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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.