632 Zenbakia 2012-07-06 / 2012-07-13


The last map to Eldorado? Lope de Aguirre, sir Walter Raleigh and an unknown hand who left a long letter in the archive of Hondarribia


There are, perhaps, hundreds, thousands of pages devoted to the story, the legend, the myth of Eldorado.

Long time ago, during the last years of the 19th century, Lope de Aguirre, Ursua and the “marañones” became an obssesive subject among basque and spanish historians and authors.

The mad quest for Eldorado, the frantic rebellion of Lope de Aguirre against the king Philip II, the search of a myth among untutored tribes that never before have heard about the white demons dressed in iron and armed with weapons that could kill from a long distance were enough reasons, as it seems, to guarantee an assured place to that story amidst the pages of many different books. From novels like “La aventura equinoccial de Lope de Aguirre” to essays written by quite responsible historians who tried to separate the myth, the legends, from the true History.

Among the englishspeaking people we can find out a parallel interest in that story of Eldorado. Perhaps a little bit less noisy. Something logical because the english History of the journey to Eldorado it’s a brave but sad episode.

The spaniards arrive to America. This engraving is based upon the drawings of Theodor de Bry devoted to the great voyages of that epoch. La colección Reding.

Indeed, sir Walter Raleigh was quite audacious —as usual— when he tried in the year of Grace of 1617 to discover if Eldorado was something more than a tale full of sound and fury told by mad men who had lost everything —and that included their minds— searching golden cities hidden inside the mighty and fearsome “green hell” of the ecuatorian jungles. But that courageous action costed him his head, which his king, James I, served to his spanish cousin Philip III without any hesitation after the first sign made by the earl of Gondomar, the spanish ambassador in London, and the man who ruled the acts and mind of that lazy, supertitious, and unworthy heir of the great Elizabeth.

Was this a fair punishment for a man deluded, blinded by the glitter of the “fool’s gold”?.

Well, historians, in fact, should not act as judges. Even more, historians -and that includes the author of these pages- should not search “morals” for the stories that form part of that we call “History”. Then the fairness or unfairness of sir Walter’s execution it’s just a matter of opinion. But, what about the delusions that, as it seems, led sir Walter to Guyana, to his quest for Eldorado first and then to the gallows? Can the historians say something new about the fake or true clues that encouraged him to do that hazardous, almost desperate, journey?.

These questions have a simple answer and it’s “yes”. Indeed, the archives of Hondarribia have, as it seems, an interesting bundle that could say something quite new about the last journey of sir Walter Raleigh and about the quest for Eldorado.

Excerpt of the front page of document B 1 i 5, 1. Hondarribia City Archives.

The source of this new information is the document B 1 I 5, 1, that includes a complete description in twelve pages of a fabulous kingdom that have all the distinctive elements of the different stories described by professor Juan Gil many years ago in his book about the myths of the Age of Discoveries. Those that led many men during the second half of the XVIth century onwards to the “green hell” to search another fabulous empire like the aztec or the Tawantinsuyu.

This short but dense descripition have some quite interesting elements. The most outstanding characteristic of this document is that includes a complete History of the mythical kingdom of Eldorado. Indeed, the anonymous author of these twelve pages depicts, year by year, cipher by cipher, fact by fact, the origins and development of this kingdom of Eldorado named in these sheets “Paititi” or, sometimes, “Manoa”. A word that allow us to identify this document as one written during the last years of the XVIth century, when this word, “Manoa”, used to describe a lake, replaces “Eldorado” or even “Paipite” or “Paititi” —the mythical city where some fugitive incas hid the gold, silver and jewels that the spaniards had not the opportunity to ransack— as John Hemming pointed in his fine book on this subject.

Following this clue we can discover more interesting things on this document. For example, who could be his author and how a copy of this last map to Eldorado was left in the archives of Hondarribia. Something that is still a mistery, or at least looks like a mistery...

Indeed, as Hemming pointed in “The search for El Dorado” the first time sir Walter Raleigh heard something about that mythical country was during the last years of the XVIth century, when he captured an spanish vessel where Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, a soldier and a historian, did his journey back to the home country. As it seems Sarmiento was forced to told enough to awake Raleigh’s ambition. Then the corsair, the poet, the knight decided to know everything about that fabulous city near to lake Manoa which the spaniards called “Eldorado”.

The last words of document B 1 I 5, 1. Hondarribia City Archives .

After he decided to go forth in the pursuit of this aim, he used all means. For example, helped by another english corsair, George Popham, he seized other spanish ships to get new documents that could lead him to Eldorado. Then, in the year 1595, he kidnapped Antonio de Berrio, a fact that was even depicted by Theodor de Bry in one of his famous engravings.

Sir Walter acted cunningly, because Antonio de Berrio, veteran of the wars in Italy, Flanders and Northern Africa, was the only man who knew the truth on “Eldorado”. At least he was the officer named by the spanish crown to discover that city near to Lake Manoa.

This title came to his hands when Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, conqueror of the lands of Bogotá —nowadays Colombia— died without a heir. Berrio was married to a niece of Quesada. That made him legal heir of this high mission. That is: to accomplish the royal orders of discover and conquer the kingdom of Lake Manoa.

Antonio de Berrio was a systematic man. He explored in depth the Orinoco and Guyana and recruited the very best men to do this really hazardous job. Among them a navarrese, Domingo de Vera e Ybargoyen. A courageous soldier and explorer and, besides that, as Hemming points in his book, a devoted searcher of stories about Eldorado, Paipite, Paititi, Manoa...

Renaissanced londoners from the History of costume published by the enterprise Byla (France, circa 1900). La colección Reding.

Was him also who redacted those twelve pages that today are a part of the town archives of Hondarribia, that document where is described so exactly —or so fantastically, if we prefer— this fabulous kingdom placed near to Lake Manoa, which was his aim during years?.

The archives of Hondarribia rest silent on this matter. Indeed, there are no many signs of Antonio de Berrio or Domingo de Ybargoyen in Hondarribia. Just a farm called “Berrio” and a military governor, don Diego de Vera, who led this fortress and his garrison in the year 1521, during the wars among France, Spain and Navarre in that frontier.

Anyway a family name like “Vera” points clearly to the village of Vera —nowadays Bera— in the kingdom of Navarre but very close to Hondarribia, that, in fact, was its main market and the place where many youngsters of Vera got their first jobs as servants, soldiers...

Probably Domingo de Vera was not the exception to that rule and despite there are no documents in the archives that could link him to Hondarribia, it is quite reasonable to suppose that this tall man, right hand of Antonio de Berrio in the quest for Eldorado, had a close relationship with that fortified city.

In the other hand we must consider that this solid stronghold, surrounded by huge ramparts, continuosly protected by a garrison, looked like a more than reasonable place to leave the results of a research about Eldorado and to protect these pages full of strategical data from people like George Popham or sir Walter Raleigh.

So, as it seems, the document B 1 I 5, 1, looks like something quite serious. At least our most grave ancestors —military officers, aldermen, mayors, explorers and pilots of High Seas...— considered that these twelve pages were enough important to be protected during four centuries by the ramparts of one of the most impressive fortress in Modern Europe like it was the city of Hondarribia. The best place to keep safely something that, in their opinion, was, probably, the last map to Eldorado, to Paititi, to Manoa...

One that, as it seems, sir Walter Raleigh never read. Or, at last, he did it?.