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Colombian Culture: An Introduction

Culturally, Colombia is one of the richest countries in South America, integrating three continents’ worth of tradition through music, dance, painting, sculpture, folk craft and literature.


The first cultures to arise out of this region were from pre-Columbian peoples who inhabited the area over 10,000 years ago. Such pre-Incan civilizations as the Carib, Chibca, Quimbaya, Tolima, as well as the Incans were master metallurgists and craftsman, fashioning basketry, wood carvings, textiles and pottery. Almost all of it served a combination of religious, political and practical ends.


The Spanish conquest brought the florid passions of Catholic religiosity to the region. Tall, large and lavish cathedrals and the iconic image of the martyred, emaciated, bleeding Christ, as well as the Holy Virgin, often adorned with gold-encrusted attire, a crown and an equally elegant baby Jesus on her arm. The veneration of Mary, particularly, was eagerly received by indigenous populations who saw in her the same maternal majesty they attributed to their own matriarch deities, such as Mama Kilya. In addition, with colonization came the tradition of secular European painting, literature and music.


The Spanish also imported African slaves, whose own culture mingled with the locals, resulting in such percussion-heavy musical genres as cumbia, vallenato, porro and champeta. The cumbia also refers to a courtship dance ritual popular with the common folk. Vallenato began in the northeastern valleys along Colombia’s Caribbean coast, by farmers who incorporated West African styles of music. The Carnaval of Barranquilla serves as a large-scale celebration of the many dimensions of Colombian music and dance, and of its multi-racial, multi-ethnic roots.


In 1871 Colombia established the Academy of Spanish Language, the first in South America. Beginning with Simón Bolívar, Colombia has one of the most noteworthy literary traditions on the continent, ranging from historical chroniclers to poets to novelists. As with the rest of South America, Colombia’s writers evolved from religious to secular concerns, integrating and reflecting the changes in Western thought overall.


Gabriel Garc√≠a M√°rquez, who won the 1982 Nobel Prize for literature, is Colombia‚Äôs most famous writer and an exponent of the modernist Magic Realism genre. Some of Colombia‚Äôs other recognized writers include the 19th-century Jorge Isaacs, whose romantic chronicle of the lives of Colombia‚Äôs mestizos, ‚ÄúMaria,‚ÄĚ actually inspired a minor Japanese migration to the country, while other notable 20th-century scribes include √Ālvaro Mutis, Laura Restrepo, Germ√°n Espinosa and Fernando Vallejo, who also directs films, though the film adaptation of his most famous novel, ‚ÄúOur Lady of the Assassins‚ÄĚ was directed by the Swiss Barbet Schroeder, who spent part of his childhood in Colombia. Colombia‚Äôs most famous sculptor and painter is Ferdinand Botero, celebrated (as well as criticized) for his ‚Äúfat‚ÄĚ subjects.


Much of modern Colombian culture‚ÄĒmovies, TV programs, as well as music‚ÄĒhas been strongly influenced by Hollywood, European cinema, and U.S. popular music, from rock to soul to rap. Colombia is one of Latin America‚Äôs major producers of telenovelas (soap operas). Singer-songwriter Shakira from Barranquilla is an international superstar, while Medell√≠n-native Juanes is one of the biggest rock stars in Latin America. Estefano, from Cali, has become famous both for his own music as part of the duo Donato and Estefano, and as a songwriter for such Latin artists as Gloria Estefan, Ricky Martin, and Jennifer Lopez.


Colombia is also noteworthy for its high number of beauty pageants, a major fashion industry and the highest number of museums of any Latin American country.


Sociologically, Colombia has tended toward being socially conservative, with family of key importance in the lives of its citizens. However, recently it has become more liberal in the area of divorce and gay rights. Spanish is the predominant language, Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion (though protestant evangelism is growing) and f√ļtbol (soccer) is the most popular sport.


Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Colombia: Colombian Culture: Art, Colombian Culture: Cinema, Colombian Culture: Museums, Colombian Culture: Dance, Colombian Culture: Music, Cumbia, Colombian Culture: Comedy, Colombian Culture: Literature, Shakira and Colombian Culture: Theater.

27 Sep 2011

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