Bogotá – Have you ever heard of the famous legend of El Dorado? It is a mythical city of gold that many people know from stories, TV shows, movies, and many other ways. As it turns out, El Dorado may have indeed existed, but not as we know it from legend.
The Altiplano Cundiboyacense is a plateau in the Colombian Andes. This is known as the territory of the Muisca people. They are an indigenous group whose practices may have enticed the conquistadors to visit their land.
They formed the Muisca Confederation before the Spanish conquest in 1537. The rulers of the different territories within the Altiplano Cundiboyacense formed this organized confederation without one group dominating the others. The territories included in the confederation included Bacatá, Chipazaque, Hunza, Iraca, Tundama, and various independent territories headed by chiefs called caciques.
The two main rulers of the confederation are the zipa, the ruler of the southern part based in Bacatá, and the zaque, the ruler of the northern area based in Hunza.
The Muisca communities were mainly agricultural and ceramic societies. According to the ongoing studies and current archeological artifacts, they may have been one great ethnic group alongside the Incas, Aztec, and Mayans. However, they did not build stone structures like the other groups. The people lived in houses made of clay and wood. These circular houses have distinct cone-shaped roofs with small doors and windows. The Muiscas are also known to have minimal furniture as their people mostly sit on the floor.
Nonetheless, the Muisca people’s practices may have led many Spanish conquistadors to their communities as the people’s rituals became well-known. One particular ritual is the coronation of a new zipa. The appointed zipa, covered in gold powder, sailed into the middle of Lake Guatavita on a raft. He dived into the lake and then reemerged as the new zipa amidst a hail of gold and silver offerings thrown in by surrounding worshippers. This so-called “golden man,” literally el dorado, inspired legends of a lost city of gold.
Despite this legend, the Muisca Confederation would become one of the colonies moving with the changing times toward the present state of Colombia.
Present Day Muisca
Aside from the past cultural connections and practices of the Muisca people, it is important to see and understand how their communities are doing now. As the people’s historical practices may have changed over time, there have been efforts in revitalizing and reconstructing the Muisca ethnic culture. In 2002, the First General Congress of the Muisca People founded the Great Council of the Muisca People (Cabildo Mayor del Pueblo Muisca). This council is connected to the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia.
The government recognized five Muisca cabildos (indigenous government) in the present time, namely, the Suba, Bosa, Cota, Chía, and Sesquilé. Their people have proposed linguistic and cultural recovery, including an attempt to reintroduce the traditional Muisca language known as the Muysccubun or Muysca.
The Muisca language belongs to the Chibcha languages used in some regions of Central America and Colombia. However, the council’s challenge in this effort is the lack of native texts or records of their people’s use of the language, as it has not been used since the early 18th century. The only records available are those from the colonial archives. Still, there is hope in this new practice.
There are other Chibcha languages spoken in Colombia: Cuna, Barí, and U’wa or Tunebo. With the use of these languages, there is an evident emergence of the Muysccubun in speech practices. The people are slowly reintroducing the language in their daily lives, and this is a good start in the ethnic group’s attempt to bring their culture and language to life.
Image from Joemar Rosario, https://www.instagram.com/globaljoetsetterrn2400/