The Muisca people of the Andes, believed that Laguna de Guatavita was created by a crashing meteor that transported a golden god who resided in the lake’s floor.
The legend says the lake is where the Muisca celebrated a ritual in which the cacique (named El Dorado, “ The Golden One”, by the conquistadors) was covered in gold dust, and then, venturing out into the water on a ceremonial raft made of rushes, dove into the waters, washing off the gold. Afterward, trinkets, jewellery, and other precious offerings were thrown into the waters by worshipers.
DreamOn tour manager, Mark Wahanik and I, travelled here by bus on a gloriously cool and sunny afternoon. The air was the sweetest and purest I’ve ever breathed. A welcome relief from the fumes of Bogota.
The lake is 3000 metres above sea level, in the central Andean highlands, 35 miles north-east of Bogota, and it’s dramatically set in a forest-fringed crater.
The Muisca were one of the four great civilisations of pre- Hispanic America (the others being, the Mayans, Aztecs and Incas).
Another less savoury story associated with the Lake of Gold is about the wife of a chief who was disloyal to her husband. As punishment for this act, the people tortured her lover, a guecha warrior, by cutting off his private parts and eating them in a ceremonial ritual. The wife of the cacique jumped into the lake with her son and drowned. The cacique mourning the deaths, ordered to retrieve the bodies from the lake.
This story was recorded by an early Spanish chronicler, Pedro Simón.
Avianca Flight AV8371 did not leave the ground, so this little piggy did not fly to Quito to tell tales at Colegio Terranova. Because of violent protests against the government,the president has fled the city and a two month State of Emergency has been declared in the Ecuadorean capital, and schools are closed.
So, Plan B. Now ensconced in Hotel Santa Barbara Boutique in Bogota, enjoying the unexpected luxury of three days of writing, walking and rehearsing before my three week storytelling shenanigans, courtesy of DreamOn Productions, in Colombia kick off.
Sabah prised the leech from her leg and stabbed it with a stick. She spat on the wound of tiny teeth marks and was about to return to her jungle home, when she felt a grip tightening around her waist. The ground fell away beneath her. A hairy arm was carrying her up into a tree. Kicking and struggling, yelling and screaming, she was dumped down into a huge nest, high above the forest floor.
Gasping for air she looked up into the face of an orangutan.
“I love you,” he declared.
“What!” she exclaimed.
“I love you Sabah, and I want you for my wife.”
“Well, you’ve got a funny way of showing your love.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve kidnapped me.”
“It’s the only way I could get you to my home and be close to you. My parents are coming in a weeks’ time, and then we’ll be married.”
“Oh that’s settled then.”
“Wonderful. You’ll be safe with me. But be careful. We’re very high up and I don’t want you to fall. You won’t be able to escape, as I’ve cut all the hanging vines.”
“You’ve thought of everything haven’t you?”
“I thought you’d be impressed. I’ve been planning this for some time.”
“I can see that.”
“Good. Well that’s sorted. You get yourself settled, and I’ll go and get us some food.”
As soon as her captor left, Sabah looked over the edge of the nest and realised there was no way down except to jump. And she was not going to do that! It was too high up. The branches of the nearest trees had been shorn by the orangutan. If she were a monkey, a squirrel or a flying snake, she’d be able to bridge the gap. Being human, she was trapped.
Her family had lived in the forest forever, and she knew that being abducted by an orangutan was always a possibility, as was the likelihood of being eaten by a crocodile, or bitten by a cobra.
The elders of the tribe had often told stories of orangutans and humans who’d had children, and even though some of her people might have thought it acceptable, she certainly didn’t want to give birth to some strange, mixed up half and half creature.
She’d have to think of something, and think of something fast.
Just then the orangutan returned with some durian fruits. He pulled the flesh apart and offered the smelly, yet delicious flesh to Sabah. As she ate, the ape demolished two of the fruits in quick succession and then spat out the seeds.
“Look what a mess you’ve made,” she chided.
“What?” said he.
“You’ve got seeds stuck to your hair. Come here, let me pick them out.”
“Ah, that’s kind of you.”
“What lovely hair you have. Reddy brown, like the hair of a coconut shell. But you are a bit scruffy. Let me comb it. You’ve got to look good for our wedding day.”
While Sabah groomed him with her fingers, the orangutan fell contentedly asleep.
When he woke up, he went off once more and soon returned with some rambutans.
“Oh thank you, these are my favourite fruits. You’re so thoughtful.”
“I had to go a long way to get these. There were tourists clunking through the forest and I didn’t want them to see me.”
“Ugh, tourists,” spat Sabah, “I hate them. Why can’t they leave us in peace?”
“I agree, but they’re not the worst. At least they like us. In parts of the forest our homes are being destroyed and we’re being burned alive. Palm oil plantations are eradicating us from the planet. Other humans hunt us and trap us and sell us as pets.”
“I know. It’s awful. I had an argument with my uncle because he sold a baby orangutan to a rich lady. He just laughed at me. But it’s not just your kind. Our people are suffering too. Many of us have gone to live in cities because our land is being taken from us.”
“Yes, but your tribe has taken land and trees from us. It’s not fair. We were here first.”
“Don’t worry. Now we’ll be together forever and nothing else will matter.”
“You’re right. Now let me comb your hair again. I must say, you’re beginning to look very handsome. I can’t wait for our big day.”
Later in the week, when they’d finished a feast of mangos, bananas and papayas, Sabah asked,
“So how do you know my name?”
“I’ve been watching you for ages. I sit in the yellow meranti tree by your settlement and watch you come and go.”
“Oh that’s sweet. But if you know my name, it’s only right that I know yours. What is it?”
“Pongo? That’s a lovely name. Now let me finish grooming you. We’re going to be married tomorrow and I want you to look your best. Oh, by the way, when are your parents arriving? I’ll need to get ready in time.”
“I’ll get up early tomorrow and fetch them. A new road has been built in the forest and it’s too wide for my mother to swing across it. We’ll have to come the long way round. We should arrive just after midday.”
“Wonderful. I look forward to meeting them. Now you go to sleep so you’ll be fresh for our big day.”
As soon as Pongo sleeps, Sabah runs her fingers one last time through the fibres of his back, and pulls out several strands. She puts them beneath her, curls up and falls asleep.
Next morning Pongo has left by the time Sabah wakes. She quickly pulls the rope she’s been secretly making all week from its hiding place in the nest, and plaits the last strands of hair. She reaches out and ties one end to a branch and lets the other fall to the forest floor. It’s too short to touch the ground but close enough to jump from. Fearlessly, Sabah climbs down and makes her escape.
Later in the day, Pongo returns with his parents only to find the nest empty and a rope of orangutan hair swinging slowly from a branch.
Pongo’s mother puts her arm around him and his father slowly shakes his head and says,
“Stick with your own kind from now on, son. Those humans will always let you down.”
Word Count: 1067 06/03/2020
This is my own liberal re-telling of The Girl Who Was Kidnapped By An Orangutan from The Singing Top, Tales from Malaysia,Singapore and Brunei retold and edited by Margaret Read MacDonald. World Folklore Series.
All three of us were hoping for free flights for life but when the captured cockroach was presented to the lugubrious steward he quipped, “It’s not mine.” As he whisked it away he offered, “This is a delicacy in China.”