El Dorado: The Legend and the Myth Your Name Here School Name Professor John Doe Whether it is just a place of legend that once existed and has disappeared into history or a myth fabricated by European explorers looking for riches, El Dorado has always been a source of mystery to historians and explorers from around the globe. In the search for their “El Dorado”, the European explorers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries would stop at nothing to obtain the untold wealth and notoriety that would come with a successful expedition.
Along with the wealth that few found, European explorers were able to successfully rape, pillage and destroy an entire continents native population’s way of live in just a few decades. El Dorado, whether is actually exists, or not, has contributed to mans madness in the search for wealth, conquest and paradise in the new world. El Dorado is defined as being a place of legend, a place thought to be found somewhere within the South American continent. It is a place that is believed to be rich in gold and precious stones (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 1988).
The term “El dorado” was originally derived from the Spanish “el dorado” which means “golden one. ” Many legends surround this story and the origin of El Dorado. “The Gilded Man” (Bandelier, 1893) – el hombre dorado – which through the generations has been shortened to the current version of El Dorado, is the story of a South American Indian tribe that once lived and flourished in what is now the mountainous table lands of Bogota. Legend has it that this was the name of the chief of the Musica (Wikipedia, 2011) tribe in South America.
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The story states that the members of this chief’s tribe, during tribal ceremonies, would sprinkle his body with gold dust, which, after the ceremony, would be removed by the king diving into Lake Guatavita. In the years prior to the arrival of the Spanish explorers the Guatativa Indians had been defeated and subjugated in tribal warfare by a neighboring tribe around 1490-1500, and the new chief of this region had put an end to the ceremony of El Dorado. With the arrival of the Spaniards to this region of South America around 1525, the gilded man had already become a myth to the local native tribes.
In the Cibao mountains of South America, in the year 1501, while panning for gold in a small stream, a native woman found a single gold nugget that was described as being as large as a “loaf of bread” or the size of a “suckling pig” (Bacci, 2007). The weight of this nugget was estimated at 16 kilograms or 35. 2 pounds. In today’s market, with today’s price of gold at $1,475. 00 per ounce, the weight of this single nugget would be worth approximately $662,000. 00.
This nugget was so valuable in proving the mass of wealth available in the new world that it was placed on display for the colonists and guarded until it could be shown to the king and queen of Spain. While the native girl that originally found this great nugget was probably given nothing for her find, the two Spaniards in charge of the local expedition were rewarded with devotional objects, dishes and urns that were taken, or stolen, from temples and palaces from throughout the country. The total amount of this reward was measured to the “height that a man stands with his hand outstretched” (Bacci, 2007).
In July of 1529, the new Governor of Venezuela, a German, Ambrosius Dalfinger became the first European to follow-up on and actually search for the origin of “the gilded man. ” Dalfinger and approximately 300 men set forth on a campaign of conquest in search of two items – gold and slaves. His exploits of devastation and plunder would become an object of revulsion to even the Spaniards of his day. In 1530, in the Ambrosia valley, the local natives handed Dalfinger his second defeat in battle. With his forces severely depleted, he finally retreated back to Coro, Venezuela.
With all of the effort that Dalfinger put forth to bring death and destruction to the tribal areas in his search for riches and conquest, he only found 70,000 pesos (approx. 6,000 dollars) worth of riches, of which 30,000 along with its escort, never made it out of the forests (Bandelier, 1893). In the 1530s, during the later days of the Dalfinger expedition, another Spaniard, Diego Ordaz and his crew also experienced failure (Winsor, 1886). However, Ordaz and his expeditionary crew did not fail for its inability to find riches; it failed because of internal strife that resulted in a mutiny.
During this mutiny one of Ordaz’s lieutenants, Martinez, was also expelled from the expedition for misconduct. After his return to Porto Rico eight months later, he told a tale of becoming lost and wandering in the forest until being captured by natives that blind folded him and escorted him for a considerable distance to a great city called Manoa. He described the city, and taking a day and a night to traverse to reach the palace where he became the guest of the emperor Inga. Lieutenant Martinez according to the author was the first to apply the name El Dorado to the city of Manoa.
