Thursday, December 31, 2009

Culture of Gibraltar

Culture Name


Alternative Names

Yanito (self-name), Llanito, Gibraltareño


Identification. The name "Gibraltar" derives from "Tariks Mountain," after Tariq-Ibn-Zayid, the Muslim conqueror who invaded the Iberian peninsula in 711. Although Gibraltar is a multiethnic and a multireligious society, its citizens identify themselves as having a common culture based on common history and territoriality, intermarriage, mutual tolerance, and their status as British colonial subjects.

Location and Geography. Gibraltar is a tiny territory of 4 square miles (6.5 square kilometers) at the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula. The territory consists mainly of rock.

Demography. Among the thirty thousand inhabitants, about twenty-five thousand have the status of British Gibraltarians, two thousand are other British citizens (mainly military), and two thousand are Moroccan workers. There are some Indian and Pakistani workers and about one hundred Russian citizens.

Linguistic Affiliation. The official language is English. Locally, Yanito, an Andalusian-based creole language with many English, Italian, Hebrew, and Maltese words, is spoken. Minority languages include Sindhi and Arabic.

Symbolism. Gibraltarians share a strong sense of unity that is expressed in several cultural symbols: traditional housing arrangements, a common school system, and the Yanito language. A fervent interest in beauty contests is an expression of national identity. Since the early 1990s, much energy has been invested in the creation of national symbolism (the anthem and flag). National Day is celebrated on 10 September to commemorate the pro-British referendum of 1967. The most powerful symbol is the Rock itself, which possesses symbolic meaning in British imperial iconography and is linked to the fortress mentality of Gibraltarians. Like the Rock, the apes of Gibraltar are symbols of British permanence and solidity.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Gibraltar is a colony, not a nation, yet there is a strong nationalist movement that fights for political self-determination as a part of the United Kingdom or a state within the European Union.

National Identity. Nationalist aspirations are the result of two circumstances: the fight for a non-English-based British identity and opposition toward neighboring Spain, whose territorial claim opposes Gibraltarian self-determination. National identity is not based on an ideology of purity but on positively valuing hybridity and multi-ethnicity.

Ethnic Relations. Gibraltarians include Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Hindu, and a few Muslim citizens. They were linked to the population of the Spanish hinterland through common customs and intensive intermarriage until 1969, when Spain closed the border for thirteen years. Today this kind of common borderland society is almost nonexistent. While the Sephardic Jews have always been an integrated part of Gibraltar, they tend to segregate themselves. By contrast, the Hindu community politically and culturally has integrated more fully. Moroccan workers are largely excluded from civil society.

Urbanism, Architecture and the Use of Space:

Space has always been a problem. Housing is limited by military requirements. Until the military cutback in the 1990s, only 20 percent of the territory was accessible to civilians. Gibraltar's edifices are influenced by British military architecture and by Genoese housing style (also known as "patios"). Until the 1980s, most Gibraltarians lived densely packed in patios. After the opening of the border in 1982, many wealthier citizens purchased houses in the Spanish hinterland. In the 1990s, enough land was reclaimed from the sea to build extensive housing estates.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Food is a British-Mediterranean mixture with strong roots in Spanish, Italian, English, and Jewish cuisine. There are no general food taboos within the different religious groups.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Calentita, a chickpea pie of Genoese origin, is the national dish.

Basic Economy. Until recently, the local economy depended on the military economy and smuggling (mainly of tobacco). In the 1980s and early 1990s, the economy underwent a heavy transformation and now is based on tourism, the harbor and shipping facilities, and the financial offshore sector. The principal exports are petroleum and manufactured goods. The major trading partners are the United Kingdom, Morocco, Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, the United States, and Germany. The national currency is the Gibraltar pound.

Land Tenure and Property. Land has been largely in the hands of the British government (92 percent of land and housing in the 1960s). Between 1985 and 1996, 296,663 acres (20.5 percent of the territory) were handed over to the local government. Many Gibraltarians buy property in Spain.

Commercial Activities. Gibraltar is a duty-free harbor. The major goods sold are tobacco, alcohol, perfume, dairy products, and electronics.

Major Industries. Gibraltar is home to the light-manufacturing of tobacco, roasted coffee, ice, mineral waters, candy, beer, and canned fish. Tourism, banking and finance (mostly off-shore), and construction form the larger areas of manufacture, with Gibraltar's main source of industry its support of large UK naval and air bases.

Division of Labor. After the border was closed in 1969, blue-collar jobs were filled by Moroccan migrant workers who replaced the Spanish workforce. Today many Spaniards work on the Rock as shop assistants or cleaning women. Gibraltarians work mainly in the service sector (trade, financial sector, tourism). About 50 percent of young Gibraltarians obtain their education in British universities.

Social Stratification:

Classes and Castes. The upper strata consist of a few families of Genoese origin. The upper middle class consists of Catholic, Jewish, and Hindu merchants and lawyers. The working class is made up of families of Spanish, Maltese, and Italian origin. The lower strata consists of Hindu shop assistants of Indian or Pakistani nationality and Moroccan workers. During the time of economical transformation (1980s–1990s), many unemployed and unskilled youth made a living smuggling.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Proper English pronunciation is a symbol of upward social mobility. Suits and ties are symbols of white-collar jobs. Among youngsters, smuggler-type iconography is highly valued.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. The economy traditionally was gendered, with women keeping the household and men working in dockyards and offices. However, this pattern changed after the closing of the border, when women and Moroccan workers substituted for Spanish workers. Today many women work in the service sector. Women are underrepresented, in political positions, although many women are influential in the informal management of parties. In the field of religion, only Hindu community life is dominated by female specialists.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Women are still expected to keep out of political life and participate only in social, cultural, and charity affairs. Citizenship is viricentric; the status of being a Gibraltarian can be transferred only through the male line.

Marriage, Family and Kinship:

Marriage. Marriages usually are not arranged. People marry young (around age 20) and often divorce young. Increasingly within the Jewish community and decreasingly within the Hindu community, there is a trend toward arranged marriages. Gays and lesbians tend to cover their identities and marry. Homosexuality was a legal offense until 1992.

Domestic Unit. Until land reclamation began in the 1990s, housing was a major problem. It was common for couples to share an apartment with their in-laws. The household unit was the extended family.

Kin Groups. As Gibraltar is a face-to-face community, frequent contact between members of larger kin groups is unavoidable, though it is not necessarily intense.


Religious Beliefs. The population consists of Catholics (77 percent), Church of England Protestants (7 percent), Muslims (7 percent), other Christians (3 percent), Jews (2.3 percent), and Hindus (2.1 percent).

Religious Practitioners. All the religious groups have seen a struggle for power and control between traditional and orthodox forces. The authority of the Catholic Church, led by a locally-born bishop, is strong. There are four synagogues and one rabbi. Although a Hindu temple was built in 1995, there are no locally based full-time Hindu specialists. The influence of an esoteric guru, Sri Swatchidananda, is especially strong, but there are also followers of the Radha Soami movement.

Rituals and Holy Places. The Rock itself is ascribed spiritual power by Gibraltarians of all religions. The typical Iberian Catholic celebrations (Easter Week, processions, and pilgrimages) are largely absent. Most holy sites for the Jewish community are located in nearby Morocco.

This is only a small introduction to the culture. To learn more please visit the website and read about; Political Life, Social Welfare and Change, Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) and Other Associations, Socialization, Medicine and Healthcare, Secular Celebrations, Arts and Humanities, State of the Physical and Social Sciences.


Anonymous. 2009. "Culture of Gibraltar". Every Culture. Available online:

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