He wanted to know how they prayed to God in El Dorado?
“We do not pray to Him at all”, said the reverend sage. “We have nothing to ask of Him. He has given us all we want, and we give Him thanks continually.” Voltaire
Before we commence our journey to the fabled El Dorado, let me make an impassioned plea to you – please read. Not the WhatsApp forwards or sophomoric and facile opinion pieces of so-called experts, but real books. I am an avid reader and read/listen to about three books in a month – two on Kindle and one on Audible.
Also, reading magazines and newspapers can’t replace reading books. A newspaper article is a few hours of effort by someone and a magazine article a few days of effort. But a book is the outcome of many months and years of research by the author. You get to acquire this distilled wisdom in a few days which then helps you grow in life – mentally, intellectually and spiritually. But what does an average adult do?
What you put in your mind first thing in the morning should be something positive, refreshing and motivating. Don’t worry about what happens in the White house, worry about what happens in your house – physical and mental.
As per a recent survey, adult consumers in India spent an average of five hours per day on various kinds of media in 2019. 70% of this media time, or three hours thirty minutes were spent on traditional media and the remaining 30% or one and a half hours on digital media platforms.
So, one-third of our waking time is spent on media – social, electronic or print. And what is this media feeding us? Mostly negativity, violence, dire predictions and make-believe. No wonder we find life tough and scary. This negative influence is so persistent and subtle that we don’t even realize the negativity seeping into us. It’s like being afloat on a tube in the ocean. We feel as if we are floating at the same place but when we look up we might have drifted miles away from the shore.
In any case, 99% of all the news has no personal bearing on us so why do we invest so much time on it? Instead, invest in a good news aggregator app and save this time. As a rule, never watch the news or read the newspaper in the morning. What you put in your mind first thing in the morning should be something positive, refreshing and motivating. For the first one hour after waking up, do not touch your mobile, laptop (unless for work), TV or newspaper. Don’t worry about what happens in the White House, worry about what happens in your house – physical and mental.
El Dorado, the mythical city flush with gold and jewels, led many an adventurer ,far and wide on a wild goose chase. Most perished, but a few survived to tell a tale of encountering rough seas, getting lost in rainforests and fending off attacks by wild beasts, carnivorous tribes and pirates. Intriguingly, such gory tales spurred more adventurers to set sail for the elusive City of Gold.
Where was it? They tried to locate the El Dorado on the Amazon; no, somewhere on the Gulf; no, in the Rio Grande; no, in Florida. The search which began in the sixteenth century continued through the seventeen, eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The quest is perhaps on even now, but at an individual level – I will elaborate on this issue as we progress further.
But we must thank the Spanish who gave this word, El Dorado, to our vocabulary. It means a city of fabulous wealth and opportunities. But let us get to the beginning of it all when the legend started with the Spanish in the early sixteenth century.
El Dorado was variously described as a place or a person which symbolised untold riches. It was a place where an abundance of gold, wealth, prosperity, and perpetual youth existed. Some believed it to be a person who used to cover himself in gold dust during the day and washed himself off in the evening while being showered with gold and jewels by his fellow tribesmen.
The story began in the early sixteenth century when Spanish travellers reached Central Columbia and witnessed the rites of passage ceremony carried out by the Muisca peoples, the natives of that place. Juan Rodriguez Freyle described the ceremony in his book, “The Conquest and Discovery of the New Kingdom of Granada”, published in 1636.
When a leader in the Muisca society died, the successor of the previous leader, normally his nephew, would undergo a long initiation process. The final act of this process was the new chief paddling out on a raft onto a sacred lake surrounded by the four high priests who were adorned with gold crowns and ornaments. The leader had to be fully naked but for a covering of gold dust on his entire body.
The leader then went about the ritual offering of gold objects and jewels to the tribal gods by throwing them in the water. Spectators used to stand around the lake to witness the ceremony and there was a huge fanfare of song and dance which culminated with all accepting the leadership of the chosen one.
