The beaches of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, near Pueblito, other tairona city
The beaches of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, near Pueblito, other tairona city.

Paradise Found and Lost

Scribes, clerics and soldiers who were involved in the Conquest have left much admirable evidence about the lands that had only just been discovered. The European view of the inhabitants of America comes across clearly in these documents, as does their perplexity at the new things which were to stimulate all those fantasies about paradise on earth.

This can be seen in the description by the chronicler Friar Pedro Simón (1574 - 1628?) of the Caldera valley on the northern slope of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, even though it has never been possible to identify exactly where this valley was.

"And if there really is a paradise on earth in these indian lands, then this could be it……, this place which has been given two names by us, Caldera and San Marcos Valley. It is crowned by high peaks, and from the summit to the very depths there must be eight leagues, in places less, with crystal-clear gold water in the streams (which slither like glass snakes down from the peaks to the very bottom of the valley), the ridges and deep gorges all covered by large indian villages, with the smiling faces of the indians themselves visible everywhere, more than a thousand large houses, each one inhabited by a family. But the most pleasing sight was the large number of plants, maize, sweet potato, cassava, yams, pumpkins, chillies, cotton fields and groves of trees, almost all of them fruit trees, with apples, papayas, guavas, plums, pine nuts, bananas and many others, also timber for their homes and for burning in the 'devil's huts', where […] the fires were kept burning all the time with smelly wood, in these huts and in others where they kept their jewellery, feathers and blankets and where they held their strangely grand parties and dances […], cleanliness and curiosity, as in the yards that were paved with enormous polished stones, their seats likewise made of stone, or their paths a third of which are paved with slabs. In one village there was a well-carved stairway with six or seven steps a 'vara' high, and another narrow one leading up to it where they stood to watch the parties that were held down below in a large, well-paved yard. Sometimes I speak in the past and sometimes in the present, because some of these things are still there but others have disappeared without trace".

"But what stands out above all the cleanliness and curiosity of these people are the blankets woven in various colours on the loom. There was no indian or woman who did not have sets of jewels, ear rings, necklaces, crowns or rings for the lower lip, all made of fine gold, and fine, well-cut stones and strings of beads. All the young girls wore four or six gold necklaces weighing from twelve to fifteen 'castellanos'. Their everyday clothes consist of two painted cotton blankets; when they walk, they carry fans made from palm and feathers. They made large pools by hand in the streams, for bathing in".

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Download the Official Guide of the Teyuna (Lost City) Archaeological Park, from the Instituto Colombiano de Antropología.

A Paradise on the beach: Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

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"There were so many things made from feathers and they were all so curious that I really cannot recall them all: hoods in the form of 'mucetas', roses, flowers, fans, winnows, bodices covered with feathers, large 'mohanes' covered likewise with feathers or with precious stones, lined bonnets, tiger-skin suits. They bred parrots, macaws and hummingbirds just for the feathers, which they plucked every year. Others they killed with blow guns and slender arrows for the same purpose….".

"….The women spun rapidly and finely, while the men wove slowly and very curiously. One soldier said he had seen an apiary in that valley with more than eighty thousand hives, and in fact there were ten thousand houses and in each one there were upwards of ten people. There were large pots or pitchers that they made very sweet honey in, because it came from the flower of the guama tree, tiny bees, not in honeycombs but in large wax bags that smelled of flowers. There must have been around two hundred and fifty villages and they all obeyed a chieftain called Guacanaoma, although each one had its own chieftain or 'mohan'. In fact, the whole of Caldera was one long party, with dancing, cleanliness, delight and laziness……"

Taken from:
Simón, Fray Pedro, 1626, 1981. Noticias Historiales de las Conquistas de Tierra Firme en las Indias Occidentales. Volume VI, Chapter XIII, pp. 285-86. Bogotá, Biblioteca Banco Popular.

Glossary

Simón, Fray Pedro
Spanish chronicler and cleric (1574, San Lorenzo de la Parrilla), member of the Franciscan Order, author of Noticias Historiales de las Conquistas de Tierra Firme en las Indias Occidentales, an extensive work which narrates events at the time of the Conquest and in the early years of the colonial era in territory which today forms the republics of Colombia and Venezuela. He died in Ubaté (Colombia) some time around 1628.

Devil's Hut
Name given by the Spaniards to indian shrines or ceremonial houses, which were hunted down by the civil and ecclesiastical authorities throughout the Conquest and for much of the colonial era.

Caney
An indian word of Taino origin meaning "shed with palm or thatched roof, no walls, and resting on wooden columns". Widely used by the Spaniards to describe indian homes.

Castellano
Fiftieth part of a gold mark, equivalent to eight 'tomines', or around 46 decigrammes. The mark was equivalent to one half-pound peso, or 230 grammes, and was used for gold and silver. The gold mark was divided into 50 'castellanos', the silver one into 8 ounces.

Jerkin
Closely fit sleeveless underwear which doesn’t go below the waist (DRAE dictionary in Spanish)

League
Unit for measuring travel, which varies from country to country and region to region. Based on the distance that can regularly be walked in one hour, and under the old Spanish system was equivalent to around 5,572 metres.

Mohán
Name given by the Spaniards in various parts of America to indian priests or shamans.

Muceta
Shoulder cape covering the chest and back which, buttoned at the front, is worn by prelates, doctors, lawyers and certain ecclesiastics as a sign of dignity. Normally made of silk, but sometimes of fur.

Third
Third part of a length measurement of approximately 83.5 cm (DRAE dictionary in Spanish)

Vara
Measure of length that was given different values in different parts of Spain, ranging from 768 to 912 millimetres.