Tag Archives: general

A Folk History of the Paisa People, the Colombian Mountain Dwellers

The Paisa people are a genetically distinct group of people from the northern mountains of Colombia, a region known as Antioquia. I asked my grandmother if she had any folk stories about the Paisa people and she provided me with a folk history of developments around the region of Medellin.

My grandmother experienced the transition from country living first hand. She grew up in a household of fifteen on a big estate in the mountains, and has witnessed the the transition from rural to urban, commenting on these sweeping developments and the tragic influence of dirty money. Although general in nature, her folk history provides a perceptive voice for many older Paisa peoples.

Below is a verbatim transcription in Spanish, followed by a full translation in english.

“Colombia es un país muy grand, y tiene muchos distritos. Las personas por todo el país son muy diferentes. Juana me llevo a Barranquilla cuando era una niña chiquita y me descresto mucho. El antioqueño trabaja mucho. En contrasto el costeño quiere la calidad de vida más que todo. Vive con la música. En la costa la música es muy alegre. En Antioquia es mucho más sombre la música. La música de cada región demonstra mucho a las personas.

Nosotros somos antioqueños. Para el antiqueño el humor es muy importante. Con la vida tan difícil para nosotras familias del monte, siempre es muy importante tener humor durante los largos días. Antioquia es la región más montenosa de Colombia, nosotros vivimos en las montañas Andes. Las bestias como los caballos nos ayudaron en fundar nuestras ciudades, en explorar las montañas y mover nuestras posesiones. También después el tren cambió mucho, nos ayudo mucho en establecer las ciudades como Medellín. Cuando ya tuvimos los caros y aviones verdaderamente se estábliso la vida moderna. Hoy en día el antioqueño es muy industrioso. Antes éramos todos campesinos. Nuestros abuelos en esta región tuvieron quince, veinte niños. La vida en el campo era difícil, trabajando afuera todo el día, sin casi plata o mucho para comer. Era una vida muy honorable, como nosotros antes vivíamos. Pero siempre, con taña pobreza, avía un enfoco en la plata, en coger la plata. Todo cambio muy rápido en Antioquia. Nos fuimos de las fincas asta los colegios y las universidades bien rápido. Y la plata vino bien rápido con la industria también. Nunca tuvimos plata como eso.

Yo creo que por eso era tan fácil que creció el narcotráfico, que gente como Pablo Escobar cogieran control. La gente querían plata, las cacas y el caro más lindo, y lo quieran lo más rápido que posible, gastar la más plata que posible. El antioqueño ama su plata, es muy industrioso. Pero el antioqueño viejo era muy distinto. Ahorraba todo. Antes era proteger y cuidar los caballos, estar en el monte. Trabajaba con el sudor de la frente, como se dice. El pensamiento se a cambiado totalmente. Todo se esta cambiando, están las cosas mucho mejor, pero todavía existen las cosas que cambian el carácter bueno del paisa, el antioqueño.


“Colombia is a very big country, and it has many diverse districts. The people in every district of the country are very different from each other.

Juana (her grandmother) took me to Barranquilla (a coastal city) when I was a little girl and I was very amazed by how different they were from us. We antioqueños work a lot. In contrast, the coastal people are most concerned with their quality of life. They live and breathe music. In the coast, the music is much more upbeat, whereas music from Antioquia can be very somber. The music from every region demonstrates each of the peoples very well.

So yes, we are antioqueños. To the antioqueño, constant humor is very important. With such a difficult life in the mountains, it was always very important to have a sense of humor throughout the long days. Antioquia is the most mountainous region in Colombia. We live in the Andes Mountains. The work early on was done with the help of our horses and mules, they helped us to found our cities out here in the desolate mountains. They helped us trek upwards and move our supplies and possessions. Then, later on, the development of trains was incredibly impactful; they helped us to really establish cities such as Medellin as we know them. When finally we had cars and airplanes, things really picked up at an incredible speed and modern life as we know it established itself.

Nowadays the paisa is incredibly industrious. Before, all of us lived out in the country, on our ranches. Our parents, that generation, they all had 15 to twenty children, all of them. Life in the mountains like that was incredibly difficult, working outside all day, without much money or very much to eat. It was an honorable, family oriented life, how we used to live. But of course, with such poverty, there was always an underlying thirst for wealth for us, we wanted to have our own industry, our own factories, not to import. Everything changed incredibly fast in Antioquia. We went from the ranches to the factories, the schools and universities very quickly. And the money too, it came very quickly with the industriousness. We never had been used to having money like that.

I think that’s why it was so easy for narcotrafficing to grow quickly in our region, why people like Pablo Escobar came into control. People wanted money, the houses, the cars, the nicest ones and they wanted it all as fast as possible, to spend as much as possible. The antioqueño loves his money, he’s very industrious. But the old Paisa was very different. He saved everything. Before it was take care of the horses, protect them, trot in the mountains. He worked by the sweat of his brow, as they say. The way of thinking has changed completely. Everything is changing, and things are getting much better, but even still there exist those things that affect the good character of the antioqueño, the paisa.

Analysis: I love to hear my grandmother’s thoughts on the paisa people and our development. It’s very interesting that the peoples of Colombia are actually such different groupings. In fact, we even look different around the country even though we all consider ourselves Colombian. My grandmother grew up on a massive ranch with thirteen siblings in total. She has seen the changes first hand. She seems to have a belief in the cunning and intelligence of the paisa but perceives a negative bent in our current culture. Every time I talk to her she is very hopeful for the future of Colombia now that a peace deal is in process.


