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Célébration de la riche diversité ethnique de l'Andalousie : Un aperçu culturel

In a sea of faces, Andalusians provide a fascinating diversity of looks and origins that bear living testimony to the region’s turbulent past as a much-invaded corner of Europe. Since the earliest times, conquerors, refugees, soldiers, mercenaries, merchants and adventurers have been adding to the rich and diverse mix of ingredients from which the Andalusians have been moulded.

The concept of racial purity, even if such a thing was ever desirable, has long since been discarded as unrealistic. As Europeans, we live on a continent which, in spite of a broader sense of cultural identity and concept of racial affinity, consists of a myriad of nations and regions, each with their own traditions and mythology about their origins.

Given this level of diversity within our own continent, and the fact we border two large landmasses, it is only logical to assume that all but the most isolated and remote communities could not withstand being swept into the great tidal waves of migration that have occurred since the earliest days.

Developing Diversity

To say that we are all of a ‘mixed’ background is not to detract from our national or regional identity, for it is not so much the purity of race as the precise mix of ingredients that determines our national character. Seen in this way, the people of Europe offer a fascinating living link to a distant past, yet nowhere is this as vivid as in the contact zones on the edges of the continent, where many centuries of interaction between different peoples has produced a veritable ethnic mosaic.

It takes just a stroll on the streets of Andalucía to realise that this is one of those fascinating contact zones, an area enriched by the heady mix of cultures, traditions and genes yet bound by a common sense of identity.

Sure, you would expect to see all manner of humanity in a popular tourist destination like the Costa del Sol, but the variety I am describing here refers to the local population itself. Foreigners may have their preconceptions about what Spaniards look like but, in reality, a crowded street could reveal the typical characteristics of Celts, Semites, Romans and Iberians, to name but a few. The status of Andalucía as a magnet to people from far and wide is not a new one, and it finds itself reflected in the faces of everyday Andalusians.

Breaking The Divide

If TV shows and computer games had existed in classical times, southern Spain’s population may indeed have inherited the straight-forward Mediterranean looks of their original ancestors. But that didn’t happen. A combination of greed, wanderlust and hunger has brought wave upon wave of ‘immigrants’ to Andalusian shores since the beginning of recorded time. The earliest of these, Celts from Central and Western Europe, had already assimilated with the Iberians to form the so-called Celtiberian tribes.

Bringing their culture, quarrelsome character and pale complexions to the Iberian Peninsula, they enriched the area with their artistic ability and metalworking skills, laying the foundations for a Celtic spirit that – to this day – resonates strongly in the northern regions of Portugal and Spain.

Iberia really arose due to the arrival of Phoenician and Carthaginian traders, who introduced the locals to their advanced culture. The impact of this interaction was so strong it would lead to the flowering of a highly sophisticated indigenous state known as Tartessus. These Semitic people, related to the Arabs who would later sweep over the region, were soon followed by fellow-Semite Hebrews, seeking refuge after the great Jewish Diaspora. Together with the Greeks, they provide an eastern Mediterranean strain that, for all its importance, was later to be overshadowed by the Roman contribution to the Iberian gene pool.

Rise of Romans

Keen settlers of lands across their empire, the resident Roman soldiers, administrators and merchants had largely merged with the locals to form the beginnings of the Spanish nation, providing it with its language by the 5th century AD. It was at this time when the largest displacement of people Europe had ever seen was about to begin.

Like a ripple effect in a pond, the uneasy stirrings of Mongol tribes far away across the Eurasian landmass had a domino effect that was to signal the end of the Roman Empire and change a continent for good. The Mongols displaced Turkic tribes westwards who, in turn, pushed Slavs into Germanic lands, causing a rising tension and level of disorder across the population. This later turned into a mass movement which broke the defences of the Roman Empire, sending hordes of warlike Germanic tribes spilling into Southern Europe. Once there, they established their dominance, building warrior kingdoms to compete with one another.

By the eve of the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, in 711 AD, the Visigoths, Suevi and Vandals had started to integrate with the local population, but another mass migration was about to disturb the balance once more. Like the Germanic warlords, the Arab rulers of Andalucía may not have been as numerous as their power would suggest, but it is clear that, together with Berbers from North Africa, they did make an impact not only on many elements of Andalusian culture but also on its ethnic composition.

Today’s Andalucia

When, after seven centuries of fighting, the Christians drove the Muslims from their last vestige in Granada, they attempted to secure the region by expelling Moors, Berbers and Jews from Spain. In what would today be called ethnic cleansing, they replaced the former conquerors with immigrants from northern Spain but overlooked the Gypsies who had moved into the country during the Middle Ages. In spite of the fact these dark-skinned nomads escaped expulsion, they would never quite assimilate, unlike those descendants of the Moors who converted to Christianity and melted into the mainstream.

If this long and often bloody journey has shaped the Spanish people, both physically and culturally, and somewhat offers an explanation as to how you can spot blond, swarthy, pale, aquiline-nosed and exotically dark Andalusians within a single glance, our own time seems set to usher in a whole new population-defining chapter.

The Ethnic Diversity of Andalucía by and copyright of Michel Cruz, for more information visit his web site at www.freelancewriter4u.com.

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