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HISTORY- AND COMMUNITY-THINKING IN NAHULINGO, EL SALVADOR
MATTHEW CLAY WATSON
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Matthew Clay Watson
This work was made possible through an Interdisciplinary Field Research Grant
provided by the University of Florida Center for Latin American Studies. Dr. Michael
Heckenberger, the chair of my graduate committee, and Drs. Allan Burns and Susan
Gillespie have been invaluable resources for research design and writing. Gustavo
Amaya, Douglas Murcia, and Dr. Alba Amaya Burns, employees and affiliates of the
Salvadoran NGO Centro de Capitaci6n y Promoci6n de la Democracia, provided crucial
resources and aid during my time in El Salvador. Additionally, Erich Fisher generously
offered his time to produce the included map. I am grateful for the support and
constructive comments of my family: Jamie, Dwight, and Evan Watson. Finally, I wish
to thank the residents of Nahulingo who generously shared their homes and knowledge,
especially Enrique Huezo Martir, Don Benito de Jesus Martinez, and Francis Martinez.
Needless to say, any errors or deficiencies included herein are my own.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ......... .................................................................................... iii
LIST OF FIGURES ................................. ...... ... ................. .v
ABSTRACT .............. ......................................... vi
1 IN TR OD U CTION ............................................... .. ......................... ..
C om m unity and H history ............................................................... ....................... 3
N a h u lin g o .............................................................................1 3
2 THEORY AND M ETHODS ......................................................... .............. 17
T h e o ry ............................................................................................................. 1 7
M e th o d s ..............................................................................2 9
3 PLACE AND PERFORM ANCE ........................................ ......................... 32
T h e D isc o M 6 v il ................................................................. ................................3 4
T h e P arad e ................................................................3 9
4 N ARRA TIVE AN D M EM ORY ...................................................................... .....53
N arrating Santiago and Exclusion ........................................ ............................... 53
Indigeneity and Toponym y............................................................ ............... 58
5 RHETORIC AND MATERIALITY ........................................ ...................... 70
The C eiba and M etonym y ................................................ .............................. 70
Progressivism and N ationalism ............................................................................ 72
6 DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS .......................... .................................... 83
L IST O F R E F E R E N C E S ........................................................................ .....................89
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E TCH ..................................................................... ..................99
LIST OF FIGURES
1 Departmental map of El Salvador representing the location of Nahulingo ............14
2 A food stand on the corner of Segunda Calle Poniente and Primera Avenida
Norte, Nahulingo, El Salvador. Don Fernando de Jesus Garcia, leaning against
the electric pole, gazes into the park. In the background, employees of the
municipal mayor's office and the Casa de la Cultura prepare for the inauguration
of a local m museum ........................................... ............... .... ....... 33
3 The disco m6vil. The photo is taken from the outside looking in. While it
permits their gaze to enter and does not constrain the voluminous music, the
fence in the foreground offers a barrier to those who cannot afford the three
dollar entry, creating a crowd of spectators. ................................. .................36
4 Ernesto Diaz escorts the Casa de la Cultura queen from the crowning ceremony
in the community center to the disco m6vil......... .................... ...............38
5 A group of masked Nahulingo youth mobilize conceptions of Salvadoran and
U.S. soldiers, reforming an oxcart into a military vehicle, during the 2004
N ahulingo patron saint festival. ........................................ .......................... 41
6 Street actors in the patron saint parade included a representation of a captured
Osama Bin Laden, under heavy surveillance. ................... ........................ 46
7 A historic wooden devil mask, associated with public theatre. The artifact is
displayed in the Nahulingo Archaeological and Ethnographic Museum ................49
8 The procession. Members of the Nahulingo Catholic Church carry religious
icons depicting Santiago, Mary, and Jesus toward the church.............................51
10 The Nahulingo ceiba. The photograph is taken from the central plaza. The
structures between the park and the plaza are temporary businesses in town for
the patron saint festival. .......................... .................. ... ...... .. .......... .....71
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
HISTORY- AND COMMUNITY-THINKING IN NAHULINGO, EL SALVADOR
Matthew Clay Watson
Chair: Michael Heckenberger
Major Department: Anthropology
This work examines public performances, narratives and memory, and a museum
presentation of materiality as aspects of historical discourses in Nahulingo, El Salvador.
Placing El Salvador and Nahulingo within a historical frame, I offer a limited reading of
community ontologies, and conceptions of history and identity. I present these three
social domains as places in which social actors transform history. I focus on specific
aspects of local materiality and landscape, such as the Catholic saint Santiago Caballero,
the local ceiba tree, and archaeological artifacts, which embody historical conceptions.
Understanding the community as a site of negotiation, I suggest that such historical
conceptions differ among individuals and social factions within Nahulingo.
Simultaneously, I show how community members imagine and represent historical and
contemporary others, defining their community in the process. The work provides a
foundation for future research and production of knowledge in and about Nahulingo.
Two thousand four brought the hundredth year of Nahulingo, El Salvador's
existence as an officially recognized town. At the turn of the first state-sponsored
century, the lowland western Salvadoran community obtained the title of villa, replacing
pueblo. This transition reflects a sense of development; as the population grows the
complexity of local government and social organization increases. The Salvadoran
government indexes local growth and change within a progressivist taxonomic order.
The taxonomy provides a framework for understanding historical change and envisioning
Such a relation between history and development surfaces in an editorial printed in
the bulletin of the annual patron saint festival: the municipal mayor recalls the historical
connection between Nahulingo and its sister city, Tacuzcalco. Pondering the nineteenth
century disappearance of the neighboring community, the mayor applauds the use of the
place-name "Tacuzcalco" for the local soccer stadium. Through attachment of the sign
"Tacuzcalco," the stadium, located on the periphery of the Nahulingo "urban center" (not
far from the river Ceniza, which once divided the two communities), becomes a material
and spatial symbol of local history. Unlike Nahulingo, Tacuzcalco no longer exists, but
its collective remembrance foments a sense of history and development.
By drawing attention to the use of a local place-name to designate a contemporary
and future stadium, the mayor discursively defines Nahulingo (as a collective
community) against an imagined historical other. For the mayor, at least, the stadium
constitutes a source of local pride which will indefinitely march into the progressive
future. The sign "Tacuzcalco," thus, invokes multiple references: the neighboring town
of the past and the stadium of the present. Such expressive connections between events
and structures, towns and stadiums, or history and development texture narratives of local
history in Nahulingo, and provide a foundation for the questions that I begin to ask in this
work. How do social memories or imaginings articulate the relation between the past and
the present? How do multiple histories intersect or conflict? How are they negotiated?
Most centrally, how are distinct pasts created in the relatively independent domains of
public performance, oral narratives, and a local museum?
The celebration of Nahulingo's "hundredth year" also implicated a certain
discourse of exclusion. By celebrating the "official" or legal existence of the community
within the domain of Salvadoran political organization, the community was partially and
momentarily denied deeper, indigenous histories. During my ethnographic fieldwork in
the town, a variety of flustered community members even rejected the claim that
Nahulingo was one-hundred years old. Those who celebrated the local transition, of
course, also recognized that Nahulingo residents can and do claim a more profound local
history. These multiple, and sometimes contradictory histories, resemble what Mexican
historian Guillermo Bonfil Batalla (1987) has described as "Mexicoprofundo," an
enduring attachment to land as indigenous heritage and resource, and "Mexico
imaginario," a form of modernity imposed by the state.
In broad scope, I have begun to assess the production of meanings and histories in
Nahulingo. In this text, I focus on issues of historical representation, as articulated
through a range of media: festivals, oral narratives, and the local Nahulingo
Archaeological Ethnographic Museum. My fieldwork became an assessment of how
different community members frame the past in these three contexts, producing different
types of histories. Subsequently the different histories and identities articulated through
performance and social relations demonstrate the salience of certain social factions. I did
not begin my research with the assumption that the "community," Nahulingo, represents
an independent and meaningful unit or scale of analysis. The surfacing of multiple
histories and social factions demonstrates how ethnographically conceiving Nahulingo in
purely local scope, as an isolated community, has limited utility.
Community and History
The Mesoamerican ethnographic unit of analysis and cultural distinctiveness
transformed during the course of the twentieth century (Watanabe 1992, Watanabe and
Fischer 2004a). In his work describing the Guatemala highlands, early Mesoamerican
ethnologist Sol Tax (1937, 1941) utilized the Maya municipio, an area with a town center
and outlying hamlets. Tax elaborated how local municipios varied within larger regional
patterns. In a Marxist turn that followed the work of Tax and Robert Redfield, Eric Wolf
(1957) classically renamed the communities described by Tax as "closed, corporate,
peasant communities." This shift marked a reconceptualization of the community from a
precolonial survival of Maya social organization to an effect of colonialism and capitalist
forms of labor and inequality. As John Watanabe (1992:5-11) has aptly discussed, both
Tax and Wolf relied on an essentialist notion of Mayanness. Building on Tax's emphasis
of Maya communities as existential sovereignties, Watanabe (1990:132) offers a more
nuanced conception of community:
Far from denoting some insular, homogeneous whole, however, I see community as
a problematic social nexus within which people constantly negotiate the immediate
existential concerns and possibilities of their lives, conditioned by the wider
economic, political, and natural ecology of which they are a part.
Defining the community in these terms as a site of negotiation rejects essentialist
frameworks and emphasizes social transformations and identity politics. Such a
definition remains lucidly aware of both the local conditions detailed by Tax and
Redfield and the global economic articulations emphasized by Wolf.
Conceiving the particular existential concerns and sites of negotiation that I begin
to outline in this work necessitates an understanding of basic local history. My
preliminary project serves as an extension of the recent concern with examining how
local contexts and particular national histories alter communities' articulations into
translocal and transnational structures, a topic elaborated in Watanabe and Fischer's
(2004b) edited volume Pluralizing Ethnography. This volume brings together the work
of Mayanists who have conducted ethnography in highland Guatamala, Chiapas, and
Yucatan. Watanabe, in particular, emphasizes the utility of examining cultural
differentiation across adjacent states (Watanabe 2004, Watanabe and Fischer 2004a:4).
