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The Indigenous People of Colombia: An Overview of the Muisca

The Muisca are Chibcha-speaking people of pre-Colombian South America who inhabited the central Andean highlands of the present-day Altiplano Cundiboyacense. They were comprised of a number of separate tribes that together formed the Muisca Confederation and composed of rich landowners and successful agriculturists who produced textiles, mined salt and emeralds, as one of the four High cultures of South America the Muisca forged vast amounts of fine gold and silver crafts, that was a major part of their culture.

The Muisca people viewed space and time, and with no formal concepts of science or religion they perceived everything found in nature as interconnected with both a physical and non-material spiritual form.

Their civilization flourished in ancient Colombia between 600 and 1600 CE (some evidence suggests their history goes back hundreds of years prior). Their territory encompassed what is now Bogotá and they have gained lasting fame as the origin of the El Dorado legend. The Muisca have also left a significant artistic legacy in their intricate metallurgy, much of it unrivalled by any other Americas culture.

The Muisca were an agrarian and ceramic society of the Andes of the north of South America. Their political and administrative organization enabled them to form a compact cultural unity with great discipline. In Spanish, it is called cultura muisca

The Muisca had an economy and society considered to have been one of the most powerful in Meso-America , mainly because of the resources of the area: gold and emeralds. When the Spaniards arrived in Muisca territory, they found a rich statem, with the Muisca Confederation controlling mining of the following products:

emeralds, copper coal, salt and gold.

The many handcrafted works in gold and the zipa tradition of offering gold to the goddess Guatavita contributed to the legend of El Dorado.

The Muisca traded their goods at local and regional markets with a system of barter. Items traded ranged from those of basic necessity through to luxury goods. The abundance of salt, emeralds, and coal brought these commodities to de facto currency status. Having developed an agrarian society, the people used terrace farming and irrigation in the highlands. Main products were fruits, coca, quinoa, yuca and potatoes.

El Dorado is applied to a legendary story in which precious stones were found in fabulous abundance along with gold coins. The concept of El Dorado underwent several transformations, and eventually accounts of the previous myth were also combined with those of a legendary lost city. The resulting El Dorado myth enticed European explorers for two centuries.

The origin of the legend of El Dorado (Spanish for “The Golden One") in the early 16th century may be located in the history of the Muisca people.

The zipa (a tribe of the Muisca Confederation) offered gold and other treasures to the Guatavita goddess. To do so, the zipa covered himself with gold dust and washed it off in the lake while tossing gold trinkets into the waters.

This tradition was well known among various indigenous populations; the Spaniards were attracted by stories of a "city of gold” that did not exist. The legend grew until the term became a metaphor for any place where great wealth may be found or made.

Since 1989 there has been a process of reconstruction of the indigenous councils by the surviving members of the Muisca Culture. Muisca Councils currently working are Suba, Bosa, Cota, Chía, and Sesquilé. The councils had an Assembly in Bosa on 20–22 September 2002, called the First General Congress of the Muisca People. They proposed linguistic and cultural recuperation, defense of the territories that are currently occupied by others, and proposed urban and tourist plans as well as other indigenous efforts to recover their organizational and human rights.

Colonization by the Spanish has had a profound and devastating effect on the Muisca. Once a massive people, numbering 500,000, they are now found in three remaining councils: in Cota, Chía, and Sesquilé with a population of 2,318. There are additional populations in the capital region numbering 5,186, and a small community of about 1,573 in the municipalities of Suba and Bosa. Though their numbers are much diminished, the Muisca continue to have an impact, fighting to preserve sacred spaces and natural resources, such as opposing the drying of the Tibabuyes wetland.

The Muisca like many other indigenous peoples of the Americas, though decimated by hundreds of years of colonial abuse and accosted by the continued expansion of western culture, they still endure. With renewed efforts in cultural restoration as well as an ever evolving political climate there is a chance at both a societal ran environmental recovery.

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