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Venezuela’s culture has been molded by the Spanish colonialists that ruled the country for almost four centuries. Before and during the Spanish conquest, the indigenous people had little influence on the development of the nation since they were scattered tribes with no political or social presence. Along with order and organization, the Spanish also brought Christianity to the South American continent and as a result, Venezuela has one of the largest Christian populations within its borders. Thus, most of the nation’s customs and traditions have been derived from medieval Christian practices and depict the influence of the Orthodox Catholic Church. However, the most popular image associated with Venezuelan culture is that of the ‘Ilanero’ or the South American Cowboy. The entire tradition arose from the animal breeder and cattle wranglers that made the fertile grasslands of the Ilanos their home. The national dance of Venezuela i.e. the Joropo as well as the components of Venezuelan instrumental music such as the maraca and the quartro are all derived from the Ilanero tradition.
Writing has become a feature of Venezuelan culture since the post-independence period of the nineteenth century. Literary masters such as Simon Rodriguez and Andres Bello were the first to make their mark on Venezuela’s literary scene. Simon Bolivar, the liberator of the nation and hero of the Independence struggle, also wrote nationalistic works during this period. Also emerging at the later end of the 19th century was the well-known writer and translator Juan Antonio Pérez Bonalde. His ties with the Free Masons made him the subject of a tremendous amount of speculation but his works have survived through it all. Venezuelan art was given a leg-up by the popularity of Venezuelan writing and sculptors such as Marisol (Escobar) and Rafael Soto made their presence felt internationally.
South American nations are steeped in a rich history of people and civilization, dating back thousands of years. This region also has some of the world’s plushest and most diverse natural resources and about ninety percent of all know plant and animal species are found here. However, with respect to human and economic development, South America lags behind and a large percentage of the population live without basic amenities. One of the exceptions to this situation is the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which has prospered due to its oils reserves and whose natural beauty has earned it the sobriquet ‘Land of Grace’
Venezuela became an independent nation in 1830 and today is a thriving federal republic. It has had a history of militarism, but rarely has the country seen an utterly violent phase of existence. The nation is comprised of over twenty five million people from various ethnic backgrounds. Like much of South America, Venezuela was also under the rule of the Spanish conquistadors for much of the medieval period of history. Consequently, the country is mainly Roman Catholic and its culture arises out of traditions inspired by its Spanish past. Given the general character of South American nations, most people are surprised by Venezuela’s near perfect rate of literacy and the moderation with which the nation is governed. The nation is divided in to 23 states, called ‘estados’ in addition to the capital district of Caracas. Although its relations with the United States are a little tainted, Americans traveling to Venezuela rarely have to put up with any angst on political issues.
Venezuela is generally divided in to four geographic zones as per its major land features. These are the northwestern Andean mountain terrain, the coastal Caribbean and Pacific Ocean region, the central grass plains or Llanos and the Guyana highlands in the south. The climate of Venezuela is largely tropical, very mild in the highlands and hot in the plains. South America’s largest lake i.e. Lake Maracaibo and the world’s highest waterfalls – the Angel Falls are located in Venezuela. The country is facing environmental degradation largely due to the irresponsible nature of mining in the forests. The government however has identified the problem and actions are being taken to correct the natural balance.
The nation of Venezuela has a rich and varied past, although much of it was erased by the Spanish conquest. The nation today is fast developing power in the global economy, with an abundance of resources and an immaculate but judicious military background to back it up.
The nation was one of the first to experience the missionary services of clerics who migrated from Europe to preach the Word to the new world. Most of the population, nearly ninety-six percent, is Roman Catholic, with Protestants and indigenous religions making up the remaining bit. As a result, most of the holidays are Christian celebrations that fall in common with all such holidays the world over. Such as most other nations, Venezuela follows the Gregorian calendar, where the year begins on the January, the first, marking the first holiday of the year. This is followed by a festival commemorating the visit of the three Magi to Jesus Christ on the Day of Epiphany on the 6th of January. The next Christian holidays fall on the days of Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday and Easter. St Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary is commemorated on the 19th of March whereas the Mother, herself is praised on the day of the Immaculate Conception, held on the 8th of December. In between the two holidays lies All Saint’s Day, celebrated on the first day of November. Such as the accepted norm, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are celebrated on the 24th and 25th of December, whereas the 31st is observed as the last day of the Civil Year.
The remaining holidays of Venezuela are centered around its freedom struggle, that lasted from 1810 to 1830. Many famous and decisive battles as well as the birth anniversaries of the leaders of the freedom struggle are commemorated in the form of national holidays. The first among them is April 19th, which marks the beginning of the struggle. The Day of the Liberator or the birth anniversary of Simon Bolivar, who was personally responsible for freeing much of South America from the Spaniards, is one of the most important days for all Venezuelans. It is celebrated on the 24th of July whereas the Venezuelan Independence Day is on the 5th of July.
