The blending of different cultures that took place in Nicaragua resulted in the birth of a creative, varied, happy, and humorous culture. Even though this culture is barely known worldwide it assures its audience an interesting experience.
In the same way, the hospitality, goodness, and friendliness of the Nicaraguan people are recognized by visitors that have the opportunity to get to know this nation. Here is an overview of the Nicaraguan culture.
In their speech, the so called Nicas (short for Nicaraguans) can be either communicative or reserved, depending on the circumstances. Local language is often used, which is why Nicaraguans like to say that their language is the ‘Nicañol’ or Nicaraguan Spanish.
Nicaragua is one of the Latin American countries where the word ‘vos’ is used instead of ‘tu’ as the second-person singular pronoun (you in English). In regular elementary classes Nicaraguans learn to use the ‘tu’, but daily life teaches to use ‘vos’.
A term used as sign of respect is the word ‘usted’ (Latin American term derived from the Castilian colony terminology ‘Vuestra Merced’). Older people are called ‘usted’ and instead of using Mr. or Mrs. Nicaraguans are likely to use ‘don’ or ‘doña’ before the person’s name, for example: don Rafael, doña Sofía, or don Mario.
The Nicaraguan accent has certain characteristics that are easy to identify. An example is that Nicaraguans do not pronounce the ‘s’ at the end of a word and its sound is substituted by a type of short and soft ‘h’ (as in horse). The tone of voice used while talking is different in urban and rural areas: in urban areas the tone is a lot more lineal, while in rural areas people tend to pronounce with more intonation accentuated syllables.
Religious celebrations are loud, crowded events in Nicaragua. Having saints as inspirations, numerous dances, music and traditional interpretation have been made.
Each city and each town has their own ‘Saint boss’ or ‘Santo Patrono’ as they are called in Nicaragua, designated since colonial times. These festivities that take place when the inhabitants of each town honor their Saint are called ‘Fiestas Patronales’, and they continue for several days in a row. These celebrations are very colorful, folkloric and crowded; they are a real manifestation of the Nicaraguan culture.
Many of the participants do not partake as a result of real religious devotion, they mainly go to the festivities because it is part of a tradition. Nevertheless, there are many that come and maintain the religious mysticism alive.
Music and dances
The Nicaraguan music and dances are a product of the heritage and the mixture of different cultures from indigenous tribes, European conquerors, and African slaves.
The music and dances were born in the different regions of the country. Even though each region has its own traditions, all Nicaraguans consider themselves to share one cultural identity. This is why dances from the Caribbean Coast (that have a lot of African influence) are danced in the Pacific, and northern dances are just as well performed in the south. Here is an overview, divided in different cultural regions, of the folkloric dances and music.
Pacific: the culture in this part of the country is considered to be a mixture of the indigenous and Spanish culture; as a result there exist a wide range of attractive and diverse music and dances. In Carazo, the manifestation of the indigenous flute and drum can be seen, accompanied by dancers with Spanish dressings, demonstrating the duality of cultures. The dance and music best known from this region is the so called ‘Toro Huaco’ and the famous ‘Güegüense o Macho Ratón’.
In Masaya, the main cultural feature is known in Latin America as ‘mestizaje’, which is a real mixture of cultures. Women wear what is called a ‘Güipil’, composed of a cotton shirt and a long skirt. On the other hand, men dress a ‘cotona’, which is a traditional Nicaraguan shirt with white pants, hat, and sandals. Dances here represent a flirting between man and woman with soft movements. The music called ‘el son nica’ is mainly guitar strumming (typical of Nicaraguan music), accompanied by the representative instrument of national folklore: the wooden marimaba.
North / Central Nicaragua: In the mountainous region of the north and center of the country, the European heritage brought by Spanish and German descendents that inhabited the area can be easily recognized. In this region, you can find the dances like ‘polcas’ and ‘mazurcas’.
Caribbean: the Nicaraguan culture in this region is mainly expressed by dances and music with African influence, but the contribution of native indigenous tribes can also be observed. The rhythm and dance representative of this region is the ‘palo de mayo’, created in Bluefields. This is an energetic dance in which dancers motion their body with sensual movements.
Nicaraguan singer-songwriters have broadened their scope to other well known Latin American rhythms as well. Therefore, you can also hear ‘cumbias’ and ‘salsas’ born in Nicaragua.
The ‘Fiestas Patronales’ (mentioned above) are famous for the participation of philharmonic bands locally called ‘chicheros’. The musicians normally play two or three trumpets, a clarinet, a drum, and on the background the bass drum and the cymbal. The music they make is very energetic and contagious.
Among the recent folkloric creators are the brothers Carlos and Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy (compositors and rescuers of Nicaraguan music) and ‘Don’ Otto de la Rocha.
During the 70s and 80s, in a war and post-war scenario, different rhythms including the Latin American ‘trova’ became tools used by writers to express social injustice, their hope for a ‘better tomorrow’, patriotism, and ecological conservation. With time, ‘trova’ became a rhythm used in artistic Nicaraguan creations, and it therefore also became part of the culture. Well known in this category is the duo ‘Guardabarranco’, formed by the brothers Katia and Salvador Cardenal.
Alternative and heavy rock can also be considered part of the Nicaraguan culture due to massive manifestation of this type by young Nicaraguans that have formed numerous bands throughout the country.
It is interesting to note that Nicas love to party and they dance several different Latin American rhythms like salsa, meringue or the now famous reggaeton.
The Nicaraguan artistic literature is very wide and has had representatives known throughout the world.
The first big literature piece is the Nicaraguan comedy-dance ‘El Güegüense’ or ‘Macho Ratón’, which was first published in Carazo in the 17th century, written in Nahuatl and Castilian. The play is from an anonymous author and it represents Nicaraguan colonial times. A mixture of indigenous and Spanish elements can be found in the play, both in the music as well as in the play itself. Its name comes from the main character ‘El Güegüense’, a name that is derived from the nahuatl word ‘huehue’ meaning ‘old’. The Güegüense takes advantage of his astuteness to trick the authorities of the play that represent the Spanish conquerors. This theatrical play was recently named ‘Master Play of the Oral an Immaterial Patrimony of Humanity’ by UNESCO, because it represents a pacific resistance from the Indians against the cultural and authoritarian imposition by the Spanish conquerors.
The literature representation of Nicaragua in the world relies on the Nicaraguan poet Ruben Darío (1867-1919), known by Hispanic culture as one of the creators of Modernism. His repertoire is broad and reproduced in many languages.
Nicaragua is the nation of many poets and narrators. Nowadays, modern authors known internationally include Ernesto Cardenal, Gioconda Belli and Sergio Ramírez.