Given such concern with translocal meanings, markets, and difference, I hold that
conducting ethnographic work in El Salvador represents a critical next step. From the
precolonial to the postcolonial periods, communities in western El Salvador, in particular,
have maintained active social and economic networks that extend deep into Guatemala
1Building on Hanna Arendt's (1958) work, Nancy Fraser (1994:97) has differentiated the community, "a
bounded and fairly homogenous group," from the public, an open-ended arena characterized by
perspectival diversity and plurality (see Azoulay  for an elaboration and use of this distinction).
Fraser's concept of community mirrors early Mesoamerican essentialist models, while her notion of the
public resonates strongly with Watanabe's (1990, 1992) "community." Watanabe and Fraser's respective
concepts of "community" and "public" can be employed to extend Habermas' (1989) notion of the "public
sphere," the informal negotiation of political identity (and, often, creation of collective opposition to the
state) in public places.
and beyond. Like Guatemala, El Salvador has emerged out of a recent civil war and
translocal indigenism has been incorporated into state policies and local realities.
Compared to the Maya centers of Mexico and Guatemala, ethnographers have
generally avoided El Salvador. This fact, no doubt, corresponds to the violent
suppression of indigenous voices through the twentieth century. Historian Aldo Lauria-
Santiago and anthropologist Leigh Binford have recently noted this comparative neglect
of El Salvador, emphasizing the imperativeness of ethnographic and historical research
(Lauria-Santiago and Binford 2004a:2, 2004b:13). They discuss the absence of a visible
indigenous population and the lack of a university degree program in anthropology
through the 1990s as two possible causes of such neglect. Their edited volume
Landscapes ofSlri,,,.cl begins to correct this neglect and provide an academic context for
linking Salvadoran history and ethnography with similar discussions of other nation-
states (Lauria-Santiago and Binford 2004c). Like Watanabe and Fischer (2004b), Lauria-
Santiago and Binford (2004c) recognize the necessity of uniting historical and
ethnographic perspectives, and moving beyond essentialist theoretical frameworks. With
this in mind, my discussion of twentieth and twenty-first century events requires that I
dig deeper into the annals of history, and hint at the conditions of possibility for
contemporary local historical conception.
A Nahua or Pipil place name, "Nahulingo" carries significant associations with the
Pipil-Nicarao migrations from central Mexico, which hypothetically took place sometime
around A.D. 900. Archaeologist William Fowler (1989) has conducted the most
extensive recent work pertaining to the settlement and development of the Pipil during
the Classic and Postclassic periods. Archaeological data pertaining to the Pipil are
notably scarce. Fowler's historical inferences are based primarily on combinations of
oral history, historical linguistics, and colonial documentation. For example, he quotes,
at length, an early seventeenth century colonial document produced by Torquemada,
which summarizes oral historical narratives collected in Nicaragua. This summary
discusses a conflict between the Olmec and the Nahua, leading to the subjugation of the
latter and their dispersal to the south, settling at places including Izalco2, a larger town
neighboring Nahulingo (Torquemada 1969:331-333, as quoted in Fowler 1989:34-35).
This colonial narrative account, which lacks a date of production, appears to be the most
reliable and highly discussed evidence for migration. Fowler significantly modifies such
discussion by positing the possibility of multiple migrations. He proposes the following
sequence: a Late Classic migration between A.D. 650 and 850, based on
glottochronological evidence; an Early Postclassic migration between A.D. 900 and
1100, based on glottochronological evidence corroborated by archaeological analyses of
iconography, including ceramics found at Tacuzcalco; and a Late Postclassic migration
based on glottochronological evidence and similarly corroborated by western Salvadoran
Postclassic materials (Fowler 1989:39-49).
A prominently ignored historical period and area, knowledge of late precolonial
western El Salvador has been constructed through analyses of contact-period and colonial
documents. Based on a series of letters sent from the Spanish conquistador Pedro de
Alvarado to Hernando Cortes, Fowler (1995:19) asserts that the communities of
precolonial western El Salvador, known as the Izalco Pipils, comprised one of the most
powerful regions of southeastern Mesoamerica. This claim has its basis primarily in the
2 The original document cites this place name as "Ecalcos." Fowler adds the bracketed correction "Izalco."
unprecedented strength of indigenous military resistance that Alvarado claimed to have
faced first at the coastal city of Acajutla and second at Tacuzcalco. After nominal
military victories at these two locales, Pipil troops abandoned their strategy of direct
combat in defense of communities in favor of fleeing to the hills and engaging guerilla
tactics. At the central Salvadoran Pipil community of Cuscatlan, these guerilla tactics led
to Alvarado's ultimate retreat (Fowler 1989).
The sheer size and economic significance of the Izalco Pipil communities,
especially Izalco, Caluco, Tacuzcalco, and Nahulingo, is evidenced by early colonial
tribute records. Such records suggest that these four communities constituted the
economic center of a productive system that distributed cacao throughout Mesoamerica
(Bergmann 1969; Fowler 1989, 1995). Cacao was used in the precolonial era both as an
unsweetened drink and as a monetary currency among the Pipil. Initially, the Spanish
intervened little with the productive aspect of the Izalco Pipil economy, solely
appropriating the agricultural output. Cacao became one of the core commodities of the
nascent capitalist world market and the most profitable Guatemalan export.3 Due to the
demands of the colonial economy, the economic significance of cacao production in the
Izalcos began to erode during the late sixteenth century. By the turn of the seventeenth
century indigo prominently replaced cacao, and remained the staple of the Salvadoran
economy into the nineteenth century (Fowler 1989, Kincaid 1987). This transition from
the production of cacao to indigo resulted in the destruction of indigenous communities
and forms of social organization. While the early colonial Spaniards permitted the
cultivation of cacao to remain in the hands of indigenous communities, the production of
3 During the colonial epoch, the audiencia of Guatemala held political power over the territory of
contemporary El Salvador.
indigo entailed the coercive appropriation of land and imposition of creole-owned estates,
The nineteenth century brought a wave of political changes to Mesoamerica.
From 1810 to 1825 a series of independence movements emerged, forming sovereign
nation-states based on the federalist and centralist models of France and the United
States. At the hands of creole elites who desired political autonomy, New Spain
dissolved into a dozen independent states. While the states' constitutions found a base in
democratic principles, elite creoles typically took authoritarian control with the support of
strong militaries (Carmack, Gasco, and Gossen 1996). One might suppose that the newly
constructed Latin American sovereignties emerging during the early nineteenth century
corresponded to provincial identities. To the contrary, the creole elites' redistribution of
sovereignty conflicted with the identities and territorial distribution of indigenous,
mestizo, and black masses (Chasteen 2003).
This contradiction of sovereignty over territory, the remnants of oppressive
encomienda-based economies, and the governmental apathy towards representing the
masses prompted a flood of provincial, often nativistic, movements throughout the
Americas. For example, the Pipil-speaking Nonualcans of central El Salvador conducted
a series of three insurrections. The first insurrection occurred during the late colonial
period in 1789 (Kincaid 1987). Community members in the Nonualcan village of
Santiago (in what is now central El Salvador) rose up in opposition to the proposed
conversion of seasonal wages in cash to wages in kind. In the wake of the particularly
tumultuous independence movements in Guatemala and El Salvador at the end of the first
decade of the nineteenth century, the Nonualcans rose again, occupying the town of
Zacatecoluca, and driving out the Spanish officials. This movement came to a swift
defeat at the hands of government officials. The third and most successful Nonualcan
rebellion began in January, 1833, led by the peasant rebel Anastasio Aquino. Forces led
by Aquino again occupied Zacatecoluca in addition to surrounding towns and estates.
After defeating several expeditions of Salvadoran and Guatemalan troops, Aquino was
captured and executed in April, 1833, putting and end to the revolt. Notably, the scope of
Aquino's political ambitions was limited. The Salvadoran state of the 1830s was weak,
and Aquino probably could have taken the capital city of San Salvador, especially if he
had appealed to support from the largely indigenous communities in the west, such as
Izalco and Nahulingo. But Aquino had more localized goals, aiming to establish
sovereignty solely over the central Nonualcan communities, which bore a population of
about 4000 (Kincaid 1987).
A. Douglas Kincaid (1987) presents the Nonualcan rebellions in a narrative casting
the relatively autonomous peasant community as resistant and opposed to the dominant
liberal state. He uses these rebellions as empirical evidence supporting Marxist models
of resistance and domination (e.g. Wolf 1969). To contrast, Aldo Lauria-Santiago (2004)
presents a reading of the 1898 rebellion in Izalco using a theoretical frame largely
congruent with Watanabe's (1990, 1992) conception of the community as a factional site
of negotiation. Lauria-Santiago (2004:18) introduces his argument as an alternative to
the essentialist schema of Marxist Latin Americanists:
... I argue that conflicts over land tenure and the privatization process in El
Salvador have long been misunderstood and misinterpreted, precisely because the
generalized accounts of the privatization process have rarely considered the internal
dynamics of Indian communities and their complex political relationships with
external forces. ... As reconstructed here, factional divisions within this growing
and complex Indian community-factionalism that resulted from its decades-long
involvement with commercial agriculture and regional political alliances-to a
great extent determined how this community experienced the partitioning of its
Lauria-Santiago (2004) depicts late nineteenth century Izalco as a community that
maintained a heterogeneous agricultural economy. The economy combined commercial
cultivation of sugar and coffee for export with cultivation of subsistence crops and goods
for local or regional markets. Late nineteenth century Izalco had a relatively unique
political structure, spatially dividing the town into a municipal center and urban core, and
two distinct indigenous communities. All three political units retained autonomy and
control over land and resources. The communities themselves were internally divided by
economic and ethnic differences. While there existed conflict over governmental control
between indigenous peasants and ladino entrepreneurs, similar conflicts also occurred
within the two indigenous communities, Asunci6n and Dolores.
Beginning in 1881 the Salvadoran government attempted to foster a class of
entrepreneurial peasants and farmers by abolishing communal land holdings. The
subsequent attempt to partition and distribute land fomented a series of conflicts between
and within the three Izalco communities and the neighboring municipality of Nahuizalco.