The people, and not the forests, rivers and mountains, make up a nation. Without knowing the people, no one can claim any knowledge about any place, because the essence of that knowledge lies in the people that inhabit the place. The real way to understand the people of a region is to interact and communicate with them, one-on-one, even if it is for just a little while. However, many prefer studying the demographic as a statistic rather than getting to know individuals on a personal level. Travel will always amount to little if it escapes an introduction to the people of the land.
Venezuela is a prosperous nation on the northern edge of South America with a population of nearly twenty five million people. Most of the people have ancestral connections to the indigenous populations of South American which were the basis of the Mayan and Incan civilizations. The second major ethnic group is of the people with European descent, whose roots are thee people who entered the land of Venezuela along with the Spanish conquistadors and remained as residents. This group sees a vast variety of people, who were originally citizens of Spain, Portugal, Italy and Germany. Another large majority of people descend form the African laborers who were brought to Venezuela by the Spanish as slaves and later formed settlements of their own. A small percentage of the population is formed by migratory Arabs, Central Americans and Asians.
Venezuela is a largely Catholic community and thus the customs of the land are largely dictated by the religion, although the region is hardly orthodox in its outlook. The official language, spoken by nearly the entire population is Spanish, but a large number of dialects are prevalent in different regions. People between the ages of fifteen and sixty form the largest art of the demographic and thus the nation has a largely young and vibrant atmosphere. Also, more than ninety percent of the population is qualified as educated due to which the prevalence of diseases such as AIDS has been checked in Venezuela. Venezuela is also one of the few Latin American countries with a nearly even male/female sex ratio.
‘We are not makers of history.
We are made by it’
Martin Luther King Jr.
To learn where we are going, it is very necessary to see where we came from. History, even if it just a mingling of romance and imagination at times, is of paramount importance if humanity is to be prevented from repeating its past and ruining its future.
Most of South American history speaks of destruction of the land and the people at the hand of colonial powers. Venezuela, like any other nation was not spared its due when the great butchers of Europe came to proclaim the virgin land ad their own. In the classical period, that is the earliest known period of human habitation in Venezuela, the country was home to nomadic tribes of people. These tribes were not nearly as civilized and urbanized those of the Egyptian kingdoms or even those of the other Mesoamerican civilizations. The three main groups of people were the Arawak, the Carib and the most advanced amongst them, the Chibcha. The Chibcha were credited with creating a highly organized agricultural system, complete with terrace farming on the slopes of the Andes and use of irrigation canals. Unlike the Mayan cities and the Aztec pyramids that dot the remaining sites of ancient civilization in South America, Venezuelan people have left no such wonders for generations to gaze up on.
The modern phase of Venezuelan history begins in 1498, when the renowned explorer Christopher Columbus set foot on the mainland of what is now South America. Other explorers such as Alonso de Ojeda, soon followed and discovered that the land was virtually flawless and unlimited in natural beauty. The locals had come up with ingenious methods to construct on top of water along the edges of Lake Maracaibo by using stilts. The houses raised on stile were called ‘palafito’s and they resembled dwellings in Venice and thus, the area was named Venezuela or ‘little Venice’. As modern methods of surveying had not been established, Venezuela was not marked out as a mineral-rich territory. Consequently it was spared the pillaging that the remainder of the land, rich is gold, was forced to endure. It was chalked out a poor and unimportant nation and shocked the world after its independence when massive oil reserves were discovered on its soil.
Customs and tradition are written by the hands of the past and become engraved in the lives of the people. Customs define the land and all those that live on it. They give humans something to cling on to when they are on foreign soil, lonely and bereft, they give hope in the time of the greatest ostrasization.
Venezuela is a land of immense natural beauty and national pride. Both of these are amply evident in the way the people live, eat and celebrate. Most Venezuelan customs can be traced back to the nation’s colonial past under the Spanish. The reason that native influences are missing from these traditions is that that no native organized civilization existed in Venezuela before the Spanish entered the scene. Of course indigenous people were present, but their dissipated culture was hardly responsible for shaping Venezuela, as it is known today. The most significant custom of Venezuela is the national dance – the Joropo. It is essentially Spanish in its feel, resembling the Samba and Salsa in many ways. Joropo is meant for couples and has a few basic steps, which are varied in numerous ways to create a sequence.
A large majority of Venezuela’s population is Catholic and the nation constitutes some of the most vibrant and colorful customs known in the Christian world. Foremost among them is the rhythmic Red Devils of Yare dance, which is performed to celebrate the symbolic victory of good over evil on Corpus Christi day. The dance involves people dressed as the Gods angels who ‘fight’ those costumed as the Devil’s demons and usually lasts all day. Initially the angels look like they are going to loose the battle, but at the end of the day, virtue triumphs. Christmas traditions are also marvelous in Venezuela, with celebration beginning as early as the 16th of December. The nativity scene is put up in most households and the churches display elaborate scenes from the bible. On Christmas morning, when the children awake to find presents under the Christmas Tree, they are told that the Infant Jesus and not Santa Claus has left them these things.
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