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Orinoquia Culture in Colombia – All you need to know about it

Orinoquia Region

Updated on 02/16/2024

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All about the Colombian Orinoquia region

The Orinoco region is located on the South American continent. Although the region also includes parts of Venezuela, we focus here on Colombian territory. The Orinoquia is located in eastern Colombia. The departments are:

  • Arauca
  • Casanare
  • Meta
  • Guaviare
  • Vichada

Approximate population (year 2022-2023): 1,800,000 inhabitants
Area : 310,000 km2
Climate: Min. 22° C – Max. 33° C.
Length of the Orinoco River: 3,010 km

The Orinoco River is considered the third most water-rich river in the world. Only the Amazon and Congo surpass the Orinoco River.

Discharge in cubic kilometers per year (as of 2002)

  • Amazon – 6,642
  • Congo – 1,308
  • Orinoco – 1,129

In addition, the Orinoco River is the main source of the Guaviare , Meta , Vichada , Tomo, and Arauca rivers, also located in the Orinoquia region of Colombia. The main feature of the Orinoquia region is that it is one of the largest regions in the country, rich in diverse ecosystems. Among them are vast tropical plains, forests, jungles, savannahs, rivers, wetlands and bogs. This region borders the Andes and Amazon region and also borders Venezuela from north to east.

The Orinoquia culture

The Orinoco culture has its origins before colonization in the 16th century. The European influence of that time brought forth new cultural aspects that would eventually reflect new traits of Orinoco culture to this day. Like many indigenous communities, the ethnic groups of this region subsisted on the resources provided by the environment. According to historical records, the first indigenous communities to have initial contact with the settlers were the Piaroa, Guahibos, and Achagua. It is currently believed that there are around 16 ethnic groups in this region, each with their own tradition, European influences, language and way of thinking. The most outstanding cultural activities include:

  • Hunting and fishing
  • Handicrafts
  • Dances

The natural Orinoco environment

The natural environment is an integral part of the culture in the Orinoquia region, as the region is characterized by a great diversity of ecosystems and natural resources. The natural environment of the Orinoco influenced communities in many ways. For example, the presence of rivers such as the Orinoco and the Meta has allowed the development of fishing and navigation. Activities that are an integral part of the local culture. Additionally, the presence of savannas, forests, plains, and other ecosystems has influenced the way communities have used natural resources for agriculture, ranching, and hunting. Some of the most outstanding features of the natural environment of the Orinoco include:

The Orinoco and Meta rivers

The Orinoco River is the largest in the region and one of the most important in Latin America as it is a transportation route for large merchant ships that make both import and export shipments across this main river. The Meta is one of the most important in the region as this river is in equal measure a shipping and communications canal through which they usually carry water supplies to the main communities in the region.

The vegetation

The region has a great diversity of ecosystems, from forests, savannas, rivers, jungles, wetlands and forests, as it is a vast area rich in pure vegetation, minerals and organic resources used for daily sustenance.

Diverse fauna

About 15,000 to 21,000 species of animals live in the region, including animals such as jaguars, monkeys, tapirs, deer, cattle and all kinds of birds.

Tropical climate

This region has a hot and humid climate that has influenced the way of life of the communities living there for many years.

Innovation in Orinoco Agriculture

Agriculture in the region is traditionally based on subsistence farming practices such as growing corn, cassava, plantains and beans. These crops were originally adapted to the region’s climate and soils, only to later be easily domesticated. Since then, these crops have been used for food and local trade for centuries. One of the ancient innovations used in agriculture in the Orinoquia region is the technique of “terra preta” or better known as black soil. This technique involves adding organic matter such as charcoal, bones, and scraps of food, which are later buried in the soil to improve its fertility and productivity. Ancient indigenous tribes such as the Guahibos, Piaroas, and Guayaberos practiced this type of subsistence farming, using techniques such as ‘vegetation burning’ to prepare the soil at the time of planting. This technique was introduced by pre-Hispanic cultures thousands of years ago when they lived in the region. Today, this technique is still used by some communities in the area.

The Spirituality of the Orinoquian Culture

Spirituality is an important part of Orinoquian culture. In religion or spirituality, there are certain beliefs and practices that have evolved over time, reflecting both the cultural and ethnic diversity of the region. In this culture, the ancient tribes developed a close relationship with nature and believed in the existence of supernatural beings. With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, many of these religious beliefs and practices mixed with Christianity, resulting in a number of multicultural combinations that can be seen in the religious beliefs of that culture today.

