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Venezuela: History and Culture

Excavating the Long History and Rich Culture of Venezuela

The beautiful country of Venezuela lies on the coastline of the Caribbean sea. Read on to know more about the turbulent history and the rich culture of this South American country.
Deepa Kartha
Last Updated: Feb 1, 2019
Venezuela map with flag
Venezuela, formally known as the 'Bolivian Republic of Venezuela', is situated on the northern coast of South America. This country stretches over an area of 916,445 square kilometers, which includes various islands in the Caribbean sea.
Venezuela is flanked by Brazil to its south, Columbia to its west, Guyana to its east, and the Caribbean sea to its north. It is segregated into 23 states and the average population is 26,414,816.
History of Venezuela
When Christopher Columbus came to Venezuela in 1498, it was occupied by Indians of mainly three groups: the Carib, the Arawak, and the Chibcha. Following Columbus, many other Spanish explorers started coming to Venezuela. In 1522, Venezuela became a colony of Spain.
The Spanish ruled Venezuela and its neighboring countries for almost three centuries. The struggle for independence began in 1811 under the leadership of Simón Bolívar. This fight for freedom had to experience a lot of setbacks, but ultimately Venezuela gained independence in 1821.
Initially, Venezuela was a part of the Republic of Greater Colombia which included Colombia, Ecuador and Panama. Under the leadership of Jose Antonio Paez, Venezuela attained the status of an independent Republic and established a new constitution in 1830. Jose Antonio Paez became the first President of independent Venezuela.
However, the years after attaining independence were filled with turbulence and chaos. Venezuela saw a string of dictators, wars, and strife, which continued into the 20th century.
There were dictators who worked for the betterment of the country by building new infrastructure and promoting economic growth, and there were also dictators who cared only for personal benefits.
General Juan Vicente Gomez was the longest ruling dictator, ruling from 1908 to 1935. Following his death, the country came under military rule, after which Presidents were elected through democratic elections from the year 1947.
During the rule of Gomez, oil was found in the Maracaibo basin, which helped in the economic development of the country. But it did not bring about a change in the conditions of the poor.
A promise of several social and economic reforms by Hugo Chavez resulted in him being elected as President in 1998. He was re-elected in 2006, and served as President until his death in 2013.
Culture of Venezuela
The culture of a country is influenced by its history, and this fact rings true in the case of Venezuela. The culture of Venezuela is a combination of the cultures of native Indians, Caribbean, Spaniards, Italians, and African slaves brought in during the Spanish colonization.
Spanish is the language spoken by a majority of the people in Venezuela, but native languages still exist in certain parts of the country.
Roman Catholicism is the religion followed by most Venezuelans, though some people practice Protestantism. There are also people who follow tribal beliefs, in certain remote areas of the country.
Art and Literature
The music of Venezuela is an amalgam of African, Spanish, and native music. Cuatro is the national musical instrument while gaita is the traditional national music. Though salsa is one of the popular dances in the country, joropo is the national dance.
The literature of Venezuela originated in the period of Spanish colonization and was heavily influenced by the Spaniards. Political literature, which developed and attained a mass following during the freedom struggle movement, gave rise to Venezuelan Romanticism and in turn to remarkable poets and authors.
The buildings in Venezuela built during the colonial period are simple and are Spanish in their architectural style. However, Venezuela is best known for its modern architecture, which developed after the discovery of oil in the country.
The people of Venezuela are fun-loving, and the World Values Survey has reported that Venezuelans belong to the category of the happiest people in the world. The history of Venezuela and the amalgam of various cultures found here, makes it a unique nation.