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The culture of El Salvador is similar to other countries in Latin America, and more specifically to other countries in Central America. The European influences are emphasized in the architecture of the colonial churches, museums and theaters throughout most of El Salvador. In addition, contemporary life in its cities has become similar to that of the rest of Latin America.
In El Salvador, there are different costumes used mostly in religious or other festivals, although in some of the older towns, they are still worn regularly. In female clothing, it is common to see elements like a scapular, a shawl, and a cotton headscarf with different coloured adornments. These can be worn with a skirt and a blouse, or with a dress. The normal footwear is sandals. With male clothing, it is common to see a cotton suit or a cotton shirt, worn with modern jeans, sandals or boots, and a cowboy hat. However, these are rural fashions, and there can be many variations depending on the area.
A Cabalgador (Spanish: Cavalry, Horseman, Horserider) is a Salvadoran horse-mounted livestock herder (cowboy) of a tradition that originated on the Iberian Peninsula brought to Central America by Spanish settlers and has deep historic roots tracing back to Spain and the earliest European settlers of the Americas. Cabalgador is a Spanish word for a horseman rider and herder. It derives from Cabalgar and Cabalgadura meaning "rider". Early Cabalgadores in El Salvador were originally a mixture of part Spanish and American Indigenous, Mestizo, Indigenous and Pardo men who lived in the countryside and had a strong culture which has shaped El Salvador's over all distinctive rual culture, tradition, folklore, and music, having a strong rural countryside culture. The origins of the Cabagador tradition in El Salvador come from Spain, beginning with the hacienda system of medieval Spain. This style of cattle ranching spread throughout much of the Iberian peninsula and later, was imported to the Americas. During the 16th century, the Conquistadors and other Spanish settlers brought their cattle-raising traditions as well as both horses and domesticated cattle to the Americas. The traditions of Spain were transformed by the geographic, environmental and cultural circumstances. In turn, the land and people of the Americas also saw dramatic changes due to Spanish influence. In El Salvador's case, a massive, almost complete deforestation to make way for agriculture and animal herding, El Salvador lost virtually all of its primary rain forests. The Spanish haciendas which in El Salvador's case were owned by a military middle class and wealthy military cavalry Spaniards who spoke in voseo, a Spanish speech that originates from medieval Spain, this way of speech is used by all Salvadorans today, Salvadoran Spanish which has shaped and defined Salvadorian-ism dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Among common horse riders, there were also military and police Calvary troopers called (Guardias) National Guard (El Salvador) who were infamously feared due to their abuse and unlimited use of power over the population, patrolling the rural areas keeping order. The Cabalgadores would prove to be vital up until the mid 20th century, especially for the military and the campesinos who would be influenced by the revolution, most of the guerrillas in El Salvador's civil war, were poor citizens who ride horses in the rural mountains. Today being a Cabalgador is a symbol and idealized representative of machismo, virility and display either chauvinism but also retain vestiges of chivalry attitudes, but they also are seen as poor campesinos (peasants), and are seen as people without manners or lacking the sophistication of an urbanite, akin to a redneck. However, being a campesino is also used in a neutral or positive context or self-descriptively with pride because it describes a humble and hard worker person. Most male children in El Salvador as young as five are raised and began working in a cowboy atmosphere, working on ranches along with their fathers and older members of the family learning about agriculture and livestock, herding animals throughout much of El Salvador tending cattle, in an all male environment which have also retain the machismo culture in El Salvador. Most men in El Salvador, particularly in the towns in the rural countryside including mayors wear elements of cowboy clothing. Cabalgadores in El Salvador dress in cowboy hats and carry machetes also known as Corbos in El Salvador, and they listen to nueva cancion guitar type music.
Salvadoran food has much in common with that of other Central American countries, but there are a number of local specialties.
A typical Salvadoran meal usually contains the following ingredients:
In El Salvador, the official language is Central American Spanish. Less than one percent of the population speaks the Pipil language, in places such as Izalco and several other towns. However there is no obligation academically or socially today to learn it, and the language is more commonly spoken by the elderly. Amongst the pre-Columbihi languages that still exist common to places such as Izalco and Cacaopera is Nawat Pipil. English is taught as a second language, and is commonly spoken by business people, as the country is developing through globalization.
Central American Spanish is spoken by the majority of the country's population. The language and pronunciation varies depending on region.
The main sport played by Salvadorans is football (soccer). The Estadio Cuscatlán in the capital San Salvador is the largest stadium in Central America, with a capacity of just over 45,000. The stadium is the home ground of the El Salvador national football team, as well as club teams Alianza FC and San Salvador F.C..
The main football clubs in El Salvador play in the Primera División, which is made up of the top ten clubs. Below the Primera División exists a second level or Segunda División, made up of 24 teams split into two groups of twelve. There is promotion and relegation between the two divisions at the end of each season.
The Catholic Church has been the most prominent religious institution in El Salvador since colonial times, with nearly 75% of the population identifying as Roman Catholic. However, reformed churches like Anglican, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, have experienced significant growth since the 1970s. Today, nearly 20% of the population belongs to one of these churches. Small communities of Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists also exist in some parts of the country. Today, over 40% of the country is Evangelical Christian.
The music of El Salvador has a mixture of Pipil and Spanish influences. This music includes religious songs (mostly used to celebrate Christmas and other holidays, especially feast days of the saints). Satirical and rural lyrical themes are common. Cuban, Colombian, and Mexican music has infiltrated the country, especially salsa and cumbia. Popular music in El Salvador uses marimba, tehpe'ch, flutes, drums, scrapers and gourds, as well as more recently imported guitars and other instruments. El Salvador's well known folk dance is known as Xuc which originated in Cojutepeque, Cuscatlan. Other musical repertoire consists of danza, pasillo, marcha and canciones.