Throughout the nineteenth century, factions, which transected class and ethnic identities,
also allied members of the communities with national military and political leaders. The
climactic violent conflict of 1898 appears to have been sparked by political alliances that
transcended (but were not unaffected by) local ethnic identities. Lauria-Santiago (2004)
expresses that the privatization of land exacerbated the long-standing internal conflict
arising out of political, ethnic, and economic difference. Ultimately the privatization of
land undermined the communal integrity of Izalco's two official indigenous
communities. Indigenous leaders remained, and played a significant role in creating
support for presidential candidates, but they lacked any sovereignty over territory. Such
leaders, in Izalco and surrounding communities, would again come to the political fore in
the 1930s (Lauria-Santiago 2004).
The western Salvadoran revolt and subsequent government massacre of 1932
represents the most highly discussed event of Salvadoran history (e.g. Anderson 1971,
Ching and Tilley 1998, Gould and Lauria-Santiago 2004, Kincaid 1987, Marroquin 1970,
McClintock 1985, Paige 1997, Perez Brignoli 1995, Zamosc 1988). Gould and Lauria-
Santiago (2004:192-3) identify four themes that have centered discussions of the
movement and massacre: falling coffee prices' impact on the western Salvadoran
economy; conflict erupting out of President Romero Bosque's (1927-31) institution of
democratic local and presidential elections; the role of the Salvadoran Communist Party
(PCS); and the ethnic agendas that motivated the revolt and differentiated indigenous
supporters from the PCS. The effects of the revolt and massacre of 1932 are of greater
significance to my ethnographic project than the actual causes and processes.
Most scholarly accounts and popular perceptions of 1932 frame the event as a
virtual total ethnocide, the cause of a rapid disappearance of indigenous identity in El
Salvador. The historical argument has held that the indigenes who were not murdered by
the military quickly rid themselves of markers of indigenous identity, especially clothing,
and assimilated into the mestizo peasantry (e.g. McClintock 1985). Erik Ching and
Virginia Tilley (1998) build on the pioneering historical work of Aldo Lauria-Santiago
(Lauria 1990) and Patricia Alvarenga (1994), demonstrating how birth-records contradict
the notion that 1932 brought the erasure of public indigenous self-identity. They
subsequently defend the counter-intuitive claim that the military regime protected some
indigenes and peasants following the massacre, and even castigated ladinos who felt
wronged by the rebels.
Despite the multiple alliances enacted by members of the military in post-1932 El
Salvador, the emerging government apparatus combined oligarchic rule with a strong and
omnipresent military to maintain many of the inequities plaguing the nation-state
(Binford 1996). Leigh Binford (1996) argues that the military served to impose an anti-
communist ideology on the masses throughout much of the twentieth century. The
National Republican Alliance (ARENA) formed in 1981, a party aiming to conserve the
political capital of the oligarchy. ARENA articulated its agenda in terms of upholding
capitalism through a practice of nationalist anti-communism. Following Martin-Baro
(1991), Binford (1996:29) explains that ARENA's conception of "communists" included
all persons who undertook actions that threatened the oligarchic domination of the state.
Communism, in the view of the inchoate ARENA party, was not a political ideology or
an agenda, but a shifting mode of action, often equated with "terrorism." Such fear of
"communism" embodied by the oligarchy was the product of both a lingering social
memory of the 1932 insurrection and the post-World War II involvement of the United
States government in Latin America. In the 1950s and 1960s, the United States
government developed a "counterinsurgency" and "counterterror" doctrine, and provided
military support and training to the Salvadoran oligarchy in the name of anti-communism
(Binford 1996, McClintock 1985).
Social memories of the 1932 insurrection loomed large for both the oligarchy and
the revolutionaries during the civil war that took place from 1981 to 1992. The
consolidation of parties that became the Faribundo Marti National Liberation Front
(FMLN) named their new organization after the campesino rebel who incited the 1932
insurrection. In a corollary move, the extreme Right named one of their death squads the
Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez Brigade, after the military general who reigned over
the 1932 counterinsurgency. This brigade played a principle role in the massacre at El
Mozote in the eastern department of Morazan (Binford 1996). Despite the FMLN's
invocation of the 1932 revolt, residents of the western Salvadoran departments were
conspicuously uninvolved in the civil war. The government withheld and even destroyed
historical evidence pertaining to the 1932 insurrection and government massacre,
spinning that event through rumors and political propaganda that legitimized the
government response (Binford 1996). Such propaganda and the absence of a historical
record may have helped legitimize the political agenda of the conservative ARENA
party, with the devastating effect of an extended and violent civil war. But, for western
El Salvador, the horrors of another confrontation with a well-organized militia prevented
widespread involvement in the 1980s revolutionary movement.
The municipality of Nahulingo is located in the western Salvadoran department of
Sonsonate. In 1992 the census listed the municipality population as 9,476 with a
projected population for the year 2000 of 12,846. The projected total population of the
department Sonsonate was 450,118 with the greatest concentration (96,772) in the
department capital (Direcci6n General de Estadistica y Censo 1992). Nahulingo is
located approximately at the geographic center of the department, nearly contiguous with
the city Sonsonate (Figure 1).
q. -I "II
Figure 1. Departmental map of El Salvador representing the location of Nahulingo.
The municipality of Nahulingo is ecologically situated in the lowland coastal plain
of western El Salvador. Of the environmental features, abundant rivers remain the most
notable and highly discussed aspect of local ecology. The borders of the town are
defined by the Ceniza and Quequeisquillo rivers, marking the western and eastern edges
of the town respectively. There exists a source of potable water, called El Pescadito. A
regional source of water, the municipality of Nahulingo has managed to maintain control
of El Pescadito despite an attempt by the state to appropriate the source in the early
1990s. Furthermore, there exists a natural spring, the source of the Yankee (or Yanqui)
river, about 1.8 kilometers to the northeast of Nahulingo. The source of the Yankee
serves as a recreational and swimming center for much of the municipal community.
Sugar cane fields dominate the topography of the rural Nahulingo municipality.
Sugar cane plays a significant role in the economic production of the rural areas, and
fields constitute a primary source of employment for the smaller peripheral towns. The
urban center is characterized by a more heterogeneous economy. However there exist
few available local jobs, forcing many Nahulinguenses to find employment in the
neighboring town of Sonsonate or even in San Salvador. Travel to employment locales
outside of the Nahulingo is enabled by the national bus system which maintains a
relatively large terminal between Nahulingo and Sonsonate. El Manantial, a high-end
hotel recently built within the municipality, has also recently provided a limited source of
employment and an influx of capital. Affiliates of the local Casa de la Cultura aspire to
lure hotel visitors to the town, marketing the local culture and museum, which I describe
The mayor, whose office is adjacent to the Nahulingo plaza, holds basic political
jurisdiction over the municipality. During the summer of 2004, the mayor had particular
support in the outlying hamlets and rural areas and a lesser degree of support within the
town. This corresponds to the mayor's emphasis of development work in rural areas.
Local political tension remains a particularly salient cause of social factions, mediating
social interaction between members of the ARENA and FMLN parties. The mayor
represents the agenda of the ARENA party. The transition from pueblo to villa status
suggests a certain degree of higher-level government approval of the political agenda
forwarded by the local government.
Another particularly important backdrop for discussion of local historical
conception is the town's religious landscape. Historically dominated by Catholicism, the
era after the end of the Salvadoran civil war has witnessed a rapid rise in Protestantism.
This religious transformation has been prompted largely by an insurgence of Evangelical
missionaries from the United States. Protestant churches lack the strict hierarchical and
patriarchal structure of the Catholic Church and, thus, have rapidly attracted a range of
members, especially women. Numerous Protestant churches dot the streets of Nahulingo,
contrasting with the single, central Catholic church which sets next to the park.
The Nahulingo park and adjacent basketball court (which serves, by night, as a
soccer arena) constitute public places which facilitate and mediate social relations and
communal performance. During my fieldwork I paid special attention to the architectural
and "natural" features which inhabit the landscape and form recurrent themes in historical
narratives: most prominently, the bell tower, the ceiba tree, and the adjacent Catholic
church. Less spectacular features of the social landscape also have meaningful roles in
the articulation of sociopolitical identity and social memory. For example, the fountain,
the building faces, the temporary festival features and the recently erected Ten
Commandments monument all significantly affected and reflected situated social
practices and knowledge during my short stay in the community.
THEORY AND METHODS
In this chapter, I describe the predominant theoretical programs and ideas that have
influenced my formulation of research questions, fieldwork, and interpretation. I focus
primarily on theoretical discussions of how history is created and negotiated through
public performance, memory and narrative, and materiality. I then discuss literature that
addresses how such constructed histories are used to articulate community and national
identities. These are extensively discussed subjects, so I limit my overview to the works
most pertinent to the project. I begin by discussing the innovations of Eric Hobsbawm
(1983a) and Louis Althusser (1986) before transitioning to critiques of their work
and a more general discussion of historical discourse.
In the 1980s, Eric Hobsbawm (1983a) introduced what appeared to be a relatively
novel concept of history and tradition into academic discussions. His notion of invented
traditions provided new ways to think of how social actors produce history. Drawing on
studies of European history, Hobsbawm (1983a) cast invented traditions as formalized or
ritualized behaviors instituted by individuals (usually possessing some degree of
governmental authority) that create a sense of continuity with the past. According to
Hobsbawm (1983a:9), since the industrial revolution invented traditions have served to
establish cohesion within communities, legitimize political institutions and authority, and
inculcate belief and value systems. Hobsbawm, thus, conceives some traditions as
actively created, but generally only by those who hold significant political capital. By
definition, invented traditions are opposed to other apparently authentic traditions or
customs, produced and maintained by the masses. Hobsbawm (1983b) goes on to present
examples of how the nineteenth century European invention of tradition served as a
mechanism for governments to create citizens and subjects. The radical political and
economic changes that accompanied the rise of democracy and the industrial revolution
demanded a stronger link between the masses and the state. Officials achieved this link
in France, for example, by instituting a system of primary education ("...a secular
equivalent of the church..."), inventing public ceremonies such as Bastille Day, and
producing public monuments (Hobsbawm 1983b:271). Such institutions, celebrations,
and features in public places combined to produce a sense of social identity and
continuity with the past.
