El Salvador History and Culture

By | June 18, 2021

Pre-colonial empires of the Chortí, Pipil and Lenca

Today’s western area of ​​El Salvador belonged to the southern edge of the Mayan high culture. When the Maya culture ended around the year 1000, the peoples migrated south and established several small empires there. In El Salvador, for example, this was the kingdom of the Chortí, which arose in the north along the Río Lempa. Chortí only live in Guatemala and Honduras today.

Cuzcatlan, founded by the Pipil people, encompassed the entire west of what is now the country. It existed from around 1200 until the Spanish conquest in 1528. The Pipil were not Maya, but belonged to the Nahua ethnic group, who had originally immigrated from Mexico. The Lenca lived in the east. Pipil and Lenca still live in El Salvador today. The Lenca language is extinct, the Nawat (the language of the Pipil) is severely threatened.

Exploration in 1522 by Andrés Niño

The first European to explore the region was Andrés Niño, who explored the coast of Central America north from Panamá in 1522. So he came to the Gulf of Fonseca, which he named after a Spanish bishop, and the mouth of the Río Lempa.

Spanish Colony – Viceroyalty of New Spain (1524-1821)

Pedro de Alvarado was a Spanish conqueror, a conquistador. Together with the better known Hernán Cortés, he conquered Tenochtitlán in what is now Mexico between 1519 and 1521 and subjugated the Aztecs. In 1523, Cortés sent Alvarado south. So he came to today’s El Salvador in 1524. But the Pipil initially forced him to retreat. In 1525 he returned. This time he subjugated the local population with his troops. Pedro de Alvarado gave the area the name “El Salvador” (“The Redeemer”).

The conquered land became part of New Spain in 1535. The Spaniards called this colony the Viceroyalty. It was ruled by a viceroy, a kind of representative for the Spanish king. It extended all over Central Americaand the south of today’s USA. It was divided into several “Kapitanate”, administrative areas. From 1609 El Salvador belonged to the General Captaincy of Guatemala.

Settlers from Spain were given lands that they could cultivate. Above all indigo was grown. A blue dye can be obtained from the leaves of the indigo plant, which can be used to dye fabrics. It was sold to Europe.

Independence 1821

At the beginning of the 19th century, the desire for independence grew in El Salvador as in the neighboring provinces. In 1810 the struggle for independence began in Mexico. Riots were suppressed in El Salvador in 1811 and 1814. In 1821, however, the Central American provinces finally declared themselves independent.

Member of the Central American Confederation (1823-1839)

According to transporthint.com, El Salvador (as the only one of the Central American countries) resisted integration into the Mexican Empire. When Mexico became a republic in 1823, the Mexicans agreed to the independence of the Central American states.

Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica now founded the Central American Confederation. But power struggles meant that this union broke up. Gradually, Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica left in 1838, then Guatemala in 1839, so that only El Salvador remained until 1841. Then it declared itself an independent state.

El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua tried to close the confederation again in 1844, 1852 and 1896, but failed. All five successor states show the colors of the confederation in their national flags in blue-white-blue.

The republic from 1841 – oligarchy

Few wealthy families took power in the country. It was an oligarchy of big landowners. Because indigo was less and less in demand, since it was now possible to produce artificial colors, the cultivation was increasingly switched to coffee from 1880 onwards. In 1882, the indigenous peoples’ last common land (communal property, called ejido) was taken away by law. They were now landless and lived in abject poverty. They were now forced to work on the coffee plantations of the large landowners.

El Salvador History


How do you live in El Salvador?

Imagine that you live in a country that is almost always warm or hot. You don’t need a jacket and you don’t even have one! The people speak Spanish. People like to eat pupusas, filled corn cakes, or pastries in the shape of ears or stones. They drink hot atoles and cold they enjoy a horchata. If all of that is true, you are probably in… El Salvador!

What are the names of the people?

As a boy, your name could be Juan Carlos, Miguel Àngel, or José Luis. Girls are called Teresa Jesús, María Elena or Ana Mercedes. The last name is Hernández, Martínez, López, García or Rodríguez. Most people have two first names. There are also two surnames, one given by the father to the child, the other by the mother. That makes for pretty long names!

Which festival is celebrated big?

On November 1st and 2nd, El Salvador celebrates the Day of the Dead, which is called Día de los Difuntos. The dead are remembered on these days. With flowers, you take the whole family to the cemeteries and visit the graves. But you are not sad about it, but remember the people with joy. You take food and drink with you or buy something from the street vendors who have set up their stalls in the cemeteries. You can buy empanadas everywhere, for example, dumplings with minced meat and vegetables.