Columbia in those days was the leader in gold production in the world but for its people, gold never signified wealth and prosperity but had a spiritual connotation instead. For European avarice though, it was all about getting hold of gold – the ultimate symbol of prosperity.
The tale began to attract golddiggers who envisioned recovering all that gold which was thrown in the lake as offerings. The first recorded expedition to discover El Dorado was launched in 1537 AD, by the Spanish adventurer Jimenez de Quesada who started for this mythical land with an army of eight hundred men. They supposedly did reach the El Dorado but most of them perished to the thick jungles and hostile tribes. They did, however, manage to find some gold among the tribes along the continent’s northern coast.
This motley possession of gold whetted the appetite for finding the real El Dorado in the Spaniards. More and more expeditions were launched in the interiors which resulted in the discovery of Lake Guatavita, the supposed location of the rites of passage ceremony. The Spaniards tried to drain the lake to unearth the gold and treasures hidden beneath but succeded in only drying up the edges of the lake. They did find hundreds of pieces of gold around the lake but the real treasure, the fabled El Dorado, still remained tantalisingly out of reach for all, buried deep in the icy depths of the lake.
Soon, the Germans and the English jumped into the fray. In 1594, Englishman Sir Walter Raleigh undertook an expedition to Guiana (now Venezuela) in search of El Dorado. The search was fruitless and on their return to England, King James I of England and VI of Scotland, who disliked Raleigh, accused him of plotting against the king and sentenced him to death.
The death sentence was later reduced to life imprisonment but Raleigh spent the next twelve years in jail, where he wrote the first volume of his book, History of the World. He was released in 1616 and soon launched his second expedition with his son, Watt Raleigh, in 1617 up the Orinoco River.
Walter Raleigh, now an old man, decided to stay behind at the base camp on the island of Trinidad. This expedition ended in multiple disasters. First, Raleigh received the news that his son was killed during the adventure in a battle with the Spaniards who were scouting the same area for El Dorado. When a survivor came back to the base camp and conveyed this sad news to Raleigh, he got such a reprimand that he committed suicide.
The tragedy didn’t end there and continued on the return of Raleigh to England. He was tried by King James on the charges of creating conditions of conflict with Spain. Walter Raleigh was beheaded on 29 October 1618. Another sad and disastrous end to the search for elusive El Dorado.
These setbacks didn’t deter adventurers and many more expeditions were launched which led to a loss of many precious lives but El Dorado remained out of reach. In 1772, Scientist Alexander von Humboldt and botanist Aime Bonpland undertook a long expedition in the search of elusive El Dorado.
They returned and gave their verdict – El Dorado didn’t exist. The myth of this fabled land still endured with a multitude of expeditions launched to locate it – alas all were unsuccessful. The longing for El Dorado is reflected in this beautiful poem by Edgar Allan Poe, written in 1849. The poem describes the journey of a gallant knight in search of El Dorado. Most of the life of this knight is spent on this journey but to no avail. He finally meets a pilgrim shadow in his old age who points out the way to El Dorado through the valley of the shadow. Savour this beautiful poem and decipher its meaning – I will give my interpretation later.
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.
But he grew old—
This knight so bold—
And o’er his heart a shadow—
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.
And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow—
‘Shadow,’ said he,
‘Where can it be—
This land of Eldorado?’
‘Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,’
The shade replied,—
‘If you seek for Eldorado!’
Edgar Allan Poe
As time passed, the allure of El Dorado started to fade but, incredibly, in 1969, a gold raft depicting a scene as described by Juan Rodriguez Freyle was dug out of a small cave in the hills south of Bogota, Columbia. The discovery was made by two farmers and this gold Muisca raft, also called the El Dorado raft, showed eight tiny oarsmen rowing with their backs to the royal golden figure of their chief. Research showed this raft to be created between 600 and 1600 AD.
This fascinating tale, folklore, which has persisted for centuries must have some truth to it, right? I would reckon that though the story may be true, all the seekers of El Dorado were barking up the wrong tree. They were looking for El Dorado at the wrong place.
I can tell you where to find El Dorado, just take some time and join me on this fascinating exploration next week.
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