Hobsbawm's argument about the production of state subjects resembles structural
Marxist Louis Althusser's (1986) thesis on the relations among ideology,
subjectivity, and a process that he calls interpellation. As Althusser uses them in unique
ways, these terms requires definition. Central to Althusser's (1986:241) argument
is his definition of ideology: "Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of
individuals to their real conditions of existence." Ideology is not constituted by ideas; in
fact it is something that materializes in the apparatuses of the state, physical bodies such
as schools, churches, and courtrooms. Through these apparatuses, ideology imposes a
false consciousness on individuals, producing them as subjects of the state. This
imposition of ideology on subjects occurs through the process of interpellation: "...all
ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concrete subjects..."
(1986:245, original emphasis) Althusser gives a tangible example of this
interpellation: a police officer hailing individuals in the street: "Hey, you there!"
(1986:245). In their virtually unavoidable response, the police officer's statement
produces the hailed individuals as subjects of the state.
I argue that the imaginary histories invoked by Hobsbawm's invented traditions can
be loosely understood as a type of Althusserian ideology. Public monuments and
ceremonies, like the school (which Althusser regards as a central "ideological state
apparatus") hail individuals into understanding the state, the relations of production, and
histories in specific ways. Comparing several European nation-states, Hobsbawm
(1983b) identifies distinct apparatuses that are the materialization of specific imposed
histories. Critical to both of these arguments is the notion that such histories or material
conditions of ideology imposed by authorities do not represent some sort of underlying
reality. This, of course, represents a typical Marxian critique, and dichotomization of the
superstructure and the infrastructure. It serves my purposes to selectively retain parts of
these arguments, in correspondence with the critiques that I describe below. Adopting a
more poststructural approach, I understand both history and individuals as socially
constituted and negotiated aspects of discourse.
Many critics, often of a poststructural mold, have recently challenged Hobsbawm's
dichotomy of real and imagined histories. For example, historical anthropologist Michael
Herzfeld (1991:12) has stated that,
...if any history is invented, all history is invented. We should not view one kind of
tradition as more invented than others, although its bearers may be more powerful
and therefore more capable of enforcing its reproduction among disenfranchised
classes-a different issue.
If all traditions are invented, then the way social actors imbue certain practices with a
sense of authenticity or historicity becomes a matter of political negotiation. Nicholas
Dirks, for example, (1990) links the anthropological notion of "tradition" to the colonial
imposition of a universalizing modernity, and a concomitant dichotomization of practices
into modern and traditional. Thus, by understanding certain traditions as real, as opposed
to invented, we fall into a colonialist trap that privileges imposed state structures, or
apparatuses. But this does not mean that we need to reject all of Hobsbawm's argument.
In fact, the emphasis on invention articulates well with much of recent anthropological
and critical scholarship. "Invention" does not imply that histories, traditions, or cultures
are, in any sense, inauthentic or false. Rather, in a phenomenological spirit, it casts social
actors as creatively making the world for themselves. In this sense the process of
"invention" has been naturalized (Thomas 1997, Wagner 1975). Such critiques resonate
strongly with or build on Foucault's (1972:21) rejection of "tradition" as an historical
concept that misleadingly emphasizes temporal continuity and the search for origins,
rather than rupture and transformation.
Similarly the notion of Althusserian ideology as a sort of false consciousness
constituted by the process of interpellation begs critique. Althusserian interpellation
relies on a dichotomy of the state and the subject. According to Althusser (1986,
the state and the subject are relationally constituted and the former prevents the latter
from understanding inequities built into the relations of production. Science and
technologies studies scholar John Law (2000, 2002) has presented an illustrative critique
of ideology, while retaining and extending the concept of interpellation. Law explains
how ideology relies on a distinction between consciousness (or "performance," as Law
states) and reality. In the same way that we can collapse all traditions into a category of
invented traditions, we can understand ideology (or consciousness) and truth (or material
conditions of existence) as indistinguishable. But, as Law (2000:15) maintains, the
notion of interpellation remains politically useful because it entails a commitment to
embodiment and, as Law states, an insistence on obviousness. To say that interpellation
is committed to embodiment is to present the body as something prior to subjugation by
the state and, in a move that builds on Foucault (1977, 1978), as an effect of social, or
sociomaterial, relations. Second, by retaining an insistence on obviousness Law claims
that interpellation causes a body to become a subject without any process of rational
decision-making. Upon being hailed, the individual immediately recognizes itself as a
subject. These are reasonably useful qualifications of interpellation.
Mayanist Quetzil Castafieda (2004) has similarly incorporated a reformulated
notion of interpellation into his work. He combines interpellation with Foucault's notion
of"governmentality." In fact, Castafieda (2004:52) even reads, or "hypothesizes,"
(Maya) ethnicity as one mode of governmentality: ". .. ethnicity-govemmentality is the
strategy by which a public sphere of polity is created in between the state and the social."
While this is a laudable attempt to redress the problem of essentialism, it still seems to
rely on a singular opposition (even if it is a scalar opposition) between the state and the
masses. Castafieda's "public sphere" does not appear to reference Habermas' (1989) site
of public discussion and negotiation, but, instead, a quasi-political relation between the
public and the state. His rereading of interpellation casts the masses as having a form of
agency in which they can pose resistance to the state, possibly in the form of
interpellation. I prefer Law's (2000) application of interpellation because it more
articulately demonstrates how the concept can be used to describe relations among many
constituencies of persons and things. It eschews the unidirectional or bidirectional
formulations of interpellation in favor of a broader relationist usage.
Law extends the concept beyond vocal interactions to include non-human social
agents. We can be interpellated by stop signs, acts in a patron saint parade, or, in Gayatri
Chakravorty Spivak's (2004:113) recent usage, photographs. These material aspects of
the world have a type of agency, in that their sensory experience causes subjects to
immediately understand their identities or subjectivities in new ways. Simultaneously the
objects are made in the process of recognition; the knowing subject and the known object
constitute each other. Ultimately, I find it useful to incorporate the concept, in Law's
extended usage, for two reasons: it provides a way to understand one type of effect
produced by relations between people and things; and it reflects a moment of
immediately imposed recognition of identity, which complements and contrasts with the
continuous process of active identity negotiation.
Similar conceptions of material objects as socially active have emerged among
anthropologists concerned with social relations and materiality (Gell 1988, Strathern
1988). The recent appearance of life history or cultural biographical approaches to
discussing objects within the fields of archaeology and material culture studies also
demonstrates concern with how persons and objects constitute each other (e.g. Gosden
and Marshall 1999, Holtorf 2002, Kopytoff 1986). These perspectives (esp. Holtorf
2002) draw actively from a wide range of literature, bringing together social archaeology,
cultural anthropology, and science and technology studies. Much of this work can be
read as an extension of Foucault's (1977, 1978) poststructuralist project examining the
way bodies are made into subjects. The collective project of scholars such as Strathern
(1988), Law (2000, 2002), and Holtorf (2002) has been the examination of the production
of objects through social relations, rather than solely subjects.
It is a common mistake to understand the practices complicit in this production of
subjects as "discourse" or "discursive formations" in a Foucauldian sense. But this is a
conflation of Foucault's (1970, 1972) early structuralist concern with uncovering the
logic of relations among signs or representations, or "discourses," and Foucault's (1977,
1978) later concern with power-knowledge and bio-power, or the production of subjects.
In a somewhat anti-Foucauldian move to make explicit what The Archaeology of
Knowledge had left intentionally vague, Sawyer (2002) has discussed the frequent
reference to Foucault when "discourse" is used to mean the social practices by which
subjects are produced. Sawyer (2002) goes on to argue that such contemporary usage of
"discourse," designating systems of signs that emerge through language and practice,
producing types of subjectivity, developed out of a combination of structural Marxism,
especially Althusser's (1986) concept of ideology, and semiology, especially
Lacan's (1968) appropriately broadened application of the term. While Sawyer (2002)
opposes the structural Marxism of Althusser and the loose structuralism of (early)
Foucault, these two authors are often read as complementary sources (e.g. Castafieda
2004, Law 2000). My application of "discourse" falls in line with Sawyer's (2002)
In this work, I am specifically concerned with historical discourses, or with how
individuals produce and negotiate historical knowledge. The experience of events,
statements, and objects may interpellate individuals into conceiving the past in specific
frameworks. These same people may actively contest such experiences and construct
histories for themselves. This work gives a preliminary account of how historical
construction takes place through Nahulingo public events, oral narratives, and a museum.
If the moment of interpellation hails people into a discourse or particular form of
consciousness, how is this discourse initially constructed and how does it transform in the
Nahulingo public sphere? Foucault gives excellent examples of discursive formations
that characterize periods of European history, but I want to invoke a less particular and
more generally applicable social process, which Claude Levi-Strauss (1966:16-36) calls
In The Savage Mind, Levi-Strauss incorporates the French term bricolagee' to
base a discussion of mythical thought. He poses the creation of myth as a form of
bricolage, loosely defined as the process by which persons use earlier ends to play the
part of later means, converting the signified into the signifying (Levi-Strauss 1966:21).
In other words, the bricoleur utilizes the remains of structures, the material and
conceptual odds and ends at hand, and transforms the structures in the process.
Understanding how the event of interpellation and the process of bricolage help frame
questions about history- and community-thinking entails more deeply problematizing the
notion of history and its relation to memory and materiality.
