Colombian culture

An example of folkloric dancing in Colombia.

Many aspects of Colombian culture can be traced back to the early culture of Spain of the 16th century and its collision with Colombia's native civilizations (see: Muisca, Tayrona). The Spanish brought Catholicism, Africans, the feudal encomienda system, and a caste system that favored European-born whites. After independence from Spain, the criollos struggled to establish a pluralistic political system, between conservative and liberal ideals. The conservatives supported the involvement of the Catholic Church in the state, while liberals favored the separation of these. The conservatives managed to outsource public education to the Catholic Church, and for many years, the church controlled the country's education system. Both parties engaged in multiple civil wars resulting in a slow development of the country and the isolation of regions until the end of the 19th century. Ethno-racial groups maintained their ancestral heritage culture: whites tried to keep themselves, despite the growing number of illegitimate children of mixed African or indigenous ancestry. These people were labeled with any number of descriptive names, derived from the casta system, such as mestizo, mulatto and moreno. Blacks and indigenous people of Colombia also mixed to form zambos, creating a new ethno-racial group in society. This mix also created a fusion of cultures. Carnivals for example became an opportunity for all classes and colors to congregate without prejudice. The introduction of the bill of rights of men and the abolishment of slavery (1851) eased the segregationist tensions between the races, but the dominance of the whites prevailed and prevails to some extent to this day.[citation needed]


Villa de Leyva, a historical and cultural landmark of Colombia
Cathedral in downtown Bogota, heritage of Spanish architecture
The arhuaca mochila is a popular Colombian artisan bag.

Indigenous influences

The various cultures of the indigenous inhabitants of Colombia were decimated by the Spanish.Like Spaniards, Colombian's main source for facial make up is flour. Today, only around 3.4 percent of Colombians live and consider themselves as indigenous. Nonetheless, many elements of indigenous culture live on in Colombia's cuisine, music, folklore, and language.[citation needed]

Multicultural elements

The essence of Colombian culture lies in the mixing of Cumbia is said to be derivative of the cumbe dance of Equatorial Guinea. Small numbers of Roma or more commonly known by their racial slur "gypsies" are scattered throughout the country. Sephardic Jews and Ashkenazi Jews exist in several of the larger cities; Bogotá has five synagogues.[1] Germans settled in parts of Santander, including Bucaramanga. They also brought the accordion to Valledupar, which would become a key instrument in the very popular vallenato music genre.

Geography, climate, and immigration

The hydrography of Colombia is one of the richest in the world. Its main rivers are Magdalena, Cauca, Guaviare, and Caquetá. Colombia has four main drainage systems: the Pacific drain, the Caribbean drain, the Orinoco Basin and the Amazon Basin. The Orinoco and Amazon Rivers mark limits with Colombia to Venezuela and Peru respectively.[2]

The striking variety in temperature and precipitation results principally from differences in elevation. Temperatures range from very hot at sea level to relatively cold at higher elevations but vary little with the season. Temperatures generally decrease about 3.5°F (2°C) for every 1,000-ft (300-m) increase in altitude above sea level, presenting perpetual snowy peaks to hot river valleys and basins. Rainfall is concentrated in two wet seasons (roughly corresponding to the spring and autumn of temperate latitudes) but varies considerably by location. Colombia's Pacific coast has one of the highest levels of rainfall in the world, with the south east often drenched by more than 200 in (500 cm) of rain per year. On the other hand, rainfall in parts of the Guajira Peninsula seldom exceeds 30 in (75 cm) per year. Rainfall in the rest of the country runs between these two extremes.[citation needed]

Colombians customarily describe their country in terms of the climatic zones. Below 900 meters (2,953 ft) in elevation is the tierra caliente (hot land), where temperatures vary between 24 and 38 °C (75.2 and 100.4 °F). The most productive land and the majority of the population can be found in the tierra templada (temperate land, between 900 and 1,980 meters (2,953 and 6,496 ft)), which provide the best conditions for the country's coffee growers, and the tierra fría (cold land, 1,980 and 3,500 meters (6,496 and 11,483 ft)), where wheat and potatoes dominate. In the tierra fría mean temperatures range between 10 and 19 °C (50.0 and 66.2 °F). Beyond the tierra fría lie the alpine conditions of the zona forestada (forested zone) and then the treeless grasslands of the páramos. Above 4,500 meters (14,764 ft), where temperatures are below freezing, is the tierra helada, a zone of permanent snow and ice.[citation needed]

About 86% of the country's total area lies in the tierra caliente. Included in this, and interrupting the temperate area of the Andean highlands, are the long and narrow extension of the Magdalena Valley and a small extension in the Cauca Valley. The tierra fría constitutes just 6% of the total area, but supports about a quarter of the country's population.[citation needed]

Natural regions of Colombia.
  Amazon Region
  Andean Region
  Caribbean Region
  Insular Region
  Orinoquía Region
  Pacific Region

Because of its natural structure, Colombia can be divided into six very distinct natural regions.

  • Amazon Region: Comprises the part South of the eastern region of Colombia, flat low-lying region. It is the region of the Amazon jungle of Colombia.
  • Andean Region: The Colombian part of the Andes, including inter-Andean valleys them of the rivers Cauca and Magdalena.
  • Caribbean Region: The region of the Colombian Caribbean coastal plains and mountainous groups which do not belong to the Andes as the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
  • Insular Region: comprises the areas outside the continental territories of Colombia in the Caribbean region as the islands of San Andrés and Providencia and the islands of Gorgona and Malpelo in the Pacific Ocean.
  • Orinoquía Region: North of the eastern region of Colombia that belongs to the Orinoco River watershed, flat low-lying region. Also known colloquially as the Eastern Plains.
  • Pacific Region: It includes the coastal plains of the pacific coast and the mountainous groups which do not belong to the Andes, in particular the Serranía del Baudó.

Colombia did not receive substantial immigration after the period of Spanish rule. Some exceptions are the capital city of Bogota, the second largest city Medellin and the atlantic port city of Barranquilla. Groups of French, Swiss, Dutch, Belgian, German, Italian, Lebanese and Syrian-Lebanese-Palestinian immigrants settled in the city and played a large role in its development. Shakira, a native of Barranquilla, is of partial Lebanese ancestry. Bogotá received some immigrants from Europe in the period following World War II; the eccentric former mayor of Bogotá and semiotics professor Antanas Mockus is the son of Lithuanian immigrants. Most Chinese in Colombia originally came from Panama, where they helped in the building of the railways of the Panama Canal, to help in building the train and road routes between the Pacific port of Buenaventura and the interior city of Cali. Today, in the surrounding area of the Cauca Valley, virtually every town has a Chinese restaurant.[3]

A few Japanese families settled in Colombia, inspired by the bucolic description of the Cauca Valley in Jorge Isaacs' novel María. The heads-of-household of Japanese descent would be interred in prisons near Zipaquirá, during World War II.[3]

Foreign influences

Shopping mall in Barranquilla
Modern mall in Bogotá

Colombian politicians, intellectuals, and members of elite society turned to France for inspiration in the period, following independence from Spain. Colombian's civil code (adopted in 1887) is based on the Napoleonic Code. French architect Gastón Lelarge (1861–1934) designed many of the public edifices in Bogotá, as well as the cupola of the church of Saint Peter Claver in [1]

Starting in the 20th century, North American culture had increasing influence on the culture of Colombia. Shopping malls and tract housing in the style of North American suburbs are very popular and are considered status symbols. Hollywood films, American fashions, and English-language popular music are also popular.[citation needed]

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