Relationship with nature

Spirituality in Orinoquian culture is characterized by a close relationship with nature , particularly ecosystems. Many of these spiritual practices relate to the land, rivers, animals and plants.

Religious combinations

Likewise, spirituality in this culture is marked by the enormous influence of Christianity, which is why there are elements today that connect pre-Hispanic religious beliefs and practices with Christianity.

Rituals and ceremonies

The spirituality of this culture began to be expressed through a series of rituals and ceremonies held at different times of the year in thanksgiving for abundance and the upcoming harvests. Dances and songs are performed, bonfires are lit and herbs are burned to cleanse the environment in gratitude to the protective entities while establishing a strong connection with nature.

The typical handicrafts of the Orinoquia region

The typical handicrafts of this region have their origins in pre-Hispanic cultures. The goal of these indigenous tribes was to create their own stamp of cultural identity through the production of handicrafts in order to express it and make it known to other communities. They also saw a sacred connection with nature and used every resource that Mother Nature offered them to give her a specific benefit, as for them it represented a gesture of gratitude (human-Mother Nature) and vice versa.

The wood carving

It is an ancient craft of hand carving of wood to create decorative objects, particularly depictions of human figures, animals and some depictions of daily life in each of the communities. It is a knowledge that has been passed down for generations, particularly by the region’s indigenous peoples and farmers.

The pottery

In this case, ceramic handicraft was one of the most frequently used activities . Geometric figures were created from clay and accessories for food preservation were made, objects such as vessels and pots, even figurines with spiritual symbolic representation.

Plant fibers

This ancient crafting technique begins with the use of plant fibers from lianas and sugarcane, which are abundant in the environment. These fibers were used to make baskets and transport food. It was an artisanal technique used by many indigenous tribes at the time, with the main aim of making accessories for everyday use.

The jewelry

Traditional jewelry has been crafted from organic materials such as bone, leather and seeds to create authentic works such as bracelets, earrings and various necklaces, aiming to identify the individuals of each community. Today you can admire this craftsmanship, which has been preserved for centuries, in the cultural museums of the country and in the museums of the region.

Customs and traditions of the Orinoquian culture

The origin of the Orinoquia culture dates back to the time of Spanish colonization, when Europeans brought African slaves and conquered many lands of the indigenous tribes who inhabited the region in the 19th century. Different cultures with many contrasts began to mix to give space to a multi-layered tradition in which livestock farming became the most popular tradition of the Orinoquian culture. The customs and traditions of the Orinoquia culture began to develop based on economic and geographic factors. The plain and savanna provide the perfect setting for a range of traditional economic activities, such as livestock farming, which has supported the populations of the Meta, Vichada, Arauca and Casanare departments for hundreds of years . The Llanero way of life is strongly linked to cattle ranch work, which is of course reflected in aspects such as clothing, music, dance and gastronomy, which equally reflect cattle ranch activities.

Orinoquian culture

Give priority to the preservation and care of their livestock, but above all to the preservation of their land. The offspring are given a specific role even before they come of age. The family usually gets involved in housework and working in the fields from an early age, and parents teach their children farming traditions from an early age. The community supports each other. When one person needs help, for example when it is difficult to plant crops due to bad weather conditions, the whole community comes together to work together and so achieve a successful harvest later. This is part of the Llanera culture. This bond of belonging, Llanera identity and deep connection to the region’s typical farming customs has always held this community together and given them common aspects that they refer to as the Llanera region.

Oral traditions in Orinoquia?

The origins of oral traditions date back to pre-Columbian times, when indigenous communities told their stories and sang to transmit their culture and knowledge. Legends and myths are stories that have been passed down orally in the Orinoquia region for centuries. Oral histories include legends, myths, and work songs sung as simple songs while the cowboys worked on the cattle station. Songs intended to make their work more enjoyable tell stories about nature and livestock in general. Most of the stories or songs are related to nature and animals and have a supernatural context. Among the most famous legends of this region are the legend of Juan Machete, a man who sold his soul to the devil for wealth, and the legend of Silbón, an extremely thin man who torments drunkards and womanizers in rural communities.

How Music Began in Orinoquia

The music that is typical today dates from the 17th and 18th centuries and was brought into being by the indigenous tribes who worked in the fields on the wide plains of the region, especially for livestock. Basically, it is a combination of Spanish, African and indigenous rhythms. They began as stories in the form of songs about events in the daily lives of local plains cultures and their devotion and passion for raising livestock. The indigenous peoples used music as a means of artistic expression and they saw that in this way they could keep their traditions alive for many years to come. The music was influenced by the colonizers and over the year’s new musical genres such as joropo, pasillo and many others developed.

The most popular instruments of the Orinoquia region

The Plains Harp

  • Stringed instrument, large, with a resonant and melodic sound.
  • Has 32 to 36 strings.
  • Sets the rhythm in Llanera music.

Cuatro

  • String instrument similar to a small guitar.
  • Has four strings.
  • Produces a bright and lively sound.

Maracas

  • Instrument made from dried gourd filled with seeds.
  • Produces a dry sound with lots of resonance.

Ratchet

  • Wooden tube instrument connected by a mallet with a gear wheel.
  • Makes a very loud sound.

Bandola Llanera

  • Stringed instrument similar to a lute or mandolin.
  • Has four strings.
  • Bright, unmistakable sound.

Rhythms and musical genres of the Orinoquia region

La Tamborera Llanera

This genre represents the diversity of cultural miscegenation today.

  • Music genre that incorporates Afro descent and African elements.
  • Beat the beat with drums and percussion and create different rhythms.
  • The lyrics and melodies convey the cultural heritage of the region’s Afro-Colombian population.

El Pajarillo Llanero

The llanero bird encourages celebration and uniting of the whole community, a folkloric genre.

  • Genre of music featuring a dance typical of the Llanera culture.
  • It’s a genre with a lot of joy and a festive atmosphere.
  • Instruments such as the llanera harp, the cuatro and the maracas are essential to their interpretation.

Musica Llanera

This genus is probably the most representative of the Llanera region today.

  • Use of instruments such as the harp, the cuatro , the maracas , and the bandola Llanera.
  • Lyrics about love, nature, traditions and life on the plains.
  • The compositions use couplets and verses with improvised rhymes.

Canto de Vaqueria

This genre represents a deep connection with nature and the tradition of cattle breeding and is generally sung to promote the working atmosphere.

  • Traditional form of Llanera music used during livestock work by the Llaneros.
  • Cowboys improvise songs while tending the cattle. This genre is usually accompanied by the ratchet.

Music that transcends borders

Events and festivals

Every year there are festivals like Festival in Yopal, Casanare (Heart of the Plains) in December or traditional live music events from the Plains. Tourists and visitors have an opportunity to take part in joropo competitions and admire local folk music groups.

Workshops and courses

There are places where you can take lessons from personal teachers to learn how to play instruments such as the harp, cuatro or maracas. You can sign up for a few days while you enjoy your stay.

Local music support

There are places where you can purchase music on CDs or vinyl featuring traditional Llanera music by local artists to take home as a souvenir. Of course, this purchase helps preserve the culture of the area and financially supports local artists.

Promote the culture of local tourism

You can research and choose your accommodations in advance and look for places where local music culture is promoted through activities where tourists can participate in a cultural immersion experience. Consult our Travel Guide to the Colombian Llanos for more information.

Culinary delights in Orinoquia

The origin of the cuisine of the Orinoquia region of Colombia dates back to the indigenous traditions that lived in the area before the Spanish arrived. Indigenous peoples such as the Guahibos , the Achagua , and the Piaroa had a close relationship with the ecosystems. Initially, they depended heavily on activities such as fishing and animal hunting, and they also managed to domesticate the first crops such as corn, bananas, cassava, and rice. With the arrival of the Spaniards, new techniques and traditions were introduced, such as cattle breeding, which had a significant impact on the region’s culinary culture. Here I present the most popular culinary delicacies of this region.

Beef à la Llanera

It’s probably the most popular dish in the entire region.

  • It is prepared from lean beef and cooked over low heat for hours.
  • Flavored with local spices.
  • in clay oven to get a soft and juicy texture

Roasted Capybara

Commonly known as “Capybara”, a popular rodent living in the region.

