In this third and final episode featuring Nemonte Nenquimo, we talk about long-ago and recent legends of our time, and our responsibility towards forests ‘on this side’ of the ocean.
Prior to 1535 there was a ceremony which took place on Lake Guatavita. Every year the Chichba-speaking leader of the Muisca population traveled to the lakeshore, had his body sprinkled with sticky algae and then covered in gold dust until he was completely coated in gold. Then he pushed off in a boat, reached the center of that reflective water and dived in to rinse off this ritual offering. On the shore the faithful tossed in golden gifts which settled to the bottom of the lake. In 1535, Spanish conquistadors Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada and Sebastián de Belalcázar, like so many others seeking that mythical American region purportedly paved in gold, learned of this ceremony. From that moment on, this lost paradise was called El Dorado after that dazzling gilded figure who leapt into Lake Guatavita. A few years later the city of Bogotá would be founded there.
The leader of the Muisca was dusted in gold to then immerse himself in Lake Guatavita.
It is not hard to believe that the ancestors of Nemonte Nenquimo – leader of the Waorani who today fights against the exploitation of the Amazon – also clashed with these mirage seekers. Expectations are much lower today. They seek not gold, but trees to fell, pastures for livestock, and water reserves for intensive agriculture.
Giving up gold means taking care of our local forests.
Regardless of whether they are based on truth, any and all legends that promise riches in foreign lands reveal man’s thought process: masking problems at home in order to pursue invisible solutions. In fact, the key feature of our globalized world is how easy one’s desires can be exported. We should be using these same means to export responsibility, instead. For us, ‘giving up gold’ means recognizing that far-away happiness is an illusion unless, like Nemonte, we first take care of our own local forests.