Ben-Amos and Weissberg (1999) describe the intellectual trajectory of the
subjects history and memory. They begin in the explicitly "historical" nineteenth century
when the emergence of a disciplinary history functioned to counter the sense of a lost
social memory (Ben-Amos and Weissberg 1999:11). As it emerged in academic form,
history became associated with the public domain, manifest objectively in written
documents, while memory became relegated to the subjective, private domain. They
proceed by tracing the study of memory through the individualistic, psychological
theories of philosopher Henri Bergson, to the emphasis on collective memory put forth by
Maurice Halbwachs, a student of both Bergson and Emile Durkheim. Halbwachs'
(1980) conceptions of history and memory resonate strongly with Foucault's
discussion of continuities and discontinuities. Halbwachs links history with written text
and collective memory with language and beliefs. Furthermore, Halbwachs associates
memory with the invocation of similarities and continuities, while his notion of history
relies on discontinuities and difference. Thus collective recollections change in
correspondence to each society's politics of identity and belief systems. Roy Connerton
(1989:5) has argued that social memory, as performed and most easily identified in
commemorative ceremonies, relies on a notion of the, "...inertia in social structures..."
To return to Levi-Strauss (1966), this inertia or structural transformation, which is
invoked as a continuity or tradition, has as its material foundation the continuous,
dynamic process of bricolage.
Richard Parmentier (1987) sketches a semiotic framework for understanding the
concept of history. He states,
I take history to be a universal cultural category differentially manifest in societies,
in which the relationship between past, present, and future states of a society is
expressed by signs in various media which are organized by locally valorized
schemes of classification. (Parmentier 1987:4-5)
He subsequently explains that the English word "history," glosses three distinct
meanings: historical events which happened in the past; historical records used to
construct knowledge; and historical discourse, or narratives and representational devices
that depict the past within political frameworks of the present (Parmentier 1987:5).
Understanding history in these terms opens areas for academic inquiry around notions of
time, maintenance of material evidence, and the range of representational media that
affect historical consciousness. In this work, I am particularly concerned with historical
discourse, or the relationship between contemporary identity politics and the
representation of the past. Parmentier (1987:11) presents the study of historical discourse
as a topic of inquiry primarily concerned with classes of signs, which are physically
manifest representational media. As I began to explain above, my usage of "discourse"
includes embodied social practices which can be understood as performances of historical
consciousness. This is a somewhat broader sense that Parmentier's semiotic usage, but
the spirit behind the word remains the same.
If historical discourse takes place through physical media, than it can be
circulated, negotiated, and disputed. Michael Herzfeld (1991) has offered a lucid
ethnography of a Greek town, centered on such negotiation and articulation of multiple
pasts, placing "history" and its relation to "identity" under a critical lens. Herzfeld
chronicles how residents of a Cretan town respond to the imposition of nationalist history
on their community. This nationalist history converts lived places into "traditional
neighborhoods" and "archaeological monuments," within the framework of what
Herzfeld (1991:6-10) calls "monumental time," or well-delineated periods that
encapsulate entire clearly defined identities. This local response takes many forms
ranging from accommodation of the materialized state history to the development of very
different forms of historical consciousness. The rhetoric of monumental time is
differentially appropriated and invoked, a surface texture within which multiple
interpretations and conceptions of time may be embedded. Struggles that superficially
appear to concern property and maintenance or destruction of monumentalized
architecture, turn out to have a foundation in debates over the control of history.
Ultimately, the negotiation and circulation of histories cannot be understood in terms that
simplistically oppose the state and the masses. Negotiations and conflicts over objects
and history play out within each of these constituencies (Herzfeld 1991).
This concept of circulation has played a critical role in social theory through the
course of the last two decades. The circulation of materialities including commodities
(Appadurai 1986), print media (Anderson 1991), and scientific texts or "inscriptions"
(Latour 1987) have each become central topics for question of the creation and
negotiation of value and knowledge, communities and nations. Specific types of objects
constitute the materiality of historical discourse: forms such as archaeological artifacts
and inscribed texts, including both "primary" and "secondary" documents. Like
commodities, these things travel through networks and map the contours of communities.
Appadurai (1986:57) insists that we understand the link between exchange and value of
circulating objects, especially commodities, as constituted by politics, understood broadly
as, "relations, assumptions and, contests pertaining to power..." He details the multiple
forms of such politics: "...the politics of diversion and display; the politics of authenticity
and authentication; the politics of knowledge and ignorance; the politics of expertise and
sumptuary control; the politics of connoisseurship and of deliberately mobilized demand"
(Appadurai 1986:57). Herzfeld (1991:10) reads the monumentalization of homes and
buildings by the state as a particular form of Appadurai's political diversion, wherein
there emerges an enhancement of value only for those who accept the official form of
With corollary emphases of political forms, Anderson (1991) has argued that the
circulation of print culture at the beginning of the nineteenth century can be understood
as the principle mechanism for the construction of national identities in many modem
nation-states, including most of Latin America. But, as should be clear from my
overview of Salvadoran history, the relationship between the delineation of a sovereign
nation-state and the construction of a Salvadoran national identity has proven unsteady.
Salvadoran history could probably be held up as another counter-example to or
qualification of Anderson's thesis, a place where provincial identities remained largely
contradictory to the invoked nation-state until late in the nineteenth century or the early
twentieth century (see Castro-Klaren and Chasteen 2003). The civil war of the 1980s and
the continuing, if muffled, political tension speaks to the multiplicity of voices and
As I demonstrate through the sections of this work, social identities and corollary
histories in Nahulingo form and reform through social performances and negotiations.
Fernandez's (2003) application of Locke's "emergent qualities" may shed some light on
how such histories and identities emerge in places and through actions. "Emergent
qualities" is a term that describes the moments in which multiple systems of signs
converge to convert spaces into meaningful places and bodies into subjects of discourse.
This process, which Fernandez describes with the metaphor of "architectonics," occurs in
a conceptual space somewhere between the immediate moment of interpellation, and the
constructive process of bricolage. It exists in a system of social relations between the
individual and the society. In fact, in his description of the Mina and their conversion of
spaces into meaningful places, Fernandez (2003:200) draws out the connection between
bodies and places. To extend Roy Wagner's (1991) tropic imagery, the body and types
of places, like the Mina ritual arena, exist in holographic or fractal relationships. The
ritualized place subsumes the body as an introjection, and simultaneously exists as a
projection of body image. These perspectives have successfully applied intersubjective
relationism, which rejects the opposition of individual and society, a function of western
ideologies and jurisprudence (Wagner 1991:159).
In this section, I have provided an overview of the important theoretical
perspectives that inform my work. I have summarized and integrated significant
perspectives describing the creation of subjects and histories, with particular emphasis on
historical discourse. In the following synthetic chapters, I describe intersubjective
practices which can be understood in terms of interpellation, emergent qualities, and
bricolage. I emphasize the circulation of objects and people and begin to illustrate
processes of historical discourse in Nahulingo.
As a preliminary exploratory project, I informally and flexibly structured my
fieldwork and goals. Primarily, I aimed to introduce myself to the community, and
participate in Nahulingo's daily social life. I appropriated a multisited research strategy
(Marcus 1995). The central research site remains this and other texts, inscriptive
translations of social experience. Other sites are both spatial and conceptual, and include
the public plaza and streets of Nahulingo, the historical memory of community members,
the local and national museums, the United States news, the website of the Salvadoran
government agency CONCULTURA, and the anthropological literature. This multisited
approach has permitted me to begin to understand the ways in which certain concepts of
progress, history, and indigeneity circulate to create senses of community identity.
In Nahulingo, the basic strategies that produced the ideas in this work are the
following: participating in social interactions, recording unstructured interviews with
community members, and photographing and recording public events. I facilitated my
social interaction with members of the community by spending part of every day in the
local Casa de la Cultura, or CONCULTURA office. I also spent time every day in the
public space of the plaza or the basketball court and adjacent food stand. Through this
public presence I befriended a handful of Nahulinguienses, such as Arturo Garcia4, with
whom I subsequently interacted with on a nearly daily basis.
I conducted eight single interviews with one person each, two interviews with one
person, and one interview with two people, for a total often interviews. Four of the ten
total interviews took place in the Casa de la Cultura office. The remainder took place in
peoples' homes or public places. I solicited five interviewees, and the other five asked
me to interview them. The issues treated in the interviews varied dramatically. I offered
some minimal structure to the thoughts and representations offered by the interviewees
by generally explaining that I was doing a project on concepts of local history. I also
typically asked what the interviewees associated with the "indigenous" and what the
associated with certain features of the social landscape, such as the plaza, ceiba, and
The third distinguishable strategy was the documentation of public performances
and events. In cooperation with the mayor's office I photographed and recorded two
major events: the inauguration of the local museum; and the celebration of Nahulingo's
transition from pueblo to villa. I also photographed a variety of events that occurred
4 In order to protect the identities of informants, all names included in this document are pseudonyms.
throughout the patron saint festival. I have used these photographs as a basic medium to
spur my own memory of these events and extrapolate on the ideas that I first recorded in
my field notes.
PLACE AND PERFORMANCE
Once there was a young boy who tended a field for his father. One
day, along came a man on a horse. He did not see the boy and stopped to
relieve himself along the path. His horse started to run away and the boy
corralled it, returning it to the master.
The man asked the boy what he was doing in the field. The boy told
the man that he was tending crops for his father: planting and pulling
weeds. The man, surprised that the boy was alone in the field, asked why
he didn't have an umbrella and what he would do if it rained. The boy
responded that there were houses nearby that he could go to or that he
could protect himself from the water under a tree. The man continued to
"Well, don't you need a machete to get around and cut through the
underbrush?" the man asked.
"No, the boy responded. "I can walk anywhere I need to or use a stick
from a tree."
The man asked, "well, don't you need to go to school?"
The boy answered, "Sometimes I go. But it's very expensive; you
have to buy books and notebooks and pencils. So, no I don't need to go to
"Well," the man continued, "don't you need money to buy candy or
Again the boy responded, "My father gives me one coin a week and
with that I buy everything that I need."
Seeing that the field boy had everything, the man mounted his horse
and rode away.
