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El Dorado

Yellowed and patched up over several countries, the old map was held by six tacs on the wall behind the breakfast dining table. Ten year old Luisito sprinted from his chair and pointed out the Iberian Peninsula.

“This is where those explorers came from,” running his finger along in the western direction and coming to a stop at the Caribbean Islands, “and this is where they landed.”

After browsing through the bag of goodies, his grandmother handed him a small chocolate kiss.

“Well done.” she said, “Now, can you tell me what they were after and what they found?”

Unlike her impatient young brother Carmen raised her hand. Her grandmother turned to face her and before accepting what she knew would be a lengthy answer pulled out her chair, patted the cushion and got ready to listen.

Carmen went on, “Everyone knows that the explorers sent by Spain were seeking to reach Asia and trade their wares for spices. They landed instead in America and were then enticed by legends of gold to be found in the new world. One of the legends was El Dorado.” 

“The Conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada might have actually found the source of this legend when he came upon the Indigenous Muisca People in what is now Colombia.

“The Muisca Confederation was a loose union of states where each retained sovereignty. They had no absolute monarch, and did not dominate other peoples. To be king had to be earned not inherited. The Muisca diet was not different between social classes as there was plenty for everyone. This agrarian society used terrace farming and irrigation. Their main products were fruits, coca, quinoa, yuca and potatoes.

“The Confederation controlled mining of emeralds, copper, coal, and salt which they traded for gold. Some accounts say that everyone owned and wore gold.

“The Muiscas, also called Chibcha after their spoken language, would dress and fully cover their king in gold for their coronations. Thus the legend of El Dorado, meaning Golden One, got started.”

Nodding her head, the grandmother said, “Very well Carmen. I can see that you did extra research, as usual. I would like to add just a couple of points:

  1. To the Muiscas the value of gold was of spiritual significance and used as votive, because it was the color of the sun. In all, the Spanish took five hundred billion dollars worth of gold and silver from South America.
  2. In the end the priceless treasure that the explorers actually found was the variety of nutritious foods that could be cultivated in the Old World, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, maize, etc.” 

For a list of the New World foods you can check:

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