The Block

This block, created by Happy Howells Mireault based on input from César Gaitán and Anneli Tolvanen, depicts the folkloric character of El Guëguënse. He is hand painted on a woven cotton fabric and accented with fine embroidery. The character, central to a play said to be dating back to the 16th century in Nicaragua, is set against the well-known Nicaraguan landscape of lakes and volcanoes and is surrounded by flocks of tiny, multi-coloured birds, which constantly fill the sky. Nicaraguans feel that Guëguënse portrays their inner spirit and represents the strength and mocking resilience that have helped them survive centuries of natural and national upheavals and disasters. Guëguënse prancing with his horse-mask and silver rattle is a tradition in the numerous festivals and parades celebrated throughout the country. His dancing and antics are part of the oldest indigenous street theatre in the Americas.


Costa rica, vaso zoomorfo, da guanacaste, 800-1200 ca. 04
Nicoya pottery
Niños en Masaya
Young boys
Woman coffee farmer in Nicaragua
A coffee farmer in Northern Nicaragua
Momotombo - N3A8108 (22873883634)
Momotombo volcano erupting
Catedrál de Granada, Nicaragua
Cathedral of Granada

Cultural Profile

Nicaragua, Central America’s largest nation, was named for one of its original inhabitants, Chief Nicarao. The country is divided into three distinct geographical regions: the Pacific lowlands, the north-central mountains, and the Caribbean lowlands, also known as the Mosquito Coast or Mosquitía. Sometimes called the ‘Land of Lakes and Volcanoes,’ Nicaragua is the site of 11 major volcanoes, the ash of which has enriched the soil for farming. Two of Central America’s largest lakes are found in the country; Lago de Managua and Lago de Nicaragua, which is home to the world’s only freshwater sharks. The nation’s rich avian life includes the quetzal (holy bird of the Maya). Its jungles contain trees that grow up to 60 metres (200 ft) high.

Nicaragua’s population is comprised primarily of mestizos (people of mixed European and Native American descent) but includes ethnic minorities of Native American, African and European background. The official language is Spanish, which although similar to that spoken in other Central American countries, is enriched with unique Nicaraguan slang. A number of indigenous tongues are spoken on the Caribbean coast as well as English since this area was a British protectorate for time.

Like most Central American countries, the basis of family structure is formed by the nuclear family. However, the system of compadrazgo (sets of relationships between a child and his or her godparents, and between parents and their child’s godparents) is extremely important. The culture is a blend of Hispanic and Native American elements. Music, which is a vital part of the country’s many festivals, includes such instruments as chirimias (wind instruments) marimbas, guitars, zuls (traditional flutes) and maracas. Poetry is one of the countries most treasured arts and includes the works of Rubén Darío, who is known as the ‘Prince of Spanish-American literature.’ Public festivities in Nicaragua often revolve around the celebration of a town’s patron saint. These include processions, merry making and public dances, such as the Toro Huaco dance in the town of Diriamba to honour Saint Sebastian. On the Carribean coast, Palo de Mayo, or ‘May pole’, is an important occasion originally inspired by the British May Day.

Traditional crafts include gold- and silverware and the making of guitars, mandolins and violins, straw mats, pottery, hammocks. Beautiful wooden pieces are made from exotic woods such as mahogany and teak. The town of Masaya is especially famous for its craft market which showcases a wide array of artisans and their wares. Smaller towns tend to be known for specific handcrafts. For example, the Solentiname Islands are well-known for a colourful and unusual style of painting known as ‘the Solentiname School.’

Nicaraguans come to Canada for a variety of reasons, including to escape civil unrest or to seek a better life for themselves and their families. Others come under happier circumstances, such as to join family members or even to play professional baseball (Nicaraguans are passionate about the sport). Dennis Martinez, perhaps the most well-known of these players, spent seven years with the Montréal Expos. As of 2011, there were over 11,000 Nicaraguans living in Canada.


Sponsor: Rev. Andrea Harrison | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons