Although Nicaragua has long been one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere it has traditionally been an outstanding producer of world class poets and writers. Perhaps the most famous of all has been Ruben Dario, also known as the “Prince of Castillian Letters” and is the undisputed father of the Modernist Spanish Literary movement that began in Latin America during the end of the XIX Century. Ruben Dario was a prolific poet, who published many books, the most important of which is titled “Azul” (Blue). Dario was born on February 6, 1867 in Matagalpa and died at the age of 49 in 1916 in the city of Leon, where his remains are buried in the Cathedral. Ruben Dario travelled throughout America and Europe, and was an authentic ambassador of Nicaraguan Culture during his travels. He was probably the first Nicaraguan that became world known, and that put Nicaragua on the map as far as culture is concerned.
Today, the most important center of culture in the country, the National Theatre in Managua, bears the name of this illustrious Nicaraguan. Although Dario is undisputedly most important poet and writer of Nicaragua of all times, he is not the only one. There are many other outstanding poets and writers in Nicaragua, many of them still alive and writing. Amongst the most outstanding contemporary literary writers of Nicaragua are Ernesto Cardenal, Giaconda Belli, Pablo Antonio Cuadra, Jose Coronel Urtecho and Ana Ilce. In order with this strong literary tradition, an annual poetry festival is held every year in the city of Granada during the month of May.
There is no question that the Sandinista Revolution has had a profound effect on the general culture in Nicaragua. There are several places in Managua where you can enjoy what Nicaraguans call “testimonial music” much of which are the sung tales of the revolutionaries while fighting the Somoza regime. One of the most outstanding singers in Nicaragua to this day is Carlos Mejia Godoy, a composer that has been prolific in writing songs about the young revolutionary men and women of Nicaragua who set out to free the country from the oppression of the US backed Somoza regime in the 1970’s. Mejia Godoy, a Sandinista at heart, has a restaurant bar in Managua that is called “Los Hermanos Mejia Godoy” it is an outstanding place to visit to catch a good bit of Nicaraguan culture. This type of music is exclusive to Nicaragua, you will not find it elsewhere in Central America; it is actually a very interesting and learning experience, especially if you understand Spanish, since all of the songs texts are of course in that language.
With roots in the pre-Columbian culture of Nicaragua, and originally represented in Nahuatl, the pre-Columbian language that was spoken in Nicaragua before the conquest, el Gueguense is a street theatre that represents a pacific resistance to the domain by the Spaniards. Originally dating back to the early XVII century, and celebrated in Diriamba, in the department of Carazo, El Gueguese is so unique and so much part of the culture of Nicaragua, that it was designated cultural heritage of humanity by the UNESCO on the 25th of November of 2005! The celebration of El Gueguense takes place every year in Diriamba, Carazo during the fair in honor of Saint Sebastian, the patron saint of Diriamba on the third week of January.
One of the most outstanding expressions of culture in Nicaragua are the local fiestas in honor of the patron saint. All of these carry a deep religious expression and are strongly influenced by the centuries old Catholic tradition in Nicaragua. The most outstanding cultural expression of this kind in the country is the “Griteria” a religious ceremony that is celebrated throughout the country in honor of “La Purisima” (the very pure, immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary). This celebration takes place on the 7th of December, and it is important to take note because it is probably the most important religious celebration in Nicaragua and the whole country comes to a standstill for this one day event, which is a national holiday. The origin of this centuries old celebration goes back to 1562, when a Spaniard, Don Lorenzo de Cepeda, who was navigating south towards Peru was forced to stop in what today is the port of El Realejo on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua due to inclement weather. He was carrying with him a small sculpture of the Virgin of the Conception, and decided to take refuge in a Franciscan monastery in the nearby city of El Viejo, and placed the statue in the Parish Church for safeguarding. The local church goers quickly became enthralled with the beauty of the “little white girl”, as they referred to the statue, which soon was declared as miraculous, by the community. When Don Lorenzo was ready to continue his trip to Peru, he took the statue with him, against the will of parishioners; however no sooner had he lifted anchors he forced back into port by a tropical storm that once again delayed his departure. It was then agreed that the statue of the virgin should stay in El Realejo, as this was her wish!
The celebration of the Purisma as known today dates back to 1857, and includes many processions, religious chants and songs, as well as a generous amount of fireworks. The celebrations are held throughout Nicaragua, but are most unique in the cities of Leon, Chinandega and Managua.
Every city and town in the country has a patron saint, and each one of these towns holds cultural events and celebrations that are inspired in the religious Catholic tradition. One of the classic celebrities in these events is the Gigantona, a giant lady that dances with a big headed midget while a third member of the party beats the drum. The midget recites verses that are meant to have a double meaning and make the spectators laugh. Between the verses, de drummer beats up a melody and the giant lady dances wildly making you laugh.
Another celebration at these events is the Toro Huaco dance. For this dance the locals dress up with very colourful costumes that make a mock of the Spanish conquerors from the XVI century. The tradition is full of satire and makes fun of the Spanish conquerors.
Managua celebrates its fair in honor of Santo Domingo during the month of August on a yearly basis. There are two distinct days of celebration, and both are holidays in the city, which means that most local businesses are closed on these dates, which are the 1st and 10th of August. This event is a good opportunity to see the Gigantona and the Toro Huaco celebrations! As you can see culture in Nicaragua is extremely prolific and truly unique!