness he caused he made him into the moon in order to illuminate all this hatred, it is symbolic because he caused darkness and now he has to stop darkness in the night. On the contrary, the sun was supposed to represent warmth, kindness, intelligence, wisdom and all of this. So while the Casique, or the Casique-to-be, the nephew was in this cave he was not allowed to see this sun because he wasn’t allowed to really know the wisdom yet. Like he wasn’t allowed to do that yet. right? So, he could only go out at night. And he was… I don’t necessarily know if he was with other nephews of like other sisters because that wouldn’t really make sense or if he was like training with the Casique, like he would like go and help him out. But the point is that at night he would have to march, he would have to stomp really hard in order so that everyone else would know where they are right. And they can’t step on grass because if they like step on grass they can’t hear each other march and they don’t know where a cliff is because it is in darkness, they can’t really see anything. So that is why they have to march while they are out getting food and all that and they have to be back inside the cave before the sun comes up. They can’t see the sun at all for like six years and they are on dietary restriction and social restriction.”
“At the end of the six years they bring this woman, supposedly like the baddest bitch of the tribe to test his temptation and all of that and if he passes then the next and final part of the ritual is to bring him out to Lake Guatavita which is sacred because… so here’s what happened. This is a complete side tangent to why t hey chose Lake Guatavita to do this ritual- so before this ritual I suppose there was this leader. And this leader was always super busy to his wife and like doing this and that and he had sex with a bunch of different women. So this original wife was like ‘man, like what the fuck’ so she started basically fucking this other guy, like she fell in love with this other guy. The Casique and this lady had a daughter together so she started cheating on him and he was like ‘there’s something fucking fishy here right’ like ‘She is getting dick somewhere else and I need to figure this out.’ So he sends this elderly nurse to go and spy on her and he finds out that it was actually true. So they have this big ol’ banquet like in the ruse of something like a banquet for the Casique and he served venison heart to the wife. He is like ‘Here my wife, here is some venison heart’ which is like a super big luxury, it’ deer heart. And as soon as she finished this mother fucker starts laughing like really loud. So then these peeps are like ‘ What the fuck? What is going on?’ and he is all like ‘Bro where is your man at? Like your man is nowhere to be found.’ And she realizes she just ate her man’s heart. So completely heartbroken she goes to Lake Guatavita which is the nearest lake, she brings her daughter and she drowns both of them. The Casique is like ‘ Brooo like I didn’t want that to happen I just wanted them to stop seeing each other.’ So he feels really bad and he sends out a bunch of priests and a bunch of his town and whatever and they all go. The priests go in the water to try and find them and the priests say that they actually saw her and the daughter and that they created a kingdom down there. That they are safe, they are good, they are happy and that they don’t want to come back up. So now that is kind of like the ritual. They do it to honor an elder Casique’s sacrifice I guess. It is not really a sacrifice but anyways that is why they chose that lake. So the Casique-to-be, the nephew, after 6 years he passes the test and he hasn’t been like talking to anybody. He’s been in this fucking cave for 6 years just eating nothing but nuts and berries and now he is ready for the final part of the ritual.
” So he stands in a certain pose and he does that because this is the first time that he is allowed to be out in the sun, right. And they coat him in gold because- another thing about the Muisca people that is important is that they saw gold not as the Europeans see it. They didn’t see it as a currency. They actually believed that gold not in the shape of a form as in a God or a tool was useless. That is how they valued gold and at the time when all of this is going on I believe like 60% of the world’s gold was located in fucking Columbia. So they saw this gold as symbolism and that it came from the sun god, I forgot his name, so they think that the Casique-to-be is representative of him. So what they do is right before the sun rises he goes outside and golds that pose and what they do-they being four priests- is that they cover him in gold. It is supposed to be symbolic of the knowledge he is supposed to learn from the sun god. Come sunrise he is in this stance that allows him to absorb the most sun, AKA absorb the most wisdom and the most wealth so that he could properly lead his community. All this is to be a leader. He is sacrificing himself to be a leader. He can’t let go of that form right but he is in a cave so how does he get to the lake? He holds that form for hours while priests physically carry him to the lake. Okay so he is holding that shit the entire time covered in gold, mind you. The way they made the gold stick is they cover him in resin so that as soon as the earth hardens the gold would stay like that. So he is in this like now, right, and in this lake they have raft. The priest put him on the raft and they get on the raft themselves. The priests are in the corners and the Casique is in the middle and they bring a bunch of offerings called tumbas or something. All of these gold pieces are the offerings to the god that resides there or the god that made all of this possible. So he goes and as soon as he reaches the center of the lake they stop everything. They stop the raft and there is a bunch of people from the community here watching this go down because it is their future leader. It is kind of like an inauguration for the president so they all show up and they are surrounding this lake and they start lighting these huge pots in order for the smoke to cloud out the sun. The smoke is no longer important because he got all the wisdom that was needed , all the knowledge, everything, so now they block out the sun with all of this stuff. As soon as they reach the middle everybody is dead silent and they had these drums playing from the clifftops and as soon as they reached the middle everything stopped playing. Keep in mind this guy is still holding this fucking stance which is physically draining right. So as soon as they reach the middle they start pushing all these gold offerings, hundreds of gold offerings, into the lake. As soon as they do that finally the last offering- the gold on the Casique. He jumps into the lake and obviously gold is heavy right, so you’ll drown. And you can’t surface until you get all of the gold off of you so if you don’t get the gold off in time you become part of the offering. He scrapes all of this gold of with a Tumi knife and this Tumi knife is important because it is symbolic of sacrifice because they used it in sacrificial rituals and this and that. So obviously if he fails to scrape this off with this knife he becomes part of the sacrifice and this ritual. But of course there are people that are able to successfully scrape off this gold, he emerges and he is now the Casique.”
