Muiscas & the origin of El Dorado

The Muisca people were organized in a Confederation that was the union of states, which kept their own sovereignty within the greater political body. The Confederation was not a kingdom, as there was no absolute monarch, nor was it an Empire because it did not dominate other ethnic groups or peoples. Accordingly, the Muisca Confederation cannot be compared with other American civilizations such as the Aztec Empire or the Inca Empire. The Muisca Confederation was, however, one of the biggest and best organized confederations of tribes on the continent.

Every tribe within the confederation was ruled by its chief or cacique. The tribe had its autonomy and it was a cell of the confederation. The bulk of the tribes belonged to the same Muisca ethnic group, sharing the same language and culture and relating through trade. They united in the face of a common enemy and for this reason the army was the full responsibility of the Zipa or Zaque. The army was made by the güeches, the honoured traditional ancient warriors of the Muisca people.

The Muisca people were in fact organized into two confederations. The southern confederation, headed by the Zipa, had its capital at Bacatá (today Bogotá). This southern polity included the majority of the Muisca population and held greater economic power. The northern confederation was ruled by the Zaque, and had its capital at Hunza, known today as Tunja. Although both confederations had common political relations and affinities and belonged to the same nation, there were still rivalries between them. Among the confederations there were four chiefdoms: Bacatá, Hunza, Duitama and Sogamoso. The chiefdom was composed by localities. The tribes were divided in Capitanías (ruled by a Capitan and there were two kinds: Great Capitania (sybyn) and Minor Capitania (uta). The status of Capitan was inherited by maternal lineage.

The Muisca people were an agrarian and ceramic society belonging to the Andes of the north of South America. The political and administrative organization above described did of them a compact cultural unity with great discipline. The contribution of the Muisca Culture to the national Colombian identity is a fact and its study is necessary to understand Colombia today.

(The Zipa used to cover his body in gold and, from his raft, he offered treasures to the Guatavita goddess in the middle of the sacred lake. This old Muisca tradition became the origin of El Dorado legend.)

El Dorado

The origin of the legend must be located in the Muisca Confederation. The Zipa used to offer to the Guatavita goddess gold and other treasures. To do so, the Zipa covered himself with gold. This tradition was well-known outside the Confederation, as far as the Caribbean Sea and the Spaniards were attracted by the fascinating stories of a city of gold that actually did not exist. Much of the times the aborigenes wanted to get rid of the ambitious Spaniards in that way, pointing out other peoples. The Guatavita lagoon was widely explored by the Conquerors looking for the old offerings of the Zipa to the goddess. From this came many other routes to the Gold City out of the Muisca context and the term became a reference to a mythical place that attracts people.


The Chibchan, muysca, mosca or muska kubun belongs to the linguistic family of Chibchan-Paezano or Macro-Chibcha that includes some regions of Central America and the north of South America. The Tayrona Culture and the U’wa, related also to the Muisca Culture, could speak similar languages and it helped to develop their market exchange. Many Chibcha words came into the Colombian Spanish:

Geography: Names of localities and regions were kept. In many occasions the Spanish conquerors did city foundations naming it with a Chibcha and Spanish combination. Such is the case of Santafé de Bogotá“. Most of the municipalities of the Boyacá and Cundinamarca departments are Chibcha names: Bacatá that became “Bogotá“, Sogamoso, Zipaquiráand many others.

Natural names: Fruits as curuba and uchuva.

Relations: The youngest child is called “Cuba“, “china” for a girl, muysca is “people”.


    5 thoughts on “Muiscas & the origin of El Dorado

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