--Don Fernando de Jesus Garcia, June 24, 2004
The morning of June 24th, Don Fernando de Jesus Garcia left his house, adorned
with a pair of brown dress pants, a white collared shirt, and a baseball cap. Like many
other mornings, he patiently trekked down the Segunda Calle Poniente, toward the Casa
de la Cultura office. After arriving at the office and speaking briefly with the local
cultural events coordinator, he stopped to tell me a story. Like most of my interactions
with Don Fernando, this one went unrecorded; I have paraphrased it above. He related a
sort of parable, titled "the philosopher who didn't know it." The tale presents a young
boy who tends a field alone, a seemingly deprived child. To the contrary, the boy is
happy with what he has, a sort of minimalist satisfaction. Don Fernando made clear that
the story was allegorical. The moral, so to speak, is that everyone should be happy with
what they have. Where the man on the horse sees the life of the boy as lacking, the boy
characterizes his own life as full.
Figure 2. A food stand on the corner of Segunda Calle Poniente and Primera Avenida
Norte, Nahulingo, El Salvador. Don Fernando de Jesus Garcia, leaning
against the electric pole, gazes into the park. In the background, employees of
the municipal mayor's office and the Casa de la Cultura prepare for the
inauguration of a local museum.
In a sense, this "be happy with what you have" attitude contrasts sharply with the
sentiments of many younger Nahulingaienses with whom I interacted regularly. Unlike
other informants, Don Fernando rarely complained about anything. He has traveled to
the United States, but does not express envy. Many characterize themselves as poor or
lacking, in need of something. This comes to the surface readily because I am from the
United States, which they do regard as el norte, a land of promise and opportunity.
The Disco M6vil
This moment of social history and this fact of social structure have to be firmly
grasped if we are to appreciate the moral nature and social significance of the
sentiments that underlie peasant-worker existence: the history is one of enclosures,
barbed wire, sugarcane, and hunger. (Taussig 1980:92)
When I arrived in El Salvador, a new friend described the nation-state as a "land of
contrasts." In my two months in Nahulingo, I began to cultivate an understanding of
what that may have meant to her. Don Fernando's optimistic attitude deeply contrasts
with members of a younger generation, including his grandson, Arturo. Here, I will give
a brief example of how the "contrasts" of attitude and exclusion manifest in Nahulingo
public performance. Through providing a textual glimpse of a local ceremony or
performance, thefiestas patronales, or patron saint festival, I offer the reader an
opportunity to understand the social impact of exclusion and its situation and effect on
concepts of place in Nahulingo, El Salvador. I have excerpted the following directly
from my field notes:
Thefiestas patronales began here last night [July 18, 2004], with the official
crowning of the queen. After the crowning there was another discoteca m6vil
(mobile disco), which is a temporary structure erected in front of the municipality
office. They played dance music at an extraordinary volume. I paid the three
dollar entry but only stayed for about half an hour. At that point my ears could no
longer tolerate the intense reverberations. The music was so loud that my shirt was
shaking. Even back at the CBI (150 meters away) the sound was incredible and the
reverberations shook loose objects. It's notable that the vast majority of people
who lingered about the plaza during the crowning did not enter the mobile disco,
almost certainly due to the entry fee. Many stood at the fence and watched as
music videos played on a huge screen and the queen(s) began to dance under the
psychedelic disco lights.
I think that this exclusion is intentional. It seems like a means to elevate certain
individuals at the expense of the masses. By no means are the people on the other
side of the fence marginalized. But it is difficult not to sympathize with them, as
they grasp the fence and stare into the disco. This discourse of exclusion plays off
of a variety of social themes. Unquestionably, there are colonial undertones here,
which (also) reverberate through the whole festival. It's a festival based in
Catholicism, and (as witnessed today) it incorporates a significant amount of
Catholic imagery, mixed with representations of local brujeria (witchcraft) and
international politics. The act of "crowning" is drawing an explicit connection
between the community and its Spanish forebears. And if "crowning" is a Spanish
or colonial act, than we can begin to see the disco as a place which represents an
upper class, a class with explicit connections to Spain and nobility. In metonymic
imitation of the historic division of labor, the fence separates the patrons from the
peones, the (hacienda) owners from the laborers, the upper class from the lower,
and, significantly, the urban from the rural...The whole notion of a disco mimics
urban, upper-class Latin American nightlife. The campesinos don't go to
discotheques. That's the territory of the middle and upper classes, who are more
associated with Spanish predecessors than the rural indios or-in the common
diminutive form-inditos, which is to say "little indians."
Notably, the event also has an official feel. The disco structure is constructed on
the street in front of the municipality office, and the lower floor of the municipality
is opened to the attendees. The candidates for the queen and the queen of the Casa
de la Cultura sat dining a typical chicken dish before getting up and becoming the
first group of people to start dancing. The queen and candidates are high school
students, maybe 14-17 years old. For me it wouldn't be appropriate to call this a
sort of "coming of age" festival, through it also has that sort of inflection. It's
overshadowed, however, by the notion that the municipality is initiating a new
generation of young leaders. Of course, the leaders that are paraded around and
crowned during thefiestas patronales are all young women. .. [M]otifs evoked in
the parade also toy with notions of femininity (and sexuality).
The disco m6vil transformed typically public space into a regulated field of semi-
public social action. Both the contiguous mayor's office and the police officers
controlling entrance legitimate this exclusion. The queen of the Casa de la Cultura and
the candidates in the school-run local queen election entered the disco first.
Accompanied by Ernesto Diaz, director of the Casa de la Cultura, as they left the
crowning ceremony and entered the disco, these young women represent a future of
economic and social stability (Figure 4). In his editorial in the patron saint festival
program, the mayor, a member of the conservative ARENA party, commented on the
significance of cultivating the contemporary youth in order to ensure a progressive future:
today'sys Nahulingo, laborious and enthusiastic, struggling with this age and against
natural phenomena, but with clear vision towards the future, though progress took the
delayed train; a batch of young professionals begin to mold a new elite."
Figure 3. the disco movil. the photo is taken trom the outside looking in. While it
permits their gaze to enter and does not constrain the voluminous music, the
fence in the foreground offers a barrier to those who cannot afford the three
dollar entry, creating a crowd of spectators.
Molding a new elite involves parading and celebrating a handful of youth,
exemplified by the queen contests and their public exhibition, while publicly ignoring or
neglecting the majority. The fence embodies this neglect, a mechanism of socio-spatial
differentiation. The barrier articulates at a significant place in the field of social action,
acting as both a symbol and mechanism of exclusion. It interpellates social actors,
hailing their recognition of social difference. In my interpretation, the fence reinforces a
conception of social differentiation in material form, evoking reactions which uphold a
social division and oppression between a class of elite with access to the social capital of
the disco and a class without such access. It resembles the fence that Taussig (1980)
references in the quote included in my section's header. El Salvador of the 2000s is not
Colombia of the 1970s, and the peasant-worker existence is less apparent. But
enclosures, barbed wire, sugarcane, and hunger remain. This fence too enforces and
softly unveils the muffled oppression that continues to plague rural El Salvador.
During an interview, Alberto Fernandez, one of the mayor's in-laws, emphasized
such exclusionary tactics, calling attention to the economic rather than the material
barrier. He seemed eager to discuss the festival, and I asked whether it had changed
much during the course of his life: "[n]ow it has changed. Now it has changed. Now the
dances are paid. Drinks, paid. It's not like it was before..." He continued by discussing
changes in the content of the patron saint festival and the saint's week festival, while
periodically characterizing the contemporary festival as a more socially and economically
closed event than it had been in the past. This idealization of the past events and
concurrent relativization of the summer, 2004 event revealed a frustration with specific
mobilizations of the sign "festival." Fernandez expressed a desire for using the past to
refigure the present and future.
Reading the event in a more profound historical scope, social regulation of events
conducted during the patron saint festival incorporates themes of a factional past.
Figure 4. Ernesto Diaz escorts the Casa de la Cultura queen from the crowning ceremony
in the community center to the disco m6vil.
Through costumes and ceremonies social actors selectively incorporate motifs drawn
from beauty pageants and coronation events (Figure 4). Conceived through the mayor's
comments, these young women became unified as a collective synecdoche of the
progressing community. This is a preliminary assessment: I have not spent enough time
in the community or witnessed the organization of disco themes and places to assess how
memories or conceptions of the past are incorporated and negotiated.
At this point, I have begun to elaborate on the significance of social exclusion and
differentiation as enacted in and around the semi-public place of the disco m6vil.
Obvious methods of social exclusion and differentiation offer a compelling space for
interpretation. I now transition to the interpretation of another patron saint festival public
ceremony through which community members enmeshed themselves in layered
structures of inclusion and exclusion, the parade.
In what interest or interests does the necessity to keep up this game of difference-
India is "India" and the United States is the "United States," and the two are as
different as can be-emerge, today? (Spivak 1996:268)
In this section, I translate an act performed during a Salvadoran patron saint
parade. I use my memory and conception of this aspect of the parade to base a discussion
of political and community identities in Nahulingo, El Salvador. Among the varied acts
of this July, 2004 Nahulingo parade, a cadre of youths marched through the streets
dressed as Salvadoran and U.S. soldiers (Figure 5). A battalion surrounded a converted
oxcart depicting the fall of Osama Bin Laden. Remembering and sharing my thoughts on
the act, I hope to spur questions pertaining to contemporary historicity, politics, and
progressivism. In broad scope, I read the event as a reflection and refiguration of
narratives structuring current and historic colonialism. Specifically, I organize this
section around two questions: (1) How did the act incorporate contemporary political
rhetoric and imaginings of transnationalism that challenge or reconfigure local and
national identities; and (2) how did it situate this conception of contemporary politics
within memories or narratives constituting colonial and postcolonial historical and
religious parade themes? I conclude by drawing connections between the political
rhetoric and historical conceptions and questioning how the act incorporated and
refigured contemporary narratives of progress. Personally, I suggest that specific
remembered objects and events, such as the religious figure of Santiago, which I describe
later, are centers that permit the temporary maintenance of community identity, figuring
the contours of inclusion and exclusion.
