Diabloballen—The Monster in Lago de Tota

The following excerpt comes from my second book Water Monsters South of the Border:

There is another lake sitting high in the Andes in Columbia, Lago de Tota, or Lake Tota, which has a long history of a monster dwelling in its waters. Unlike the serpent in Lake Guatavita, there may be more to this beast than myth—it has been seen many times and sightings date back for centuries. With that being said, recent sightings are practically nonexistent. The creature is deeply rooted in Muisca folklore; the possibility is very real that the monster is not a flesh-and-blood creature, but rather, the stuff of legends.

With a surface area of over 21 square miles, Lake Tota has the distinction of being Columbia’s largest lake. The lake is a mere remnant of what was an immense sea in the prehistoric past. Lake Tota reaches a maximum depth of just over 200 feet. Given its depth and its size, the argument could be made that there is plenty of room for a lake monster to call home. Sitting at an elevation of nearly 9,900 feet, the lake’s waters are cold; the average water temperature in Lake Tota is about 53 degrees.1

Lake Tota’s cold water is an optimal habitat for rainbow trout; as such, rainbow trout were introduced into the lake in 1939. Shortly thereafter, Lake Tota became home to a thriving trout fishery. Benefits of the introduction of trout into Lake Tota were far-reaching; not only did local anglers flock to the lake, but tourists were drawn there as well. Moreover, a trout farming industry was born in Columbia, creating much-needed jobs.2

 The Monster in Muisca Mythology

The first known reference to a monster in Lake Tota came from the Spanish conquistador and intrepid explorer Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada (1509–1579). Quesada had become well acquainted with the beliefs of the indigenous people of the area who spoke of a black monster, said to be a demon, which haunted the waters of Lake Tota. The frightful beast had rendered the waters of the lake impassible. According to local beliefs, Lake Tota was entirely unnavigable.

The black monster, or demon, in Lake Tota is a prominent figure in Muisca mythology. In the native tongue, the monster is called “Muyso Akyqake.”3 The creature was believed to play a role in the origin of Lake Tota. In this creation myth, a monstrous black snake lived in an abyss where present-day Lake Tota is located. The creature terrified the people who lived nearby until Siramena, the great dancer, hurled golden discs at the serpent, which penetrated its scales, effectively killing it. The powerful priest Monetá removed a gemstone from the snake and gave it to the deity Bochica. Bochica cast the gemstone into the abyss, where it landed directly on top of the snake. When the stone made contact with the lifeless serpent, water began to fill the abyss, and Lake Tota was born.4

Early Reports of a Monster

A sighting of the monster in Lake Tota is said to have taken place in the year 1652. The Colombian priest and historian Lucas Fernandez de Piedrahita (1624–1688) recorded the sighting in his writings. Piedrahita said that the monster was a black fish larger than a whale, with a head similar to an ox. Piedrahita recorded the following:

“Quesada says that in his time, trusted persons and the Indians affirmed that it was the devil; and for the year six hundred and fifty-two [1652], when I was at the place, Doña Andrea Vargas, lady of the country, spoke about having seen it.”5

French explorer Gaspard Théodore Mollien (1796–1872), who spent time in the region, also wrote of the creature:

“…Superstition has not stopped people these places of grisly wonders: indeed, the wild aspect of the region; suspended waters, so to speak, to such a height and always agitated by the wind blowing Toxillo, higher than the lake of Tota wilderness; mucilaginous substance, oval, and filled with an insipid water in the sand of its beaches, everything tends to arouse surprise. According to the words of the people of the region, the lake is not navigable, the evil geniuses inhabit its depths, in abodes in which, say, porches are when one moves away from the lakeshore was inside, and even You look, they add, occasionally out of its depths a monstrous fish only be seen for a while……In the middle of the lake there are some islands; there has been no more than a man who dared to go to them, the belief that the lake is delighted prevents visit…”6

Columbian politician, journalist, and writer, Manuel Ancízar, referred to the monster as “Diabloballen” or “devil whale.”7 Ancízar recorded an account of an Englishman, who, undeterred by stories of the creature, successfully reached an island in the lake on a raft. Upon hearing this, others began exploring Lake Tota’s islands by boat and canoe.8

Colombian botanist and explorer José Jerónimo Triana (1828–1890) wrote about residents along Lake Tota who believed in a black monster that inhabited the lake:

“…a black monster lived in the enchanted waters of the lagoon still persisted among the residents surrounding Lake Tota, in the town of Cuitiva.”9

Today, sightings of a monster in Lake Tota seem to be virtually non-existent. Moreover, belief in the creature has faded as well. Centuries after the Conquest, many of the indigenous legends, myths, and beliefs have faded into obscurity. However, these myths and legends came from somewhere; what were they trying to say? Could the Muisca legends of a black demon in Lake Tota be rooted in fact? Could there be, or at least have been, some sort of mysterious, flesh-and-blood creature dwelling in the lake? Unfortunately, we will probably never know.

End Notes

  1. “Lake Tota, Colombia Vacation Info.” Lakelubbers. Accessed May 01, 2016. http://www.lakelubbers.com/lake-tota-2228/.
  2. Karen Sachica Cepeda and Abde Rahman El Gamal. “Cage Culture of Rainbow Trout in Lake Tota(Colombia).” Fish Consulting Group. January 27, 2016. Accessed May 01, 2016. http://fishconsult.org/?p=13126.
  3. Jose Baez G. “The Monster of Lake Tota.” HIRARA: ‘WHERE THE WORDS’ October 21, 2013. Accessed May 01, 2016. https://josebaezg.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/el-monstruo-del-lago-de-tota/. Translated by Google Translate.
  4. Eugenia Villa Posse. Mitos Y Leyedas De Columbia. Vol. II. Quito: Diego De Atienz a Y Av. Améric a, 1993.
  5. Rodrigo Valenzuela San Martin. “Lake TotaMonster.” Críptidos Y Fantasía. July 18, 2014. Accessed May 01, 2016. http://criptidosyfantasia.blogspot.com/2014/07/el-monstruo-del-lago-de-tota-un.html. Translated by Google Translate.
  6. San Martin, “Lake TotaMonster.”
  7. Jose Baez, “The Monster of Lake Tota.”
  8. San Martin, “Lake TotaMonster.”
  9. Ibid.

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