Culture, History & Politics of the Andes & the Pampas

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  • 0:02 Andes and Pampas
  • 1:19 Incas & the Andes
  • 2:34 Pampas & Criollos
  • 4:25 Military Rule
  • 5:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson explores the history of the Andes and Pampas region of South America. It explains how Spanish colonization and the rule of the Criollos has shaped the region's culture and politics of today.

Andes and Pampas

Living in the United States, we're accustomed to hearing about regions. For instance, when I say I live in the Northeast, fellow Americans can probably surmise I reside in a place with snowy winters. They might not be able to guess my exact state, but if given a chance between Pennsylvania and Florida, I'm guessing they'll choose the right answer.

Like us, other continents also use regions to classify areas. Today, we're going to discuss one such region as we dive into the history, culture, and politics of the Andes and Pampas, a region way to our south that encompasses much of western and southern South America.

Despite the fact that the Andes and Pampas go together like peanut butter and jelly in most discussions of South America, there are some real differences between the two. First of all, they have striking differences in geography. For instance, the Andes Mountains are a huge mountain chain. Covering much of the West Coast of the continent, it encompasses Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and even part of Argentina.

Very opposite from the rugged Andes are the Pampas. Keeping things simple, the Pampas are the grasslands of South America. These famous grasslands cover parts of Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Incas & the Andes

Although they differ greatly in geography, the Andes Mountains and the Pampas are bound together by history. In fact, some classify the Andes and Pampas as the lands once ruled by the great Incan Empire, even though, the empire really only touched into parts of Argentina.

Speaking of the great Incan empire, let's dive into some history and how it has shaped the culture and politics of the region. Before Europe descended upon South America, the Andes were ruled by the mighty Incas, arguably the most powerful ancient empire of South America. Despite their power, the Incas were no match for the Spanish who came to the continent looking for land and treasures.

Sadly, the 16th century saw the near end of the Andes' native populations. Those who were not killed found themselves slaves to the conquering Spaniards. Many were conscripted to European-owned gold and silver mines.

Proving how prosperous the gold and silver proved for the conquering Spaniards, word of it even reached Asia. Soon, Asians looking for employment migrated to the Andes in search of gold and a better life. For this reason, Asian culture has permeated parts of the Andes. Peru even has its own Chinatown!

Pampas & Criollos

Sadly, the same story played out in the Pampas. When the Spaniards moved in the native people were pushed out! Those who did survive found themselves slaves working on European plantations. Even when the Pampas region finally gained independence from Spain in the early 19th century, life for the native populations didn't get much better. Rather than becoming a place of freedom, those of Spanish descent, referred to as Criollos, formed a rather abusive and horribly discriminatory political ruling class.

With this, those of native descent were almost thrown from the frying pan into the fire. The Criollos refused them the right to vote and treated them with contempt. This was especially true in Argentina, where rulers went as far as to force anyone with Native American descent out of the land.

As evidence of this cruel treatment and the removal of native influence, modern day Argentina and much of the Pampas feel more European than Latin. In fact, after spending time in Buenos Aires, Argentina, my brother, who travels rather extensively, remarked that it felt more like Italy or Paris. To prove his point, the city's European cultural feel has earned it the nickname the Paris of the Americas.

Stepping back into history, the removal of the native people from the Pampas cleared the way for the ruling Criollos to make some serious money off the grasslands. Perfect for farming and herding, the Pampas became home to a bustling cattle industry. From this came the famous gauchos, the cowboys of the South American plains. Just like the American cowboy, the gauchos hold an almost superhero-like place in South American culture.

Military Rule

Tiring of their servitude, the poor classes of the Andes and Pampas began to rebel. Rising up against the Criollos, they put in place military rulers who promised them freedom and social reform.

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