THIS CHAPTER AIMS to acquaint the reader with the key historical, economic, and social factors that have shaped Venezuela's cultural development up to the end of the twentieth century. A list of major historical events is given in the chronology, so Chapter 1 concentrates on developments, circumstances, and phenomena that have had an indelible and lasting impact, and have helped to make the country's cultural life distinctive. By reviewing the impact of oil, regional cultural differences, and state policy on education and culture, this chapter will provide a broad framework within which to place the various art forms and cultural expressions discussed in the rest of the book.
Having carried out two expeditions for Spain that explored the Caribbean and the outlying islands of the American continent, Christopher Columbus led a third voyage, in 1498, that took him to the delta of the Orinoco River and along the Venezuelan coast. Venezuela thus became the first part of the New World mainland that the Spanish encountered and explored. The following year, Spanish merchants financed another expedition, this time under the command of Alonso de Ojeda, that further explored the coastline. [A member of that voyage supposedly gave the land its name. Amerigo Vespucci is said to have referred to it as Venezuela, meaning Little Venice, as an ironic comparison with the European city when he saw the wooden huts on stilts that the Indians constructed in shallow waters near Lake Maracaibo.]
The country's mestizo culture has its roots in the earliest days of the long