The Republic of Colombia (Spanish: República de Colombia) has an ethnically diverse population, contributing to a diverse cultural heritage. Indigenous peoples include the Muisca, Quimbaya, and Tairona. Spanish conquest and colonization began in 1499; independence from Spain was won in 1819, and the Republic of Colombia was declared in 1886. Bogotá is the nation’s capital (see Latin America).
According to archaeological sources, there is trace evidence to support the existence of puppets in Colombia as early as the 6th century BCE. Only ruins remain of ancient villages in the upper valley of the Magdalena River, known as agustinianos. These sites have produced evidence of masks and animated objects that played a specific role in the religious rites of the ancient people. Centuries later, the Quimbaya people created golden articulated figures representing fantastic beings.
In the early 19th century, Bogotá possessed a rich and intense theatrical culture and it is likely that Spanish puppeteers, who later settled in Peru and Chile, performed there. Also notable are the many carnivals of the period – such as the Carnaval de Negros y Blancos (Blacks and Whites’ Carnival, the largest and most important celebration in southern Colombia) of the city of Pasto, and the Carnaval de Barranquilla (Barranquilla’s Carnival, Colombia’s most important folklore celebration) – with their masks, costumes, and giant parade puppets and figures (big heads).
It was in 1887 that the first Colombian puppet theatre was born as part of a local nursery school on Calle de Florían in Bogotá: named the pesebre (“crèche”, “manger”) Espina after its founder Antonio Espina. After its closing, we lose track of the history of puppets in Colombia until 1914. That year in Manizales, the puppet character Manuelucho Sepúlveda, boozer, brilliant, cunning and shrewd, and becoming the first traditional Colombian puppet of the 20th century, was created by Sergio Londoño Orozco.
Puppetry in Colombia has been built upon by popular artists, among them Efrain Giraldo, also known as “El Zuro”. Born in Manizales, for a time a bullfighter (torero), he travelled throughout western Colombia as a minstrel with his puppet theatre on his back. At this time, another well-known puppeteer by the name of Hugo Álvarez appeared with his troupe, Tío Conejo (Uncle Rabbit). His works were based on the adventures of this popular traditional folk character. In 1936, the Teatro de Marionetas del Parque Nacional was founded under the direction of the master Antonio Angulo Gutiérrez up until 1951. This was the site of the first puppetry school in Colombia that trained the first professional Bogotá puppeteers, which includes Angel Alberto Moreno and his wife Sofía, José A. Muñoz, Ernesto Aronna, among others. The projects of this school were carried out for eighteen years by José Antonio Muñoz, better known by the nickname “Muñocito”, and by its permanent team of artists. Subsequently, Gabriela Samper, Germán Moure, and Hernando Kosher and others took over the show.
The 1960s witnessed the politicization of puppetry. Juan Pueblo’s activist-protest puppetry at Medellín had a significant impact among workers in textile and steel industries. During that time Julia Rodríguez contributed greatly to the renewal of puppetry technique and dramaturgy. With the painter Hernando Tejada, called “Tejadita”, Rodríguez created the Compañía de Títeres Cocoliche (so named to pay homage to the Federico García Lorca character Don Cristóbal of El retablillo de Don Cristóbal The Puppet Play of Don Cristóbal), established in 1963 in Cali. Príncipe Espinoza founded the company Los Búcaros (The Pitchers) in Bucaramanga, and later, the group Mirringa. In 1966, the first puppet festival was held in the country.
The Theatre Scene from the 1970s
The 1970s were marked by diversification of the Colombian theatre scene. Student in Colombia around 1966, the Ecuadorian Fernando Moncayo formed the group La Polilla (The Moth) in 1973 with Colombian Claudia Monsalve. Both eventually created another group, La Rana Sabia (The Learned Frog) and settled in Quito, Ecuador. The playwriting of Argentine puppeteer, Javier Villafañe, had a significant influence on the poetics of puppetry. The puppeteers Ernesto Aronna and Jaime Manzur can be regarded as the successors of Antonio Angulo Gutiérrez and “Muñocito”. The first is known for his adaptations of multi-cultural folk tales. He produced (with pre-recorded soundtracks) such works as Las Mil y Una Noches (The Thousand and One Nights), various Brothers Grimm fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen tales, Charles Perrault tales, along with those of South American greats Lope de Vega, Jacinto Benavente (1866-1945) and, of course, García Lorca. He also performed operas and zarzuelas.
Jaime Manzur performed his puppets in eleven operas presented during the 1970 concert season organized by the poet Jorge Rojas. Nine years later, Manzur won a scholarship to study puppetry in Europe for two years. Upon his return, with the support of a private company, he started a puppetry foundation under his name, Fundación Jaime Manzur. The foundation’s theatre boasts 750 puppets and some 4,000 costumes from all different eras, and a museum of costume history in miniature.
La Libélula Dorada (The Golden Dragonfly), established in 1976 in Bogotá by César and Iván Álvarez, quickly became one of the leading puppet theatre groups in Colombia. That same year the company, Paciencia de Guayaga, was founded by Fabio Correa. In Medellín, the group La Fanfarria (Fanfare) was established in 1972. Hilos Mágicos (Magical Strings) was founded in 1974 by actor and playwright Ciro Gómez. The Teatro Matacandelas, established in 1979, mounted a dozen plays for puppets, inspired by Alfred Jarry and the Dada movement. Also created in 1979 and still going strong are La Tarumba and Barquito de Papel, companies from the city of Cali that were founded by an initiative of local successful actors from the theatre school, Teatro Escuela de Cali. Actress Ana Ruth Velazco has, since 1987, coordinated the puppet group Titirindeba of the Instituto Departamental de Bellas Artes (Institute of Fine Arts). ATICA, an association of professional companies, came about during the 1980s, and in 2002, UNIMA-Colombia was founded to promote and strengthen the art of puppetry as a whole.