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Civilopedia entry Edit
When the Spanish arrived in South America, they were tantalized by stories of "El Dorado," "the golden one," a city of gold. While much of their fascination came from simple greed, later writers have wondered what effects the sight of adobe-brick pueblo cities in the setting sun may have had upon explorers’ imaginations. Such fantasies would have been fueled by the sheer richness of many South American cities. Hunza, the heart of the Muisca people, was one such place brimming with gold. When the Spanish found it, it was one of the wealthiest kingdoms in South America, and, after the conquest of the Muisca, made their lands the capital region of Spanish settlements in what was to become Colombia.
The Muisca, speakers of the Chibcha language, numbered about 120,000 to 160,000 at the time that the Spanish arrived. They were divided into two main polities, one ruled by kings known as zipa, and the other by kings known as zaque. These were kings of a sort of confederacy: individuals in semi-autonomous communities would be united by a captain, who in turn answered to the ruling zaque (or zipa). Muisca villages were heavily concentrated, with thatched roofs, temples to a complicated pantheon of divinities, and palaces for rulers. Religion and rulership, as in many societies, were linked, and zipa and zaque extended their legitimacy by laying claim to sources of esoteric magical knowledge.
The Muisca lands were rich, but arid. While they grew maize, they also raided their neighbors in the wetter lowlands, carrying off grain as well as slaves for field and domestic labor… and human sacrifice. Muisca warriors were terrifying; these "guecha warriors" sometimes carried mummified bodies on their backs to show their might – indeed, one translation of their name means "the man who brings death." In more peaceful times, Muisca traded elaborate textiles as well as the spoils from their rich mines with their neighbors. As they do today, the mines in this region of the Andes produce emeralds, and coal (which the Muisca used for household fires). And, of course, the Muisca worked gold.
The Muisca were awash in gold, sometimes literally. In their devotions to the gods at Lake Guatavita, Muisca devotees would paint themselves in gold dust and bathe in the water. Ornaments for the zipa and zaque were solid gold (gold obtained via trade, not from Muisca mines), and meeting such a figure must have started Spanish minds thinking about profits that might be made from conquest – or a fabled distant city made entirely of the metal. In 1537, a Spanish expeditionary force searching for El Dorado made it to the Bogotá savannah – the prehistoric lakebed that was the heart of Muisca territory.
Quemuenchatocha, the Muisca leader, recognized the threat the Spanish posed and attempted to stay hidden from them. But this could not last; when the Spanish discovered him decked out in gold and emeralds, his companions fled. The Spanish captured his valuables – and him. It is on his lands – Hunza – that the Spanish town of Tunja was built, and on the fertile Muisca lands where the capital-to-be of Bogotá was later founded.
Today, a recent census counted just under fifteen thousand Muisca remaining in Colombia. Local groups have recently formed councils to protest environmental destruction in Colombia and to preserve their cultural heritage.
- Hunza's symbol is the head of a tunjo, small figurines made by the Muisca as religious offerings.