Sunday, September 10, 2017

Cumorah: The Ecuadorian Mount Imbabura – Part I

Found in the scriptural record, both in Mormon’s and Moroni’s writings, are descriptions about the hill Cumorah that should not be overlooked when trying to identify such a location. First of all, we find that the aarea surrounding Cumorah is described briefly by Moroni when he tells us about Omer’s trip after Akish and his friends overthrew the kingdom of Omer (Ether 9:1).
Omer travels from Moron to Ablom and the Sea East (solid yellow line)

Warned in a dream, Omer departed out of the land with his family, including sons and daughters and all his household, “save it were Jared and his family,” and they “traveled many days and came over and passed by the hill Shim, and came over by the place where the Nephites were destroyed, and from thence eastward, and came to a place which was called Ablom, by the seashore, and there he pitched his tent” (Ether 9:3).
    As is always the case with Book of Mormon language, we should pay attention to the term “came over,” which, in terms of travel, signified both “a long distance,” and a “passage across something,” such as an ocean, a valley, a mountain, or some type of barrier. It should also be noted that this phrase came following a travel of “many days,” to arrive at a point where “he came over.”
The unique terrain of the Andean area of Ecuador and Peru provide numerous high altitude valleys almost completely enclosed by mountains—when the terminology of “came over” is used in the scriptural record, and has distinct meaning

So Omer traveled many days from his location, which was in the south of the Land Northward in the center of the land in the area they called Moron, which was the seat of the kingdom of the Jaredites, and located “near the land which is called Desolation by the Nephites” (Ether 7:6). Consequently, since Omer had traveled many days, we can only conclude that he traveled basically north, since to go south would take him to the narrow neck of land, which is an area not mentioned by Moroni in his narrative of these events.
    He would have passed the area of modern-day Quito, today’s capital of Ecuador, the hill jutting up in the center of it originally called shungoloma, meaning “hill of the heart,” and where the early inhabitants built a temple to a god they called Yavirac. Located on the slope at the base of El Panecillo, high on a mountain in a bowl-shaped plateau, and occupying a temperate, fertile valley 9,300 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains, Quito today rests beneath old Pichincha, a once active volcano. The area was originally inhabited for many centuries by a pueblo alegre y festive (happy and festive) people called the Quitus, a farming tribe that believed in an after-life, from the Quechua civilization who founded and settled the area around 2000 B.C. through to the Spanish Conquest, and who called it Reino de Quito; Rumiñahuy (Rumiñahui), an indigenous warrior, set the city on fire and destroyed the temples of the Incas who lived there. Eventually, rebuilt, Atahualpa, the last emperor of Tahuauntinsuyo (The Inca Kingdom), made it his home, and was executed there in 1533 after being taken as a prisoner by the Spaniards, despite the fact that the Inca people paid a whole room full of gold and silver for his release. The Spanish then founded the modern day city of Quito a year later.
    A little beyond this area, at the location of the hill Shim, Omer went “eastward” after arriving at the area where the Nephites were destroyed, i.e., Cumorah. We can also conclude that Ablom was an area along the eastern seashore, northward in the Land Northward.
    Venice Priddis, in her work The Book and the Map, (p44), makes an interesting point that when Moroni states “and from thence eastward, and came to a place which was called Ablom,” that Omer changed his direction when passing the hill Shim, from a northern route to a route heading eastward. Since Omer was traveling northward to that point, his change in direction to the east would likely have been necessitated by some natural barrier.
The Guaillabamba Gorge in northern Ecuador. It is a clear deterrent for northern movement and would have forced Omer to turn eastward

As Priddis states, “While such a barrier is not apparent from an ordinary map of Ecuador, there is such a place. About twelve miles north and east of Quito there is a very deep gorge or canyon called the gorge of Guaillabamba.”
    This gorge extends from the east through the west Andes, and breaks out through the gorge of Guápulo to the Pacific Ocean, with the Guaillabamba valley draining into the Pacific by way of the Esmeraldas in the northwest corner of Ecuador through a dense rainforest that even today is traversed only by canoe through this labrynth of vegetation and water. Archaeologists say that in times past different cultures tended to form on either side of this great natural obstacle, with valleys below called today Ambato, Riobamba, Cajabamba and lake Colta.
    Edgar Hewett, Ancient Andean Life, Bobbs-Merrill Company, New York, 1939/1968, p85) describes the area as having mountain knots (nudos) such as produced only by volcanic violence, and wild, desolate paramos (bleak tablelands), and labyrinths of quebradas (gorges) that defy every agency of transportation except the burro and foot traffic.”
Travel from the south toward the Gorge shows that the Gorge is an obvious deterrent to continued northward travel—one can turn westward and wrap around and back the way one came, or turn east and head, in Omer’s time, toward the East Sea shore

