Infamous Colombia: Tena and Fura in The Garden of Emeralds

Infamous Colombia is a series of posts intended to talk about high profile issues and bring the country’s positive contributions to the world into the discussion.

Emeralds have been a subject of conflict in Colombia for thousands of years. Indigenous tribes would hide stashes from other tribes, Spanish invaders forced these tribes to mine them for profit and finally the civil conflict of the past century put them somewhere in between drugs and weapons. Colombia’s 2016 peace treaty with the FARC has lessened their role in the underworld for the time being, but it seems the coveted gem’s folk roots are rich in romantic tragedy. One would almost forgive the stone completely for such an unfortunate beginning.

I mentioned the Muisca legend of El Dorado in my Guatavita post a few months ago and a few of you reached out to tell me that you enjoyed learning about it and had no idea of the story before. Everyone is familiar with the term El Dorado and mostly associate it with the Bogotá airport, so I wanted to share more of these indigenous legends as I think they give an interesting perspective on many aspects of modern day life. The legend of how emeralds came to be is eerily similar to stories of The Garden of Eden. The one thing that I find fascinating about these indigenous stories is how intertwined with nature and specific locations they are. I can’t help but feel some kind of magic while looking at a Colombian emerald after learning about the Muzo legend of Tena and Fura. Hopefully, after reading my interpretation you will feel that same feeling. This legend is filled with universal human emotion which is effortlessly weaved through nature and mysticism. I do on occasion come close to believing it even if only for a moment.

 According to Muzo legend, there was a god named Are. Are became lonely so he created two creatures named Tena (man) and Fura (woman).Are then created the sun, the moon and the stars so that the two could sustain and enjoy life together in eternal youth and happiness. Are’s only rule was for the two to be faithful to one another else they begin to grow old, wither and die.

Are felt such happiness as he saw his two children meet for the first time. They were both charmed by each other and walked off holding hands toward their new home. They began to love and eventually gave birth to a son, Itoco. Their life was simple. Tena hunted and Fura kept house.

One day while Fura was out walking she saw a man. The man’s name was Zarbi and he was looking for a rare magical healing flower that came to him in a dream. He showed Fura a drawing of the flower. Fura was excited by the presence of the stranger Zarbi. She wanted to keep seeing him, so she offered to help him find this magical flower. Zarbi accepted her offer and the two began to meet often.

One day while walking in the forest, Fura started to feel love for Zarbi. He returned the feeling, embraced her in his arms and stayed there for some time. When Fura came home she noticed that her hair had silver strands. She had pain in her joints and something in her body was changing.

Fura realized her mistake looking down over her dead husband. She held his body in her arms for eight days and wept. Her tears of sorrow turned to emeralds as they fell from her face.

Tena went to hold his wife while they slept and she refused him. He knew something was different with her and sought to find out why the next morning. When Tena found the two new lovers embraced he felt anger and wielded his spear to defend his territory, but then fell to sadness and struck himself down with his own hand. Fura realized her mistake looking down over her dead husband. She held his body in her arms for eight days and wept. Her tears of sorrow turned to emeralds as they fell from her face. Zarbi begged Are for forgiveness and for Fura’s well being, but Are was upset and turned Tena and Fura to stone so that Tena could cry for eternity at the sight of her dead husband. The two figures of stone are two large mountains which are known as one name today, Furatena.

Colombian emeralds account for 70-90 percent of the world’s supply. Literally any shopping center, airport or tourist area will have somewhere to buy emeralds whether loose or in settings.

There are a few variations to the story, but the idea that emeralds from this mountain are the tears of Fura for her infidelity are correct across all translations. This mountainous region is to this day largely responsible for producing some of the most valued emeralds in the world. Colombian emeralds account for 70-90 percent of the world’s supply. Literally any shopping center, airport or tourist area will have somewhere to buy emeralds whether loose or in settings. An Emerald district is in Bogotá by the historic district of Candelaria as many of the mining locations are nearby and have to pass through the city for transport. There are many resources on the internet available to help you identify a real from a fake, where to acquire one and the different qualities to look for.

If you are thinking of buying a Colombian emerald, when you finally hold one in your hands, now you’ll know where it came from.

Jenny Sine
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Jenny Sine

Canadian living in Bogotá, Colombia giving private tours to share the natural beauty of South America, studying philosophy and growing food 3000 meters above sea level.

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