Chibcha Dictionary and Grammar


This manuscript is a glossary with prayers, confessions, and sermons in the Chibcha language. It was compiled by an unknown hand, most likely in the mid-16th century (as suggested by the style of handwriting). The work was used by missionaries in the evangelization of the Muisca, the Chibcha-speaking people who lived in the central highlands of New Granada. The Spanish learned early in their colonial role that to accomplish their religious and other objectives they needed to communicate with the people in their native languages. As early as 1580 the authorities in Charcas, Quito, and Santa Fe de Bogotá mandated the establishment of schools in native languages and required that priests study these languages before ordination. In 1606 the entire clergy was ordered to provide religious instruction in Chibcha. The Chibcha language declined in the 18th century, however, and in 1770 King Charles III prohibited its use. The Muisca were a highly developed people that mined emeralds, copper, coal, and salt, traded goods in local and regional markets, and produced gold handicrafts. They were conquered in the second half of the 1530s by the Spanish conquistador and explorer Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada (1506–79).

Last updated: March 19, 2013