According to Dr. Arthur Clifford Veatch, this gorge of Guaillabamba, along with the gorge of Mira, both cut through the Western Cordillera and drain into the Pacific (Quito to Bogatá, George H. Doran Co., New York, 1917, p25).
    It should be noted that northern Ecuador included numerous indigenous pre-Inca cultures, who thrived for thousands of years before the ascent of the Incan Empire. Las Vegas culture of coastal Ecuador is one of the oldest cultures in the Americas. The Valdivia culture in the Pacific coast region is a well-known early Ecuadorian culture. Several other cultures, including the Quitus, Cañas, and Cañaris, emerged in other parts of Ecuador, leaving evidences of their passing at sites such as Manabí and Esmeraldas, and in the middle Andean highland provinces of Tungurahua and Chimborazo. The archaeological evidence has established that Ecuador was inhabited for at least 4,500 years before the rise of the Inca.
    During the pre-Inca period people lived in clans, which formed great tribes, and some allied with each other to form powerful confederations, as the Confederation of Quito. But none of these confederations could resist the formidable momentum of the Tawantinsuyu, the Inca Empire. The invasion of the Inca in the 15th century was very painful and bloody. However, once occupied by the Quito hosts of Huayna Capac, the Incas developed an extensive administration and began the colonization of the region.
    Even so, these natural barriers, such as the Gorge of Guaillabamba and Mira, blocked movement northward, as did the numerous peaks of the high Andes once these mountains rose to a “height which is great.”
From the Guaillabamba Gorge area, everything flows downhill to the west and into the Pacific (or eastward into the Amazon Basin)

At this point, there is a very steep slope toward the Pacific Ocean on the west and a similar steep slope into the very low-lying Amazon draining basin on the east, with the streams flowing from these high valleys having very steep downward gradients.
    Here the Guaillabamba, which forms a natural and impassable barrier 3000 feet deep, with 1200 feet of it a steep-sided narrow canyon. This creates a criss-cross pattern of steep mountain peaks, separating the 8,000 to 9,000 feet high valleys from one another with very deep valleys resulting from the water outlets that break up the area. Along the coastal valleys to the west, there is only slight rainfall, which increases in severity at the winds drive the moisture up the mountain slopes and making the mountain valleys cooler than the coastal plains. Above this area rise the páramos, high, cold, treeless plateaus and meadows of the Andes, an unpleasantly cold area enshrouded in perpetual mist.
    This, then brings us to the Cerro (hill) Imbabura, which is located just to the north and east of Quito and between the Gorge of Guaillabamba and the Gorge of Mira, just east of present day Otavalo and a little south of Ibarra.
(See the next post, “Cumorah: The Mount Imbabura-Part II” for more on the location of this most famous hill in the scriptural record)


  1. Hey Del a few things.
    1. It's national grandparents day today. Like an impatient child please please. I really want to read the next post.
    2. What would be the possibility of you leading an expedition to S. America to retrace the steps in a guided tour?
    I think many members would love the experience. I would.

  2. What a great idea. I would really love to do that, but for the two reasons why I can't--age and age.

    1. Del, if you do send someone on a trip down there, you could be part of the trip via a laptop.

  3. If anyone is interested, I've plotted on Google Earth Pro about 30 of the locations identified by this blog and/or Venice Priddis' book. It's not as good as going in person, but it's fun to actually see the locations. I don't have a web site so if you want a copy of it, just email me at and I'll email you the file (bookofmormonsites.kmz). A couple caveats- it's a work in progress and probably contains a few errors- there are a few sites Venice Priddis identifies that don't have a ton of evidence and may or may not be correct. I think I've labeled all sites as "possible" and I've started to include the Book of Mormon scriptures applicable to the location and links to the matching blog from Del. Anyway, it's fun to look at and you are welcome to take what I have as a starting point and improve on it.

  4. if you google inca roads, there is an image of all the inca roads. It is interesting to note a) there is basically just one road through equador- a north south road leading straight to quito (obviously the road was not there during Jaredite times, but the topography limited where travel could occur) and b) the incan roads end just north east of Quito. It fits that the incan roads would end right around the Hill Cumorah- the Nephites likely stopped and fought at the Hill Cumorah because the topography did not allow escape north, east, or west.

    Here's one link to the map, but it's all over the internet.

  5. David: Exactly right on all points.

  6. Just FYI to find this gorge on google or maps, use the spelling: Guayllabamba