This story though later proved to be fictional, is the one that would 60 years later be shown to Sir Walter Raleigh, on a manuscript, by the Governor of Trinidad. One of the more famous and historically documented stories about the search for El Dorado is the expedition undertaken by the Spanish explorers Francisco Orellana and Gonzalo Pizarro in 1541. Their expedition, while it did include the search for wealth, also had the task of searching for land suitable colonization by European immigrants. The immigrants faced many hardships, almost from the beginning. The party endured torrential rain, cold, earthquakes and even a volcano.
This expedition was another of many launched by European explorers in search of gold and riches that was doomed to fail. What Pizarro did find was another item that was highly sought after by few explorers: cinnamon, a spice derived from the bark of a tree. By the time of this discovery Pizzaro’s company, which started out with 500 Spaniards, 100 mounted on horses, and close to 4,000 natives, had been reduced to a small portion of their original size. Many of the original party had died from disease, starvation, drowning and violent conflicts with many of the native tribes that they had encountered.
The majority of the natives they had originally started with, because of the brutality of the masters, had quietly slipped away while in the jungles or during the night while the Spaniards slept. They were close to starvation, and the expedition’s horses, dogs and other domesticated animals they had started out with had already been eaten. The remaining expedition members were reduced to eating whatever they could find in the surrounding forest; this diet consisted of roots, leaves, grasses, frog, toads, snakes lizards and whatever scarce wildlife they could find.
Pizarro decided it was time to cut his losses and return to the native kingdom of Quito. He then challenged his men to build a “brigantine,” a small two masted ship, to be used to navigate the many rivers and waterways for the return trip home. The task of this ship building was something his party was ill equipped for. For iron they had to use the shoes of their dead horses, to seal the crevices between the planks they used glue derived from the local trees and for rope material they used the clothing of the native helpers and their own shirts.
After journeying for 16 months, Zarate, a historian on the expedition, wrote “The whole party from general to private, was almost entirely naked, as, from almost continual rain storms which they had been exposed and the other hardships of the journey, their clothes were all rotten and torn to rags, and they were reduced to covering themselves with the skins of beasts. Their swords were all without scabbards and almost destroyed with rust. ” (Zahm, 1917).
According to Bacci, (2007) the conquest of the new world and the speed in which it was explored and settled was a surprise to the entire world, to include the conquistadors. The exploration of the continent, subjugation of the local populace and the beginning of colonization by tens of thousands of Europeans took around 50 years to complete. Author M. B. Synge (2007) wrote of Sir Walter Raleigh, who was the next European explorer of any note and his attempt to try and locate El Dorado. Raleigh, an Englishman, had recently failed in an attempt to establish a colony on the North American continent, in what is now Virginia.
With Raleigh looking to get back into the good graces of his queen, his thoughts were of gold and fame, he had heard the rumors of the Golden city of Manoa, what the Spanish referred to as El Dorado, a mythical city of golden temples filled with furniture and adornments of gold. In 1595, he left England with five ships bound for South America. Upon reaching the mouth of the Orinoco River, in what is now Guiana, he discovered that he could not effectively navigate the river with his deep-hulled ocean going ships.
His only option was to hire a local guide, Ferdinand, and set out with one hundred of his men, rowing against the current in small boats. During this expedition, Raleigh described the way the natives along the river lived, (they were cannibals), the abundance of fruits on the Guiana shores and the terrible strain that he and his crew were under both physically and mentally as they strove to succeed in their quest. After weeks of battling scorching heat and unrelenting river currents, Raleigh decided it was time to turn back.
He never did find the city of Manoa but instead returned to England, to his Queen, telling tales of a country unspoiled, yet to be torn apart by others in search of gold and yet to be conquered by the Christian faith. The Queen was not impressed. The tales of his expedition and further conquest into South America were received coldly by the Queen. In 1617, twenty-two years after his first attempt, Raleigh was again granted permission by the Queen to attempt a second expedition into Guiana. Over the centuries, the term El Dorado has come to represent many things: A legend of a lost city and the mythology of a place that probably never existed.
