Chibcha (chĭbˈchə) [key], indigenous people of the eastern cordillera of the Andes of Colombia. Although trade with neighboring tribes was common, the Chibcha seem to have evolved their culture in comparative isolation. They were the most highly developed of the Colombians, practicing agriculture, melting and casting gold and copper ornaments, mining emeralds, weaving textiles, and making pottery. They evolved a stratified society of overlords and vassals, in which succession to office was matrilineal and inheritance of personal property was patrilineal. Among the commoners, or farmers, organization was patrilineal. The priesthood constituted a hereditary noble class. Religious ceremonies included human sacrifice. The source of the legend of El Dorado is attributed to them, probably because of a Chibcha ceremony, also partly legendary, in which a new ruler was covered with gold dust each year, and then washed in a sacred lake. The Chibcha were conquered by the Spanish conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada between 1536 and 1541. The Chibcha languages, a separate language family, are spoken in Colombia and spread northward to other areas. Surviving Chibcha-speaking tribes, such as the Cuna and Lenca of Central America, have experienced much culture change since the Spanish conquest.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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