Bogota and its “Museo del Oro”: Cosmology and Symbolism
In this post, we´ll share with you one of the most interesting and enriching experiences we have had in relation to our “visits.” We invite you to learn about the mythical themes and symbols of some pieces from the pre-Hispanic and colonial times which are in the Museo del Oro in Bogotá, where we had an extremely short stay since we were more interested about the cultural aspect of the city rather than the city itself.
We arrived in the middle of a teacher´s strike.
On the one hand, they were fighting for a reform of the educational system, and on the other hand, shouting their exhaustion and indignation for the corruption in general that affects the educational system so much. What was surprising was the “general picture” of this situation. It was a bitter event for all Colombians, but it contrasted with the great color of their umbrellas which they were all carrying and were filling the “Plaza de Bolivar”, one of the main meeting places of this protest, with lots of life.
After visiting the Museum of Modern Art that exhibited works from several French and Colombians artists for the celebration of the “France-Colombia” cultural year, which disappointed us so much, we went to discover what was theoretically one of the best museums in Colombia; The Museo del Oro. Nicolás, the anthropologist guide who showed us the museum, left us speechless.
With his passionate and knowledgeable stories on the subject, he said that the pieces that this museum is holding have revealed secrets that everyone should discover, and made us understand and relate everything we had learned a few weeks ago, with the Wayuu community in the region of the Guajira. (See: One day with a family from the Wayuu Indigenous Community)
The work of metals…
The Pre-Hispanic Colombian indigenous communities worked a lot metals, especially gold. This is the reason of the great importance of the metals, mainly gold, which represented the strength of the sun and the divine power. They were building tools and body ornaments mostly, and every creation made by goldsmiths had a reason for being, and a very deep sense for this community.
These pieces of ceramic, terracotta and gold that accompany this article represent the shamans. These “spiritual heads” transmitted orally the knowledge to their communities, especially the children, and they served as guide to survive in the wild. As you will see, shamans have their eyes open or closed. This shows their states of consciousness or connection with a world “beyond”.
On the first picture, the shaman chews coca leaf, used as an energizer to awaken his being, his conscience. This coca leaf has a sacred connotation in the indigenous world since it is used to raise the sensitivity of memory, acts on the central nervous system, helps maintain physical effort, contributes to improve the inter-neuronal connection and sharpens the perception (among many other benefits).
In the second, picture the shaman has the skull very elongated. When just a child, metal plates are placed around the skull so that during its growth it would take this special form, and the great volume of this skull would mean “wisdom” or “intelligence”.
The meaning of the objects…
All the ornaments and golden objects, shells or stones that are exposed in the Museum, gave the leaders a “second skin” that reflected their power and abilities. With these created objects, they represented daily life situations that allowed a fundamental learning on how to survive in a specific environment. As main feature … they used to wear many ornaments; Pendants, nose rings and earrings.
If the work of some pieces was impressive, their meaning was even more interesting.
A case worth mentioning for example was the “Batman”. This teaching object was of paramount importance for the shamans as it symbolized the ability to “see in the dark” like a bat, which means to see what escapes one, to understand what one does not understand, to see beyond what ordinary people can achieve to see. Those being “Batman”, although a beautiful poetic and mystical analogy, is mainly a mechanism by which the community gives a particular role to a particular individual. At present we know from the communities of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta that the bats are the men who are in charge of looking for in the night (the unknown) new answers or “lights” that help the community to survive.
The “Jaguar man” symbolizes strength, agility of body and mind. Shamans wearing feline ornaments were feared by others. This feline is the most feared predator of these lands, extremely aggressive, fast (reaches 60 km / h climbing a tree much better than a monkey and has an incredible biting strength). The shamans who wore these ornaments were protecting their people, and avenging themselves terribly on their enemies.
Tell me what kind of objects belongs to you and I´ll tell you who you are…
Pre-Hispanic adornments and objects, on the one hand defined the cultures of each community, and on the other, there are pieces that describe several of these cultures meeting each other. They represented the barter they made, “giving” some of their culture, to receive the culture of the other. That is called, exchanging objects, trading for them. That’s why these museum pieces are so important. They reflect Colombian culture, and help understand how indigenous civilizations were constructed and adapted in Colombia.
Although already speaking in a more recent timeline, a “funny” anecdote illustrating the encounter of two cultures through its symbols was the meeting of Colombian President Andres Pastrana and Pope John Paul II in 1999 at the Vatican.
The Pope’s gift to Andres Pastrana as a symbol of the Catholic religion and peace, was an image of the Virgin Mary . And Pastrana, gave an object called “Poporo” to the Pope. Intrigued, the Pope asked him what kind of object that was. The Colombian president, ordered by his diplomatic team, could not answer “truly” the question and did not give a proper answer. The Poporo, was a container used by the natives for the mambeo of the coca leaves during religious ceremonies. People in general do not know what it is, or have a misconception of its use, and it is always associated with coca as a drug. This conception that arises from a great ignorance in general in the good sense of the word, since the use of it, dates from 300 years before Christ and is a main feature of the Colombian culture. In fact, in the indigenous communities, it was an element that was given to the young people, as a symbol of maturity, as it required a big responsibility in its use. The Poporo was seen as an honor and it was a symbol of identity. Unfortunately, this fundamental piece in Colombian culture is related negatively through its misinterpretations nowadays with “one” of its uses, when these have been multiple.
The ceremony of the Golden One …
We ended this most interesting visit in the “offering room”. Only two minutes were enough to transport us to the “beyond.” A dark place, where everyone sits around a circle of transparent glass in the middle of the floor revealing small objects and gold ornaments, symbols of the religion of pre-Hispanic natives. Meanwhile, we are cherished by ancient songs and indigenous music, to revive the ceremony of the Offering called the ceremony of the Golden One … Nicholas, our great guide, for a moment became the “shaman” and “heavenly master” directing this offering to restore the balance of the world as they were doing it back in this time. We felt that he was almost in trance to illustrate with truthfulness the state in which the shamans were in these ceremonies, with which, we ended up living one of the most amazing and unexpected experiences of this visit, and that surely, we will never forget.
For us, it is a subject that we would like to be able to pass on to you with thousands of more astonishing details, but we are not prepared for such a task, that takes years of research and study, and there are so many people prepared to do it, like our guide Nicolás, whom we have renamed in… The great Nicholas.
We invite you to visit museums, to live the history in a different way, to understand the roots of the culture you are going to discover. We are more than grateful to have been able to visit this little piece of beautiful history that connects America, with Hispanics, its before and after the colonization, its dazzling stories, and the most compelling stories we could find.
For now, we leave you to continue discovering these “jewels” that this amazing trip is offering us, and that we like so much to share with you. So dear friends and followers, we invite you to comment if you wish, to subscribe to our blog, to follow us on our social networks …
In the meantime, we keep on writing for you.
To all of you; Thank you so much!