Sunday, July 20, 2008
El Dorado - Brief History
excerpt from the Iquitos' Diary of explorer, Leonard Clark
August 15, 1946
"El Dorado (Land of the Golden Man) is a fabulous country of immeasurable treasure…" Thus wrote home the Imperial Spaniards of Castile and Leon. This El Dorado was richer "in tears from the sun," than all the other kingdoms of the New World. Now "tears from the sun," the Conquisadores knew, was gold, the yellowish malleable metal used as building material in the cyclopean Incan Temples of the Sun God. In Cuzco, in the Sun Temple, was the Sun God in solid gold, the rays consisting of 1,000 priceless gems; the scintillation, according to the Spaniards, was almost insupportable.
In the Temple of the Moon, the Moon Goddess was of pure silver, and at her feet were ringed the gold-covered mummies of the Inca Queens of past dynasties. In the Rainbow Temple of the god Cuycha, a seven-hued arc of gold was picked out in colors of jewels. In the Temple of Venus were twelve huge silver and gold jars filled with holy grain offerings carved from gold and jewels. Even the plumbing of all these temples and palaces was of solid silver.
Inca Gold Jewlery
Further, in this Incan capital of Cuzco, "Hub of the Universe," whose inner and outer defensive walls were also faced with sheets of pure gold - the fascinated Spaniards saw with their own eyes in Coricancha (Holy City of Gold) the emperor Inca had an entire forest-garden of trees and flowers fashioned in pure gold and silver. The great blossoms were of clustered pearls, emeralds and other gems.
This city was watered by the river Huatenay, while all about stretched the Intipampa (Field of the Sun). The sacred Coricancha, both forests and fields, were peopled with life-sized golden mannequins of Quechuas, Arymayas and Incas at work on pottery and the various other cultural tasks of the Empire's teeming millions of people. The hoes, spades and other tools were of gold. Huacas, sacred statues, besides being of gold and gems, were also of an amalgam of gold and mercury; bronze; and copper.
In the metal trees were golden birds - macaws and parrots, umbrella-birds and cock-o'-the-rocks - roosting, birds of every hue with ruby eyes. There was an entire herd of llamas - pure gold, with turquoise eyes; reptiles, bugs and animals of jade and gold - pairs of each kind known to exist in the land. And not only these, but massive idol-gods of the Sun and Moon, nine former Inca Emperors, museums, monasteries, shrines and entire public buildings and walkways were of gold and silver, or covered solidly with sheets of it.
And yet, all this, the Indians wonderingly said, was as nothing compared to the source of all of this gold and treasure - El Dorado! Even under too eager torture by the greedy Spaniards, the Indians (those grave and taciturn elders who knew the secret source) told no more.
The gold of Peru was hidden. A massive chain which extended around the great plaza of Cuzco disappeared, though five thousand strong Indians must have carried it. Ten thousand llama loads of gold were gathered throughout the four subkingdoms into a treasure train which reached a point only a day's journey from the capital and then was driven off the Imperial highway by the enraged Indians. To this day it has never been found. The bullion weighed one million pounds avoirdupois, its worth today (1946) on the Tangier world market estimated at one billion dollars.
But for all that, it was as nothing, for it has been recorded in Viceregal, Crown, and Church archives that twenty billion dollars in gold and silver alone was sacked in the New World and melted down to plate and ingots to be taken in galleons to Spain. Bobadilla's gem-incrusted golden table, lost in eighty feet of water off the coral reefs of Haiti, was valued by the Crown at millions of dollars.
In spite of such treasures, it was something else that obsessed the Spaniards - Find El Dorado! - that was the spirit of the time. Astrologers and geographers advised that the gold must lie in the Western Hemisphere, most likely in the Amazon or Orinoco jungles. For two centuries El Dorado called soldiers-of-fortune out of every port of a gold-hungry Europe.
Sir Walter Raleigh, dreaming of golden "Manoa", sailed in 1595 from London and voyaged across the Sea of Darkness to the Orinoco River, but was driven out with great losses by "ye wilde men" who shot at his armored knights with poisoned blowgun darts.
Others sailed bravely into the Golden West, putting in motion a chain of explorations that has never been equaled. El Dorado! From the Meta River on the north to the Caqueta on the south; from the Andes Cordilleras on the west to the Rio Negro and the Orinoco on the east they searched, and few of them ever straggled back to their galleons.
Von Huten combed the wilderness between the Guaviare River, a tributary of the Orinoco, and the Uaupes of the upper Rio Negro. And before him, Ordaz, emissary of Cortes (based in Mexico), in 1531 explored the Orinoco as far as Astures, the region of the cataracts; went up the Meta to be driven out by savages. Orellana in 1544 floated down the Napo and the Amazon (where he was attacked by "Amazons" - women warriors), thereby being first to cross the southern continent.
What a race of men they were!
Quesada hunted south and west, his men dying like flies of fevers in the Gran Chaco and falling in bloody battles with the wild Indians, finally struggling with a few survivors up to Peru - land of the Inca being looted and destroyed piecemeal by Pizarro and his captains. Coronado was fired by Cortes' "magnificent" rape of sacred Tollan and the Mexican Anahuac Empire of the Aztecs, and the looting of the Sun and Moon Temples in the old Toltec holy city of Teotihuacan; also by the bloody wars and looting of Montejo, Grijalva and Cordova in Yucatan and the other Mayan kingdoms of Central America.
Thus Coronado headed north after El Dorado (or Golden Quivira) - greater, richer, than all these other fabulous prizes, and its seven cities of Cibola. He reached the Arkansas River and the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, finding only seven Indian pueblos in New Mexico.
Cabeza de Vaca, lone survivor of his own command, was first to cross North America from the Gulf of Mexico to that of Lower California - but no golden walls of El Dorado ever glittered on the desert's horizon, only Apaches who sometimes fed him out of pity, and other fierce tribes from whom he hid, abandoning his clanking armor, but trudge on foot he did, on and on, but still no golden towers.
And so, no one of these mighty Conquistadores, fired and driven by dreams of might and glory and untold wealth, though they ripped the gold, the silver, the emeralds, diamonds, pearls and jade from the necks of these semi-civilized people, plundered their temples, pyramids, palaces and gold - none ever found El Dorado.
El Dorado, with all its heartbreak, blood and treasure, was the greatest dream ever dreamed by man for - unlike Africa today - it brought about the colonization of the Western Hemisphere centuries before it might otherwise have come. And it still lives as a dream, because no man in this 20th century ever looks for it. But was El Dorado altogether a dream? Perhaps, somewhere, its cities and its gold still lie unknown, undiscovered.
The Indians had said it belonged to the Golden Man; now this could be no other than Atahualpa himself, not any cacique (chief) of Columbia as some scholars believe, for the Son of the Sun was the incarnation of the Sun itself! I believe that the riddle of El Dorado, the greatest mystery of the ages, still lies unsolved, and that the Chibcha tribe's Guatavita Lake legend has no bearing on it.
The vast jungle deserts of the southern continent, traversed in only a few places by even those fierce-eyed men in steel corselets, are mainly marked today TIERRA INCOGNITA - UNEXPLORED.
…There, I too, must and will search."
Leonard Clark, August 15, 1946, Iquitos, Peru
Labels: El Dorado - brief history
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