This superstition my mother used to tell me about dishrags. She believed that whenever you dropped a dishrag, that meant that someone would come knock on your door soon. This could happen any time of the day, any time of the year, just in general someone would be there soon.

I’m not sure if this is a good or bad superstition but it seems pretty general and forward. I do not know if this ever comes true or if it means something else. If it were to mean something else I believe that it would mean that right when you are doing a lot and moving a lot and are really busy, someone will come and visit you right then. I picture a housewife moving swiftly in the kitchen and dropping her dishrag while busily cooking and being flustered when the doorbell rings right as she picks it up. So it could be a metaphor for when you’re busy something else will come along too.

Folk Belief

My stepdaughter’s ex-husband married a Native American woman and they had a baby together. Since most Native Americans have extremely straight hair, she did not want her daughter to have this hair so she found an old folk way of making it wavier for when she grew up. Right after the baby was born,  she went out to the pastures to where the cows lived and took back some manure. She took the manure and rubbed it on her baby’s head because this was supposed to ensure that when her hair grew in, it would be wavy or curly and not straight like traditional Native American hair.

How the hair grew in I don’t know, but this belief was passed down through Native Americans to use on their children to avoid the extremely straight hair of their people.


Riverside, CA legend

There is a legend throughout Riverside, CA that on the historic Mt. Roubidoux near downtown, there is a bridge on the ‘dark side’ of the mountain (side facing Rubidoux city) and that if you walk over by it at night you will get attacked by a lizard like monster that walks the side of the mountain late at night. There are also rumors of dark spirits that roam the side of the mountain late at night as well.

I have personally been up the mountain at night and have not seen anything but Sara swears that it must be there even though she’s been there at night too. We have a trip planned there to specifically search for these ‘monsters’ but it is doubtful that we will find anything. I believe that these rumors and legends are there to keep people off of the mountain at night. Most likely people my age and younger that want to cause trouble, if there is a story that they will get attacked by a monster that lives under a bridge it will probably engrain in them that they need to stay away at night when the mountain is closed.

Folk Medicine

When I was little and I had an earache, my mom would take a cotton ball and dip it in warm olive oil that she had heated up to soothe the pain and make it feel better. It was also supposed to make the earache go away too. I know a lot of other kids had their parents do this too but I know my mom had gotten it from my grandma.

I’ve never had an earache so my mother never did this to me but after further research, I’ve learned that it is bad to put olive oil in anyones ear so I don’t know that this would be folklore I would pass on. I do know that this was a common way of soothing the pain.


My father told me that his mother used to tell him about an old hispanic superstition and ritual that when you are at a baby shower a woman must thread a needle then have the pregnant woman lie on her back on the floor and someone must hold the thread above the woman’s stomach. The thread is said to move as soon as it is hovering over the belly, and whichever way it swings decided the sex of the baby. If the thread swings to the left then the woman is supposed to be having a boy and if the thread swings to the right then the woman is supposed to have a girl.

I believe that this is just another game played at baby showers that is supposed to guess the sex of a baby for fun.


An old superstition.

My mother used to tell me that if my hand ever began to itch it meant that I would be coming into some money soon. I still haven’t won the lottery yet so I don’t know how well it works.

I had never heard this superstition before my mother told me that my grandmother used to believe in it. After some research, it seems that people believe if your left palm is itching then you will be coming into money unless you are left handed then you will be losing money soon. Some also believe that if your right hand itches then you will be getting money and if your left hand itches then you will be losing money. I think it all depends on the personal beliefs which in this case my grandmother just believed if either palm itched then money would be coming in. This probably stemmed as a sign of hope or belief during such times as the depression when nobody had money if they thought it was coming maybe they subconsciously worked harder or something.


An old superstition.

My mother always warned me that if I ever spilt salt on the table I had to pick some up with my right hand and throw it over my left shoulder or else I would be getting in a fight with someone soon.

Although this is a common superstition and I always make sure to throw the salt over a crossed shoulder, I always thought it was because it was bad luck not to. Nobody had ever really explained to me why people in my family did it other than that is what we were supposed to do. After speaking with my grandma about learning it from my great grandma, it makes much more sense why people believe in it so wholeheartedly. Also, after learning why some people did it, I thought that this was an interesting twist on people’s reasoning for acting on this specific superstition.

Folk Cooking

How you are supposed to cook a ham.

When a customer was coming over, Cindy bought a ham, cut it in half then put it in the oven. She likes to cook for a hobby so I’m sure she believes this gives it a better flavor or something. One day I asked her why she did that before she cooked it and she said “well, you do, why do you do it?” I told her it was how my mom did it, and even my grandmother. After I had asked her I remembered that I had asked my mother the same thing, she told me it was because when she was little, her mother had to cut the ham in half to cook it because it wouldn’t fit in the small oven any other way.

I had never heard this before until one day in folklore class, many people mentioned knowing that people in their family did this too. When I spoke to my grandmother and she was regailing me with stories, she mentioned this. I laughed because I now recognized it, but I also thought I should add this to my folklore collection because everybody else talking about it used a roast and my grandma specifically said they did this when they cooked hams; a little variation.

Folk Medicine

An old way of getting rid of a cough, cold, or congestion is something my mother used to do for me when I was little. You make a mustard plaster from dry mustard, water and flour. You are supposed to rub it on your chest and it makes you sweat so you can get better faster.

I had also never heard of this before my grandmother telling me about it but after looking it up online I found that it is a commonly known folk medicine belief. There are many websites that explain what happens and how this remedy works.