But to the people of today, it has come to represent two things: A place where wealth can be rapidly obtained and a fool’s errand, out of reach and unobtainable. In 1848, Edgar Allan Poe wrote his poem El Dorado (Poe, 1849). He writes of a gallant knight’s quest to find El Dorado. I found the last two stanzas to be the most meaningful. And, as his strength Failed him at length, He met a pilgrim shadow -- "Shadow," said he, "Where can it be -- This land of El Dorado? " "Over the Mountains Of the Moon, Down the Valley of the Shadow, Ride, boldly rides," The shade replied -- "If you seek for El Dorado. "
As the knight lie dying, he see’s a spirit, probably a hallucination, that tells him El Dorado, will be over the next mountain and down into the next valley. It will always be over the mountain and into the next valley. It is a mythical place that is unobtainable; you will never find El Dorado. Heart of Darkness (Conrad, 1893), is another fictional tale of another group of explorers searching for riches in a land that has yet to be conquered. This time the story does not take place in South America, but in Africa. In his novel, Conrad tells a story of an ill-fated expedition into the unexplored territories of the African continent.
It is basically the same tale of the trials and trouble that faced explorers three centuries earlier in South America. They went into unknown lands seeking riches and fame only to be faced with their own reality and deaths. The author tells a story of men that are bored with the ordinary life and seek adventure where they have no business being. He talks about the riches found and lost, along with other illegitimate profits that men can gain at the cost of another’s way of life. Marlow, one of the characters in Conrad’s story, says something that I believe to be a statement that shows the state of mind of the explorers and people of this era.
Marlow said “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves; it is not a pretty thing when you look into it to much”. This story continues to show that the European and North American explorers of the 19th century have changed very little from their predecessors of the 15th thru the 18th centuries. They continue to go, usually where they do not belong, at great cost of life and property, and usually very little profit.
Although these explorers have opened many doors for civilization, they have also, in their greed, destroyed another’s way of life during their search for glory. The Oak Island Treasure News, BlogSpot on the internet operated by Keith Ranville (2010) has another spin on the legend of El Dorado. Ranville who is thought of as a modern day treasure hunter and researcher from Vancouver, British Columbia, has many credits for deciphering ancient symbols and artifacts that has led him to several historical finds. What I found most interesting about Ranville was his own theory of what really happened to El Dorado.
Ranville's theory about the lost city of gold, is that the native populations of the Incan Empire believed that they had, in their greed, been cursed by their gods and that the European explorers had been sent to destroy anyone that possessed gold of the gods. In their fear, the natives, directed by their holy men or shamans, stripped their cities of gold and returned it to the rivers and mines were it had been found. My belief is that El Dorado, whether it ever actually existed, or not, it has open many doors for modern civilization to exist.
With out the explorers of the past 500 years, we would never have reached the levels of modernization that we currently have. While much good has come from all of this exploration, much unnecessary death and destruction of many people and their way of life were just brushed aside and destroyed. Many of the great tribes of both the North and South American continents have been lost forever. Those that still exist are just remnants of their ancestors, living on mostly government mandated lands and their ancient way of life forever gone. I feel that mankind has lost much more han it has gained in his search for wealth, conquest and paradise in the new world - as in his search for El Dorado. Bacci, L. B. (2007). El Dorado in the marshes. Massachusetts: Polity Press. Bandelier, A. F. (1893). The gilded man. New York: D. Appleton and Company. Conrad, J. (1893). Heart of darkness. New York: Columbia University Press. Poe, E. A. (1849). El Dorado: Poetry and tales. New York: Literary Classics of the United States. Ranville, K. (March 11, 2010). Oak Island treasure News. Retrieved March 26, 2011 from http://oakislandtreasurenewsarchives. logspot. com/2010/03/inca-treasure-thesis Synge, M. B. (2007). Explorers in South America, A book of discovery. North Carolina: Yesterday’s Classics. Webster’s new world dictionary. (3rd ed. ). (1988). New York: Simon and Schuster. W. Winsor, J. (1886). Narrative and critical history of America: Spanish explorations in America. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company. Wikipedia. ( November 2011). Retrieved March 27, 2011, from http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/El_Dorado Zahm, J. A. (1917). The quest for el Dorado. New York: D. Appleton and Company.
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