I knew AC knew this ritual because it was told in his family so I solicited this this information from him while we were in the car driving to go back to our hometown together for a party. AC says the he thinks the Legend is passed down for two reasons. His first reason is that this lake and city is extremely well known because either Spaniards or Portuguese people witnessed the gold being dumped into the lake and when they told people it got blown out of proportion to people believing that there is an entire city made out of gold. This belief of course then intrigues people, a lot of the time purely out of greediness, to visit Lake Guatavita and possibly even try to loot it and find all of the gold, both of which keeps this story being passed down from generation to generation in these individual’s families. The second reason that he believes that the Legend of El Dorado is passed down is as a way to preserve the Muisca people’s culture. I also asked him if he were to tell this ritual to someone, why he would tell it. He responded that it teaches about the sacrifice of becoming a leader. He continued to tell me that there are certain things that you have to do and give up in order to becomes something or someone that people admire and that he would use this as a teaching mechanism to put “community over self”.
AC mentioned that he believed this legend is passed down due to the greediness of colonizers and the widespread belief that El Dorado is an entire city made of gold. To add on to his analysis, many people today go searching for this city of gold and they more likely than not explain to people what they are doing which keeps this legend passing right along through any society that has any concern for wealth and riches. Many modern day examples really put this greediness on display, such as the movie The Road to El Dorado and many others like it. This folklore legend has been adapted to fit media in such a way that this legend of the “City of Gold” is reaching more and more people which causes more and more people to tell the legend in hopes that one day someone will find it and get h off of the gold that they find, even though most of these people do not realize that this is a legend about gold being dumped into a like to accept the Muisca’s future leader.
In addition to the greed analysis above, there are two other parts to this legend that can be analyzed: the culture’s relations to gold in Columbia as well as the role leadership plays in many people’s cultures. To start with the gold analysis, one needs to know a little of the history of Colombia. Gold in Columbia used to be in great abundance before South America was conquered and taken advantage of by the Spaniards. To make the first part of the analysis simpler, I will be using the Tumaco region of Colombias an example to represent Colombia’s vast wealth in gold and what this meant for the indigenous people at the time and for generations to follow. In the Tumaco region since B.C. and early A.D. times, metallurgy was a huge cultural aspect for the indigenous peoples living there because of the enormous amounts of gold and platinum available in the land. Even though the land was constantly looted for its precious metals, much like Lake Guatavita has been in history, the gold that was found on this land formed a large part of the culture of indigenous tribes because it allowed them to make precious cultural artifacts representing their gods among the things and animals they found to be sacred. Knowing the vast amount of gold found in just one region of Columbia one can begin to appreciate the amounts of gold that spanned Colombia as well as appreciate the art and cultures that formed from this gold. This history of metallurgy and the presence of gold explains one reason why this legend has been passed down and will continue to be passed down. Gold has always been a part of Colombia’s history and even the first Spanish Conquistadors acknowledged this and called it sacred land. Because of this sacredness many cultures and tribes, such as the Muisca themselves, were built around the presence of gold and this legend is passed along as a way to remember one’s origins and history.
The second reason that could explain why this legend gets passed along today still is the large influence of leadership that appears in the legend. The entire legend and the ritual performed in the legend is all about picking a leader worthy enough to represent one’s tribe, village and culture. As AC touched on in his explanation for why he would tell someone this legend, I would like to expand on the leadership lessons that this legend could teach. This legend has survived throughout history because everything in life has a leader no matter how big or how small. The school has its principle, the university has its president, animals have their pack leaders. young children have their parents, et cetera, and each one of these leaders were in one way or the other picked for this position. Leadership is very universal and can be arguably taught in any civilization around the world, which is what makes the telling of this legend so powerful and long-lived. This legend teaches about disciple, self-restraint, perseverance and sacrifice, all of the qualities that one would teach someone for them to be a successful person in society, not even a leader per se. In other words, I believe this legend is passed down because in one part the lesson of leadership is very universal and comprehensible in almost any culture and it teaches future leaders of any kind in any place and in any culture the qualities that one needs in order to survive in this rigid world.