El Salvador, the smallest of the Central American countries (about the size of Prince Edward Island), was named by the Spanish for ‘The Saviour.’ The Maya, who used the beans of the abundant cocoa trees for currency, also called it ‘Cuscatlán’ or ‘Land of precious things.’ It is a land of earthquakes and volcanoes. The most famous volcano, Izalco, was at one time the nation’s most regularly active (it erupted at least 51 times since 1770), earning it the title of ‘the lighthouse of the Pacific.’ El Salvador’s population is comprised mainly of mestizos (mixed Spanish and Amerindian descent), followed by Amerindians and Europeans. The official language is Spanish, although some Native American groups continue to speak indigenous languages such as Lenca, Pipil, or Kekchi.
El Salvador’s culture is a blend of Western, European and native influences. The native population in El Salvador is sometimes deemed by some as ‘invisible’, because, for historical reasons, Indigenous people live scattered around the country within the Mestizos population and do not necessarily advertise belonging to an Indigenous tribe. However, there is evidence that their culture survives to this day due to the preservation of their languages and traditions, and the presence of Indigenous organizations.
Its strong heritage of arts and literature includes sculpture that is displayed around the world, and poetry that expresses important issues. Religious and folk festivals are popular activities that feature the sounds of salsa, cumbia and lambada music, played on such common instruments as the pito (type of flute), marimba (wooden xylophone) tambor and tun (drums).
Textiles play a major role in the country’s economy, as clothing is one of country’s largest exports. Traditional techniques are still employed. In towns such as San Sebastian, weavers still use the telares, large wooden looms worked with pedals by the weavers, to produce colourful cotton items such as hammocks, belts or tablecloths. Embroidery was widely done by Mestizos or Indigenous women to adorn their trajes, the traditional clothing. For example, the Nahuat Pipil women wore the refajo, a wrap-around skirt featuring embroidery along the seams, with white blouses that they embroidered with flowers or animal shapes. However, for many Indigenous and Mestizos, western-style clothing is more favoured now for everyday life, while trajes are worn during festivals or traditional dancing.
There is a strong tradition of folk art, which includes sorpresas (surprises). These, tiny conical ceramic domes reveal detailed clay figurines in village settings when lifted off the bases. Other traditional Salvadoran handicrafts include wicker and wooden furniture, ceramics and pottery such as the blackened pottery of the Lenca people, weavings, masks, and basketry, all made from natural materials.
People have been coming to Canada from El Salvador mainly since the 1980s. Many were professionals, tradesmen, unskilled workers, or families who came as government- sponsored refugees. They settled primarily in Ontario, Québec, Alberta and British Columbia, and, according to the 2011 census, there are more than 63,000 El Salvadorans living here. Remittances sent by El Salvadorans living abroad now account for a large part of the GDP of their home country
Sponsor: Cornwall Quilters Guild | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons