Society and Culture of Uruguay

 

Uruguayan society has a strong inheritance from european immigration influenciated by other cultural traditions.

 

As it can be seen on the national football team picture, uruguayan society is composed mostly by european descendantas, most of them spanish and italians, or from other european countries: portugese, french, germans, etc.

 

KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images

 

Main migration movements happened during the first spanish dominant era, having later a second massive immigrant arrival during the first XX century decades, in which immigrants counted for the same population size as locals.

 

There are other ethnical groups like african-descendants, which constitute the main ethnical minority (% of the population), as well as jewish, armenians, and some south american native groups.

 

For all this, in uruguayan society there is practically no superiority ethnical complexes, being racial differences something tha uruguayans mostly see just as a characteristic of a person. Being so, it is quite usual for people to be called by its ethnical or family origin group, but not with an unrespectful meaning. Eg.:  “El Negro” (black), “El Polaco” (polish), “El Gallego” (galician), “El Ruso” (russian), etc..

 

Mate

 

mate

 

As a native beverage, Mate is an example of culture mixture as well as the uruguayan carnival, born from african roots; the tango, born from musical traditions of european and african descendants. The Gauchos, who represent with their lifestyle a singular mixture between hispanic and indigenous cultures are a clear example of the traditions and cultures encounter that happened in the short history of the country, and explain in some way, the conformation of present uruguayan culture and its society.

Mate is the inseparable companion of Uruguayans and a warm welcoming gesture for those just arriving. The yerba based tea infusion is a stimulant.
Mate is a drink made by infusing “yerba mate”  (dehydrated and shredded leaves of the Illex Paraguyensis shrub) and is one of the more emblematic and common traditions of Uruguayan society.
The custom of using a thermos instead of a kettle to prepare the infusion was a Uruguayan initiative allowing the ritual to move beyond the confines of home. This way, as it is today, mate could be enjoyed in almost any public space and this has now become very illustrative of the quotidian Uruguayan lifestyle.

Surely, anybody who has ever seen Uruguayans outside of the country will have noticed that they were not without their thermos and mate, inseparable companions no matter the time of year.

 

 

Tango

 

 

Foto: Ministerio de Turismo
Foto: Ministerio de Turismo

 

Tango is one of the most authentic and genuine musical expressions of the River Plate region and is central to Uruguay’s own musical tradition.

Born of the fusion between original African musical traditions and European and Creole instruments and rhythm, Tango is a testament to the rich cultural history of our region.

Tango has its roots in both Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Tangible examples of this are the song “La Morocha” written in Buenos Aires by the Uruguayan song writer, Enrique Saborido or “Mi Noche Triste” composed in Montevideo by Argentine Pascual Contursi in 1916.

In 2009, Tango was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Originally a genre that emerged from the outskirts of Montevideo and Buenos Aires at the end of 19th century, Tango has come a long way into what it is today. Nowadays, Tango is danced all over the world as well as in international competitions.

When we refer to Tango, we’re also making reference to the dance and the sound, in addition to the musical genre as a whole. At its core, Tango is an urban musical expression and a unique development in the musical tradition of the River Plate.

 

 

Traditions – Carnaval (carnival)

 

 

Uruguayan Carnival festivities are the longest of their kind in the world. They start at the beginning of January and run all the way to mid March. Over the course of over 50 days, lively and colorful parties fill the streets with joy in every neighborhood.

The holiday starts in Montevideo with the Inaugural Parade on 18 de Julio Avenue where the participating groups march alongside their floats while the Queens of Carnival woo the audience. On the other hand, the party that really catches the attention of our visitors is the Desfile de Llamadas that takes place in the neighborhoods of Barrio Sur and Palermo, evoking a ritualistic meeting, historically orchestrated by slaves of the colonial times who would get together outside of the city during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Thousands of spectators flock to see the vibrant spectacle that can be defined as a sort of communication between the three kinds of drums used in Candombe; the chico, repique and piano. The Desfile de Llamadas, is a spectacle unlike any other in the world where more than 2,000 drums can be heard playing at once. Let yourself be taken away by the rhythm declared as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

Another favored activity to experience while in Uruguay is Murga, a truly authentic expression of our culture. During our sultry February nights, these carnival ensembles compete on neighborhood theater stages, otherwise known as tablados, in the Official Carnival Competition. Each group is awarded points for their humor and general satirical view on current affairs in the country combined with festive costumes, creative makeup and song. Parodists, Revues, Comedians and Lubolos are all different expressions of this unique Uruguayan theater to be enjoyed by all audiences.

Equally as entertaining and important are the carnivlas celebrated in the cities outside of Montevideo which also have their own Inaugural Parades, each with its own style. Cities closer to the border—Rivera, Artigas and Melo share similar Brazilian-style carnival themes mixed with the Uruguayan traditions.

 

 

Murga: 

 

Uruguayan murga is something unique and over the last few decades has transformed into a cultural manifestation that has attracted followers from all over the world.

 

 gran-muneca-carnaval-2

 

Murga is one of the most popular Uruguayan forms of cultural expression in terms of its popularity here. Despite being a cultural manifestation originally from Cadiz, Spain (primarily since 1908), Uruguayan murga has gone through numerous transformations since the end of the 19th century.

Murgas have always expressed themselves through a variety of musical formats but chief among them is the Marcha Camión style similar to that of the marching percussion and Candombe.

Costume design and makeup in murga draw some of their influence from similar European artistic expressions.

Uruguayan murga is made up of 17 units: a scene and chorus director, 13 singers in the chorus divided by their vocal range, and 3 members making up the percussion section which is split up into cymbals, bass drum and snare drum.

Over the last few decades this structure has begun to change. The “Murgas Jovenes” or younger murga groups are also beginning to adapt their style from the traditional structure in the same way other kinds of murga groups added elements of creativity and innovation over the years, making murga what it is today.

Murgas take place in what we call tablados where they can be public or private. Whether in Montevideo or anywhere outside the capital, murgas always bring a refreshing humorous, satirical and critical view on current events, expressed through this traditional theatrical format with song, costume and vibrant makeup.

Carnaval was born in the everyday neighborhoods where each group has its home fans for support, be it in the tablado, the parades or in official competitions with qualified judges and prizes. Murga rehearsals are often public where friends and family can come and memorize the group’s repertoire. Murga is without a doubt one of the most popular forms of expression par excellence.

In Montevideo, the Carnival Museum is open all year round where visitors can learn about the history of this traditional festivity. Those who arrive out of Carnaval season can still be captivated by the long and interesting history explored in the museum.

 

 

 

Traditions: Candombe

 

Its a native music genre coming from the ancient african rithims broght by slaves in the colonial era. Clothes used by different ancestors have been added to the rithim and dance.

First Candombe manifestations are registered from the colonial era, when it was common to be seen meetings from Montevideo’s slaves for christmas and New Year’s Eve, dancing by the sound of the drums.

Incorporation of Candombe to Carnival was produced gradually from the XIX century on, integrating formally towards 1870.

Candombe is performed by “Negros and Lubolos” groups, composed by por african-americans and white people who paint their faces recreating black skin.

 

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 Fotos: Bernardo Blengio

THE “LLAMADAS”

 

In the Llamadas, parade, Negros and Lubolos groups go through the narrow streets of Barrio Sur and Palermo by the drums rhythm, remembering the old way of slaves for getting toghether from different points of the old Montevideo.

 

These groups are constituted by the drums “cuerda” (group), dancers representing typical characters like the gramillero, the mama vieja (old mum), the escobillero and beautiful vedettes who add sensuality to this dance.

Drums are the essence of the “comparsa”. The drums “cuerda” is the one who marks the rhythm of Candombe, and its composed by three types of drums: piano, repique and chico. They are played with bare hands and one wood stick, which can hit the wooden part of the drum too. Its held by a rope to the body so it can be played at the same time as they walk.

 

In front of the drums “cuerda”, the dancers represent typical characters of afro-uruguayan culture.

 

 

 

Traditions: Folklore

 

Singing, improvised gaucho folk songs (‘payadas’), rodeo, campfires and country skills are at the heart of hundreds of traditional celebrations throughout the year, a trademark of Uruguayan identity that cannot be left unexplored. We invite you to discover them.

The most representative rural traditions in Uruguay are displayed across the hole country in different celebrations and festivals which take place throughout the year.

Good examples of these festivals are the ‘Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha’ in Tacuarembó, the ‘Semana Criolla del Prado’ in Montevideo, and the ‘Criolla del Parque Roosevelt’ in Canelones, among many others.

Uruguayan folk music has different manifestations and rhythms such as the ‘vidalita’, ‘milonga’, ‘payada’ and the ‘pericón’, which are always performed on the guitar. This musical instrument, introduced during the time of Spanish dominance, is an inseparable companion to the ‘criollo’ (local) traditional songbook and all ‘criollo’ forms of expression. In the same way, the accordion, with its enchanting cadence, has enriched our folk music.

 

 

Traditions – The Gauchos

 

Descendants of original Gaucho arquetype, are true representatives of the most valuable gaucho values: countryside and horse riding abilities, courage, open hospitality and gentleness.

 

Images: Ministery of Tourism

 

 

Traditions – Gastronomy

 

The grill or parrilla is the most distinguished menu in the Uruguayan diet par excellence. Eaten with a glass of Tannat, it is an experience not to be missed.

With worldwide recognition, the parrilla is, without doubt, the most recognized menu in the Uruguayan diet. It’s made up of different cuts of beef, grilled on what is known as a parrilla— an iron grill construction made specifically for cooking. The age old secret to this cooking technique is that it allows the juices in whatever is being grilled to remain in the meat, thus preserving the individual flavors and characteristics.

 

 

 

 

Wines:

 

Uruguayan wines are ideal for pairing with exquisite grilled cuts of beef. Amongst the many wines available in Uruguay, Tannat often stands out as the wine of choice. Often defined as intense and bold, this variety of grape is originally from the south east of France and was introduced to Uruguay around the 19th century. Since then it has had much success in Uruguay where it has been produced to worldwide recognition.

 

vino

 

 

Desserts

 

The dairy industry has been very developed in Uruguay for a long time and it’s because of this that you can find dairy products of excellent quality.

 

Of the most celebrated dairy products in Uruguay, dulce de leche is often the first mentioned.

This sweet, caramel-like spread, adored by children and adults alike is often used in a variety of desserts, making it the most important ingredient for sweets in Uruguay.

Visitors who get to try this sensational spread will find its smooth and creamy attributes hard to forget; these are the characteristics that make dulce de leche unique and distinct from other similar spreads elsewhere in the world.

 

 

 

See more General Information about Uruguay

 

 

Information provided by Ministery of Tourism

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