  • It is prepared roasted in a clay oven , on the grill or on a metal plate.
  • It is considered a traditional exotic dish in many parts of the region.

Sancocho Llanero

It is another typical dish of the region. It is usually eaten before the main course or can be served as a main course with rice and avocado.

  • Soup prepared with various proteins such as chicken, beef or pork and seasoned with vegetables such as cassava, plantains, potatoes and coriander.
  • It is cooked over low heat to bring out the flavor and give it more thickness.
  • It is very popular in the Llanera culture, simple ingredients available locally.

The typical dances of the Orinoquia region

The region’s signature dances are said to reflect the history, traditions and spirit of the communities that lived in the region thousands of years ago. These dances have their origins in the African, Spanish and indigenous cultures that inhabited this region of the country, later to mix and match an artistic tradition with different cultural aspects. They are a form of expression in which residents have the opportunity to remember their past and pass on their customs from generation to generation. Over time they have become a symbol of cultural resistance and struggle for the preservation of the region’s ethnic groups.

The Joropo

  • It is the most popular dance in the Orinoquia region.
  • It is characterized by its cheerful and energetic rhythm; its movements are fast and energetic.
  • It is danced in pairs and colorful typical costumes are used to represent Llanera culture.

Origin

  • The Joropo has its origins in the traditions of the plains tribes of Orinoquia and has indigenous and Spanish cultural influences in equal measure.
  • Its origins date back to colonial times and it has evolved over time into a traditional symbol of the Llanera culture.

El Galeron

  • This is a much simpler and slower variation of the joropo and has melancholy nuances.
  • Slow, smooth and elegant movements focus on expressing feelings and emotions.
  • It is danced in pairs in traditional clothing and accompanied by traditional music from the plain.

Origin

  • El Galeron emerges as an artistic expression within the Joropo tradition.
  • It is characterized by giving a much more romantic and nostalgic atmosphere.

El pasaje

  • It is another derivation of the Joropo Llanero , but has a much faster and happier rhythm.
  • Much more energetic steps and movements are used, a lot of choreography is also used.
  • It is a highly visual dance with many colors showing vitality and the true Llanero spirit.

Origin

  • El Pasaje is a Joropo style that evolved into a more festive expression. The original function is to reflect the celebration of camaraderie in the Orinoquia region.

El Pajarillo Llanero

  • Llanero – dance with a festive rhythm, full of vitality.
  • Fast movements and jumps that imitate birds and allude to their way of flying.
  • The dancers perform steps and turns to the rhythm of the music, demonstrating the prairie bird’s dexterity and skill.

Origin

  • The Pajarillo Llanero is a traditional artistic expression that has its origins in the culture of the plains and its connection to the Orinoquian plains.
  • The dance alludes to the freedom and joy of the region’s communities and represents the fauna through the movements and gestures of the dancers.

The Orinoquian culture represents the cultural and spiritual tradition of its people. This culture seeks to capture the Native American, African and Hispanic influences that have shaped the identity of this region over the years. They are forms of expression that still thrive on their inhabitants’ connection to the land, the plains, the rivers, the savannas and the diversity of the Orinoco ecosystems. The steps and movements passed down through the generations pay homage to lineage and commemorate the ongoing struggle to preserve the customs and cultural heritage of ethnic communities. All of these traditions and ways of thinking reflect the deep sense of belonging of the Orinoco indigenous people and the priority and need to reaffirm their cultural pride in the Llanero , which continues to this day. As you dance, enjoy the gastronomy and share with the locals of this region, you will help preserve the vibrant history and soul of Colombia’s Orinoquia.

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About Author

Frank

Frank

Hello! I'm Frank Spitzer, the founder and the heart behind Pelecanus, a specialized tour operator for Colombia travel. My journey in travel is vast and rich – I've explored over 60 countries, absorbing cultures, experiences, and stories along the way. Since 2017, I've been channeling this wealth of global experience into creating unforgettable travel experiences in Colombia.I'm recognized as a leading authority in Colombian tourism, with a deep-seated passion for sharing this beautiful country with the world. You can catch glimpses of my travel adventures and insights around Colombia on my YouTube channel. I'm also active on social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, where I share the vibrant culture and stunning landscapes of Colombia.For professional networking, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. Join me on this incredible journey, and let's explore the wonders of Colombia together!

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