Adam and Eve. Lady Godiva. The Emperor and his “new” clothes. Venus. David. Archimedes. St. Francis. Among the rich contributions that myth, history, folklore and art have made to nudist and naturist imagery, a much too forgotten figure is El Dorado. This is especially surprising given that El Dorado’s story features not one but two of naturists’ all-time favorite activities: body-painting and skinny-dipping!
|El Dorado, Gilded Man of the Chibchas. Theodore de Bry (1561-1623)|
According to the 16th-century conquistadors and their chroniclers, El Dorado (The Golden One) was not a city but rather the chief of a Muisca or Chibcha community in what is today central Colombia. The name came to be linked to a city of riches because of the opulence of the chief’s ceremony that so intrigued the Spaniards. For the ceremony, the community would gather by the shores of a lake (probably Lake Guatavita) where the king would disrobe and his assistants would paint him head to toe in sticky resin before blowing gold dust all over his body, in this way outlining the contours of his body as image. Next, the king and his assistants would row out to the middle of the lake, where they would toss in offerings of gold, emeralds, and other precious materials. Then the king, glittering and golden, would himself dive into the lake, washing off swirls of sparkling dust in his wake. Perhaps, while underwater, he could glimpse some of the offerings from ceremonies past – the shimmering insights of his community’s collective unconscious, like a dreamworld. He would emerge clean from the lake as a sign that the ceremony, something like a baptism, provided continuity with his culture’s traditions of fertility and renewal.
Although attempts to drain Lake Guatavita have yielded little significant treasure, recent anthropological research suggests symbolic meanings to the ceremony that were probably lost to the single-minded material pursuit of the Europeans. Chibcha and Muisca creation myths feature a water goddess and a sun god who, after leaving the lake to create the world, returned to the lake and became serpents, residing there permanently. The mixture of sunlight (heat) and water as the basic elements of creation is reflected in the practice of submerging in the lake the golden offerings, since gold was thought to be an excretion or by-product of the sun. Other research has highlighted the optic similarity of the sunlight as refracted by the waves on the lake surface, to the visions experienced by area shamans.
Naturists should emulate El Dorado, one of the original body-painters and skinny-dippers! The chief’s outdoors ceremony celebrated the body’s full and unimpeded contact with sunshine, air, and water, and affirmed the body as image and as moving actor within nature as sacred creation. Why not use paints made from natural materials to recreate the ceremony, with lots of El Dorados and La Doradas, and all the other colors, too?