In Salvadoran communities, such as Nahulingo, annual parades represent critical
components of patron saint festivals. Primarily under the organizational aegis of the local
school system, the parade of July, 2004 transformed the Nahulingo streets into a place
where prominent social themes became embodied and performed by youths. Many of the
motifs and themes incorporated by parade participants had certain shocking effects,
interpellating the audience into specific ideologies. They forced spectators, including
myself, to take positions on predominant social and political conflicts, and to understand
these issues within simplified conceptual frameworks. While some young Salvadorans
marched the streets of Nahulingo in school uniform, harmoniously playing Salvadoran
music on brass instruments, others acted out gruesome imagined scenes of Middle East
conflict (Figure 5). Yet others celebrated, or perhaps flaunted, queer sexualities for a
predominantly conservative public audience. Before I transition to explicit interpretation
I want to provide my own expressive depiction of the performance.
Amidst satirical, cross-dressing baton-twirlers and masked, wigged grim reapers
bearing fly-ridden cow horns on bamboo poles, the camouflaged troops emerged from the
Christopher Columbus Schooling Center. Dotting the Nahulingo street, they loosely
converged on the showpiece of their act: a like-wise camouflaged vehicle supporting the
figurative corpse of Osama Bin Laden. Signs adorned the leaf-covered converted oxcart:
"the capture;" "Bin Laden is falling;" "our Cuscatlan Battalion is trapping Bin Laden the
terrorist;" "death is birth." I sat on a doorstep removed from the walled-in school ground
by a crowded street, discussing punk rock and Iroquois influence on the American
constitution with a Salvadoran friend. The emergence of this re-formed oxcart literally
brought me to my feet. My first experience with Latin American parades, I felt unnerved
Figure 5. A group of masked Nahulingo youth mobilize conceptions of Salvadoran and
U.S. soldiers, reforming an oxcart into a military vehicle, during the 2004
Nahulingo patron saint festival.
While I cannot translate my personal shock and uneasy fascination with this and
other parade acts, I can begin to address the networks of historical and political
knowledge, which may have influenced this particular style of performance. Mayanists
Gary Gossen (1986) and Victoria Bricker (1973, 1981) have provided conceptual
foundations for historicizing contemporary festivals in Mesoamerican communities.
Gossen (1986) describes a highland Chiapas Tzotzil-speaking Maya community's
"Festival of Games," which addresses and inverts the normative themes of social life. As
Gossen details, the festival simultaneously celebrates and parodies ethnic identity and
historical events of national and international scope. The festival corresponds to the
Maya calendar and participants incorporate symbols that carry both Maya and Christian
referents. Gossen emphasizes that the festival occurs outside and even counter to the
institutionalized church ceremonies and saints: "It is a time of barbarism, of demons,
precultural monkeys, armed warfare with Mexicans, Guatemalans, and Spaniards, a time
of abandon and suspension of rules and ordinary behavior" (Gossen 1986:229). Further,
Gossen understands the Festival of Games as a complex and condensed reliving of the
cycle of Maya history, containing stories of creation and conflict with outside forces. It
is an enactment and "macroanalysis" at the same time, with built in commentary on every
discernable social domain.
Gossen's (1986) work clearly builds on the pioneering structuralist approach of
Bricker (1981). Describing the Carnival rituals of the Maya communities Chamula,
Chenalho, and Zinacantan, Bricker (1981: chap. 10) attempts to boil structure out of the
seeming hodgepodge comprising public historical drama. Bricker (1981:135) asserts that
the Carnival events in each of these communities telescope time, presenting multiple
events of ethnic conflict as inevitable instantiations of the cyclical Maya calendar and
oral tradition, altering historical conception through bricolage. For example, in the
community of Chenalho, a singular set of symbols represents seven historical events:
(1) the Passion of Christ, (2) the wars between Christians and Moors, (3) military
campaigns against the Lacandon Indians in retaliation for their raids on Spanish
settlements during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, (4) the Cancuc revolt of
1712, (5) the French intervention of 1862-1867, (6) the Chamulan rebellion of
1867-1870, and (7) the mistreatment of Indians by Ladinos. (Bricker 1981:135-6)
In a corresponding fashion the cast of persons who embody these Carnival events
simultaneously depict multiple personages. For example, performers called "Blackmen"
multiply play the roles of Moors, Turks, monkeys, and Frenchmen (Bricker 1981).
Many of the personages described by Bricker (1981) and Gossen (1986), including the
Blackmen, played roles in the Nahulingo patron saint parade of July, 2004.
Due to the limitations of my initial field research project, I am unable to discern
whether the Salvadoran parade entailed layered representations of the magnitude
presented by Bricker (1981). The parade contained actors costumed and performing in
styles similar to those in Chamula and Chenalho, including the Blackmen. Like the
Blackmen described by Gossen (1986), the Nahulingo actors of this category traveled
both in groups and as individuals spread throughout the parade. They seemed to merge
with similar but different personages, including soldiers and punk rockers. To some
degree it seems that these representations of ethnic conflict did discernibly entail the
effect of telescoping described by Bricker (1981), though perhaps in lesser magnitude.
Given the centrality of performing major events of ethnic conflict in the communities
described by Bricker (1981), one might expect that the events of 1932 would feature
prominently in the Nahulingo parade. I did not witness any obvious references to the
events, and hypothesize that this absence is the effect of the continued salience of
political factions. Unlike Gossen's (1986) and Bricker's (1981) presentations of
Guatemalan and Chiapas Maya communities such as Chamula, Nahulingo remains
politically divided by lines similar to those of the early twentieth century. Thus, the
patron saint festival may have reflected sociopolitical cleavages as much as it reflected a
sense of solidarity.
Whatever the case, the actors whom I have begun to describe were clearly not
uniformly and homogenously re-presenting Salvadoran soldiers. While they might even
have had familial connections to the troops in Iraq, the historical and spatial contexts of
the Nahulingo parade disciplined the choice of materials and roles that they engaged. I
begin by demonstrating how contemporary political rhetoric defines and delimits this
style of parade performance. I concentrate on depictions that I think reflect challenges to
unified national identities. I proceed to an examination of the potential impact of
historical memories or conceptions of acceptable parade themes and styles on the
enactment of the "fall of Bin Laden."
The first rotation of 360 Cuscatlan Battalion soldiers departed for Iraq in August,
2003 (Associated Press 2003). One year later, and shortly after my departure from the
Central American nation, the third rotation of the Cuscatlan Battalion left for Iraq. Since
the initial battalion's departure, until the authorship of this work, the nation-state has
consistently maintained between 360 and 380 troops in Iraq. The Salvadoran government
extended its military presence despite withdrawal troops by all other Latin American
states. The Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Nicaragua followed Spain in ending
their involvement in the war by August, 2004 (Gray 2004). At the behest of recently
elected conservative ARENA party president Antonio Saca, El Salvador has continued to
replacee troops in Iraq; over 1100 have now served time there.
As I stated, the three Cuscatlan Battalions all served in Iraq. The youths'
depiction of the Battalion, however, incorporated both textual inscriptions mobilizing
"Bin Laden," and a costumed, handcuffed, towel-bearing, bearded actor (Figure 6). In
concert with international political rhetoric constituting the "War on Terror," the parade
participants situated the Afghani al Qaida leader in an imagining of Iraq. Upon further
examination, the soldiers' national affiliation similarly deconstructs. The oxcart bore
signs declaring the actors members of the Cuscatlan Batallion, but other costumed
soldiers wore shirts indicating their status as U.S. troops. I maintain that the blurring of
seemingly static delineations of political domains reflects and propagates a collective
Salvadoran imagining of transnational and historical conflicts that incorporates a
telescoping effect. This is complicated by the fact that U.S. intervention in El Salvador
and the nation's contemporary neo-colonial status blurs the boundary between what it
means to be "Salvadoran" and "American."
Though the Reagan administration acted an instrumental role in supporting the
repressive militia during the 1980s civil war, postwar reconstruction efforts have received
significant funding from the American government. USAID and the Peace Corps have
substantial presence in El Salvador. In 2002, the nation-state adopted the dollar as its
official currency. All of these obvious and well known connections to the U.S. lead
many Salvadorans to express that they are in a state of dependence. During my short
stint in the town, a range of Nahulinguienses suggested that they perceived El Salvador to
be a sort of American "colony."
In an Associated Press article published in U.S. newspapers at the beginning of May, a
Salvadoran soldier stated that "our country came out of a similar situation as in Iraq 12
years ago, so people in El Salvador can understand what is happening here" (Gray 2004).
This comment helps illustrate how Salvadorans link the civil war of the 1980s to the
contemporary conflict in Iraq. Such a stated linkage helps naturalize their continued
involvement in the Middle East. Simultaneously it telescopes a historical memory of war
with the contemporary Iraqi intervention in much the same way that the parade actors
may have combined and refigured conceptions of both conflicts through their costumes
Figure 6. Street actors in the patron saint parade included a representation of a captured
Osama Bin Laden, under heavy surveillance.
El Salvador's neo-colonial status problematizes the notion of independent nation-
states conceived as individual bodies constituting the world politic. The political state, as
the dominant body of democratic capitalism and a fundamental lynchpin for organization
of "modernity," has been challenged by many scholars, including Althusser and
Appadurai. I assert that the blurred character of Salvadoran economic and political ties
with other nation-states resembles a holographic (sensu Wagner 1991, 2001) conception
of sociopolitical scales: personal bodies, communities, and nation-states are imagined as
structurally isomorphic on different scales of size. This resembles Bricker's (1981)
metaphor of telescoped historical events: through a conception of time as cyclical,
seemingly disparate events are united. Transnational neo-colonialism's blurring effect,
like the shifts between acts in the spatialized parade, resonates profoundly with a
conception of the subject as multiplicitous and complex. This applies equally to
narrativized personal and political bodies. Maybe the parade structure exemplifies how
narratives of the "nation-state," the "community," and the "self" deconstruct and emerge
anew in Nahulingo. As I describe later, it is effective to read Santiago as the center of
one conceived narrative structure of the parade and patron saint festival, a part of
community and personal bodies.
