South American Culture Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Vinicius Pereira

Vinicius has taught History for elementary and high school students and is currently pursuing a PhD in History at the Freie Universität Berlin.

Is there a single South American culture? In this lesson, we will try to answer that question by exploring some of the cultural traditions that make this diverse part of the world so special.

Language

When you think of South America you might think of the Spanish language, spoken from Colombia in the North to Argentina in the South. However, there are a few countries with different official languages. Do you know which ones? In Brazil, the main language is Portuguese. People in Suriname speak Dutch, and in Guyana, they speak English. During colonization, the colonizers imposed their languages on the native populations, and even after independence, these became the official languages.

But those are not the only languages spoken in South America. The territory of French Guiana, which belongs to France, speaks French. And even after colonization, many native languages are still spoken, like Guarani in Paraguay and several varieties of Quechua in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.

Other Native Language Groups of South America.
south american native languages

Music

Music of South America also has vivid diversity with native, European, and African influences. Just in Argentina, we find musical genres like chacarera, milonga, zamba, and cuarteto. But the best-known Argentinian musical genre is definitely tango. Some other famous music genres from South American include the samba from Brazil and the huayno of Peru and Bolivia. The cumbia, dance music originating in Colombia, is popular throughout the continent and there are special styles in different countries.

One curiosity about most South American styles of music is that they are also dances. Have you ever seen someone dance the tango? Some instruments used in South American music include flutes like the zampoña (like a panpipe) and the quena, and percussion instruments including the conga, atabaque, cajón, and pandeiro.

Zampona (Panpipe) from the Andes Region
panpipe andean flute

Folklore

South America is also full of stories and myths. In Ecuador, for example, we have the legend of Cantuña, an architect who made a deal with the devil in order to finish building a church. He tricked the devil through his faith in God and kept his soul. Many South American countries believe in a mythological creature called a duende, which could be compared to a goblin, elf, or fairy. In the Amazon, the people believe that a water monster, an enormous snake called the yacumama, lives in the river.

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