Muzo Tribe – Magic Journey into Colombia Indigenous Riches

Muzo Tribe – Magic Journey into Colombia Indigenous Riches

The Muzo people were a Cariban-speaking indigenous group who inhabited the western slopes of the Andes in eastern Colombia. They were a highly war-like tribe who frequently clashed with their neighboring indigenous groups, especially the Muisca.

The Muzo inhabited the right banks of the Magdalena River in the lower elevations of western Boyacá and Cundinamarca and were known as the Emerald People, thanks to their exploitation of the glorious gemstone in Muzo. During the time of the Spanish conquistadors, they resisted heavily against the Spanish invaders, before eventually submitting some twenty years later.

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It is believed that the Muzo people pushed the Muisca, who originally inhabited the lower-elevation terrain, eastwards into the mountains of the Eastern Ranges by 1,000 AD.

The Muzo inhabited the lower elevations of the northwestern areas of the Cundinamarca department and the western portion of the Boyacá Department, close to the Magdalena River. Their northern neighbors were the Naura, the Panche to the south, and to the southeast, the Muisca inhabited the higher elevations. Their western neighbors were the Colima people.

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The Muzo were considered the first inhabitants of Boyacá, originally coming from Sabayó. Their territory stretched from the thick forests surrounding the Carare River in the north to the border with Santander, to the Río Negro in the south, and in the east the Pacho River with the Ubaté-Chiquinquirá Valley and the Magdalena River in the west.

The Muzo were a tribe of healthy, fierce warriors with relatively short lifespans. Their good health is attributed to the fact they were vegetarian. Their living spaces were always constructed in the vicinity of waterfalls or springs. The hotter climate of the lower terrain made them uncomfortable and they enjoyed bathing. The Muzo people gave their children names of trees, animals, and plants.

The Muzo were agriculturists, capable woodworkers, and made excellent pottery. They were, however, most famous for their exploitation of precious emeralds. Back in the day, Muzo was the world center of the stunning green gemstone.

The first time the presence of emeralds in present-day Colombia was known to the Spanish was in 1514, in Santa Marta. In 1544 Diego Martínez discovered the mines of Muzo.

To extract the emeralds from the surrounding rock, the Muzo used pointed wooden poles, called coa. The veins containing the minerals were then flushed with water and after extraction, the Muzo had the precious emeralds themselves.

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In the years before the arrival of the Spanish, the Muzo were in constant conflict with the Muisca. They hid their emeralds from their eastern neighbors for fear they would get information as to where the emerald deposits were located.

Muzo society was divided into warriors, higher castes and slaves, commonly captured from other indigenous tribes. The oldest and bravest members of the community were considered the most important but were not the caciques (leaders) of their tribe.

A system of laws had not been fully developed, and warfare and hunting were executed using poisoned arrows, as was a common practice with indigenous tribes in South America. The curare was obtained from poisonous plants and frogs.


The religion of the Muzo consisted of several gods, while their creator god was named Are (who had a Musica counterpart called Chiminigagua).

Maquipa was the deity who cured illnesses and the Muzo were intensely attracted to the Sun and the Moon.

The Muzo did not construct particular individual places for worship.


The two mountain peaks of Fura and Tena, bordering the Carare River, were considered sacred by the Muzo people, who believed they were the creators of Are. Fura and Tena taught the Muzo agricultural techniques, craftwork and tactics of war. The myth of Furatena talks about a man, Zarbi, with deep blue eyes and a blonde beard, who entered the Muzo territories looking for the Fountain of Youth. On his journey he met the beautiful Fura and they became lovers. The husband of Fura, one Tena, was outraged and proceeded to kill Zarbi.

According to the Muzo legend, the tears of Fura turned into emeralds and butterflies. The Muisca on the other hand, used to perform secret pilgrimages to Fura and Tena, taking good care to avoid the Muzo warriors attempting to discover them.

The Spanish colonizers had problems subjugating the Muzo in the 16th century. The Muzo fiercely resisted the Spanish forces and with the terrain full of creeks and ravines it was most inhospitable to the Spanish horses. The Muzo hid in the many natural acropolises the topography afforded them. When conquistador Pedro de Ursúa founded the city of Tudela close to the Muzo territories in 1552, the Muzo people attacked and razed the newly founded settlement, driving the Spanish back.

The conquistador, who eventually subjugated the Muzo to the rule of the New Kingdom of Granada, was Luis Lanchero, a captain in the army. His first expedition with 40 men in 1539 failed, but he succeeded in subjugating the Muzo twenty years later in 1560 when he founded Santísima Trinidad de los Muzos, present-day Muzo on the remains of the earlier Tudela.

During the second campaign, Lanchero almost lost his life after being hit by a poisoned arrow from the Muzo.

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