I read the image and description of the Cuscatlan Batallian mock-up as a
synecdoche for transnational political relations. As a part of the very process of nation-
state's deconstruction, the mock-up exemplifies a challenge to essentialist national
identity. Who do these Nahulingo youth re-present in their enactment of a military
battalion? This is an exciting but significantly unanswerable question. There exists no
singular and unproblematic referent of the act; nothing is opaquely signified. The
complex web of rhetoric and conceptions that may have influenced this act should
become clearer in the remainder of this section.
From my visual perspective, the distinction between parade actors representing
soldiers and those representing other characters was unclear. The materials and
knowledge available for parade actors to construct their costumes limited their abilities to
present an original product of their fictive imaginations. My description of this Cuscatlan
Battalion ought to convey the manner in which historical and political themes are re-
figured and combined in new ways with new materials, the effect of bricolage. The use
of masks by youth playing the Cuscatlan Battalion helped naturalize this patron saint
parade as a continuance of the historical practice of public drama. Military and folk
parades draw on long histories in Spain and Latin America, and masks are central props
(e.g. Bricker 1981). Many masks, celebrated as indigenous or historic artifacts, find their
way into the glass boxes of museum displays (Figure 7). The use of masks and other
artifacts embedded in historical memory of public performances may have helped
legitimate or counter-act the macabre and deeply ironic character of the event.
As demonstrated by Gossen (1986) and Bricker (1973, 1981), Mesoamerican folk
performances have consistently evoked colonialist and anticolonialist themes. In
discussing the role of Santiago and other saints in festivals, folk theater scholar Max
Harris has employed James Scott's (1990) notions of "public" and "hidden transcripts"
(Harris 2000). The "Moors and Christians" and "Dance of the Conquest" performances
combine indigenous traditions and costumes with Spanish enactments of the expulsion of
the Moors from Spain (Bricker 1981, Harris 2000, Ricard 1932). Mexican and Central
American productions have combined representations of the Christian-Moor conflict with
that of the Spanish and the Aztec. This theme, at least the conflict between the Spanish
Christians and Moors, is enacted throughout El Salvador during festivals, and may easily
translate into the imperialist context of U.S. intervention in Iraq. Salvadoran actors
politically attach themselves to the hegemonic state and become the colonizers, rather
than the colony. The character of "Bin Laden," in the parade, becomes the bothered
Figure 7. A historic wooden devil mask, associated with public theatre. The artifact is
displayed in the Nahulingo Archaeological and Ethnographic Museum.
enemy. Telescoping time, the enacted historical conception of Islamic Moors figures into
the contemporary staging of Islamic "terrorists."
This imaginative merging of domains bounding the historic Moors and
contemporary "terrorist" groups such as al Qaida may be locally reinforced by
associations with the town's patron saint, Santiago Ap6stel. In Spain and Latin America,
the signifier "Santiago" ("Saint James") mobilizes conflicted histories and memories.
The saint represents both the Biblical Saint James and also Santiago Caballero (Saint
James the Knight), the patron saint of the Spanish Reconquista. He is heralded as the
leader of the Spanish forces who purged Spain of Moors. Santiago Caballero has even
been projected into the Biblical past in a Mexican festival, defeating Pontius Pilate
Parade participants did not incorporate the local saints Santiago Ap6stel and
Santiago Caballero into the parade. Older community members carried Santiago
Caballero through the streets during a distinct session of the patron saint festival, the
paseo, or procession (Figure 8). I am not unproblematically reading the multivalent play
of Latin American depictions of Santiago directly into the parade drama of Middle East
conflict. But I suggest that we should entertain and probe influences between
contemporary transnational politics of war and dependency, and the continued embrace
of such multi-faced religious and historical figures. The unification of different historical
events and political message creates an emergence of new political forms. Nahulingo's
Santiago Caballero did not act out a defeat of youth depicting Osama Bin Laden. But I
maintain that the use of such a militaristic figure, loosely associated with at least three
imagined conflicts, may provide tacit support for El Salvador's linked arms with the
imperialist United States. Santiago momentarily centers the structure; he is both within
and without it. Santiago offers a structural coherence to the parade, without needing to
show his face. His simultaneous presence and absence in the spatialized parade permits
the internal play of signs, in the sense of Jacques Derrida (1967). This play, here imbued
deeply with irony, holds significance because it contradistinguishes the parade from the
formal religious ceremony of the procession.
Figure 8. The procession. Members of the Nahulingo Catholic Church carry religious
icons depicting Santiago, Mary, and Jesus toward the church.
James Fernandez has noted this play of irony in distinguishing the parade and
procession in northern Spain. Fernandez states that
In both cases of procession and parade the self is caught up in the greater
whole attracted by the display of the significant other. The spectator is re-
impressed, constrained, and loyally reconverted to expected allegiance by
that display. Parades and processions are...moments of both constraint and
conversion in the presence of the significant other, though there is much
more constraint in the former and conversion in the latter; there is also
more imposed sincerity in the latter and voluntary sincerity in the former.
Transposing this argument onto the context of Nahulingo is effective. In
experiencing the dramatic depiction of events constituted by circulating sociopolitical
rhetoric, audience members must create allegiance. At that moment, the capture of
Osama Bin Laden is a central performance, offering the most hyperbolic "significant
other." It mobilizes the political affiliations of the audience, creating allegiance and
desires. It simultaneously reveals the instability of "nation-states." This allegiance may
help naturalize the oppressive conditions of colonialism.
But this punning display is also saturated with irony, and we do not have to take the
performative allegiance seriously. The syntagmatic or linked quality of the parade acts
underlies a sense of conversion. I mean that the spatial contiguity of acts within the
parade connects previously independent memories and identities, the process described
by Fernandez (2003) as an emergent quality. Perhaps the blurredness of the parade's acts
reflects a dis-ease with current narrative productions of western nation-states,
democracies, and colonialisms. The captors of Bin Laden are, after all, monsters. Harris
(2000) reads masks as critical artifacts that may seem irrelevant to the dominant
performative message but actually introduce a resistant "hidden transcript" into the
"public transcript." Can I understand the use of grim reaper and gorilla masks by the
battalion actors as revealing a "hidden transcript?" Certainly. Is it? Perhaps.
Addressing whether actors perceive that their use of specific materials and refiguration of
specific themes imbues the event with layered and contradictory meanings constitutes a
hypothesis to be tested in future research.
NARRATIVE AND MEMORY
Narrating Santiago and Exclusion
Santiago Caballero offers an inroad into discussion of local history as presented
through oral narrative (Figure 9). He embodies idiosyncratic significance for Nahulingo.
But the Nahulingo presentations of Santiago also mimicked and played the structure of
other mobilizations of the character. Town lore related to me by Ernesto Diaz, among
others, maintained that in 1934 a deluge caused the two streams that represent the east
and west town borders to nearly unite, almost flooding Nahulingo. Tellers of the story
maintained that town residents removed the Santiago Caballero icon from the church and
positioned him in the street between the two flooded areas. In some versions of the story,
Santiago Caballero left the church on his own prerogative, without the aid of
townspeople. Tellers claim that this replacementt of Santiago Caballero caused the
retreat of the waters, saving the town. Huezo also maintained that Nahulinguenses
removed the Santiago Caballero icon from the church during the 1932 insurrection,
carrying it around the town in order to protect the area from insurgent communism.
Stories of Santiago, beginning with the Biblical Saint James and continuing in
Spain and the Spanish Americas today, fit within a long-standing allegory of social
defense and exclusion. He is the sword bearer, cutting down all impediments to progress.
Santiago has defeated Pontius Pilate, the Moors, the Aztecs, the Spanish, Nature,
Communism, and probably myriad other Evils. The defeat of Osama Bin Laden even
occurred during a festival held in his honor. But I must be cautious in making explicit
connections between these distinct historical events, especially comparing Spanish and
American appropriations of Santiago.
Figure 9. Santiago Caballero. Nahulingo Catholics prepare Santiago for the climax of
the procession, when they raise and touch him to the icon of Mary and Jesus.
Ethnographic projects among Maya groups in the Yucatan and Highland Guatemala have
aptly illustrated appropriations of Santiago into local Maya cosmologies (Watanabe 1990,
1992). Mayanists Nancy Farriss (1984) and John Watanabe (1990, 1992), among others,
have shown that during the early colonial period, Maya communities replaced their
banished deities and fallen kings with Catholic saints. Rather than emphasizing the
saints' roles in divine salvation, communities incorporated Catholic figures, such as
Santiago Caballero, into local community-based devotions and rituals, affixing them with
local individuality. Not just in effect, but in actuality, saints became community
members with local personages and histories, though saints with the same names occupy
multiple communities. Yucatec and Highland Guatemalan Mayans have projected saints
into communities' precolonial pasts and imbue them with Mayaness. The saints
complement the religious roles of local ancestors and earth lords, who are comparable to
ladino devils (Watanabe 1990). Devotional acts for the saints reflect a commitment to
local reciprocity and moral accountability. In turn the saints protect the local territory,
which they survey during the yearly procession.
How do local appropriations of saints in neighboring towns in El Salvador and
Guatemala resemble Nahulingo's appropriation of Santiago? Given the paucity of
ethnographic work in El Salvador, I cannot currently answer this question. Thus, rather
than deriving definitive conclusions from this aspect of my preliminary work in El
Salvador, I return to the messages presented by Watanabe and Fischer (2004) and
reinforce the necessity of engaging a pluricultural ethnography that incorporates
communities in lower Mesoamerica, especially western El Salvador. Concern with
translocal meanings and identity politics in Mesoamerica has taken off in conjunction
with the pan-Maya movement. Studies of indigenous communities should not end at the
southern Guatemalan border. As I began to describe in my brief section on history,
Salvadorans have engaged in a unique range of historical events that resemble and differ
substantially from neighboring nation-states. This difference is mediated by the
emerging participation of Salvadorans in transnational movements, and their engagement
with circulated materials such as academic texts. Invocations of instrumentalist Maya
identity gained force after the end of the Guatemalan civil war and have now entered El
Salvador. How are these multisited expressions of communal identity differentially
appropriated and employed in Salvadoran contexts? Local expressions of indigeneity in
Nahulingo are evident through narrativized memories and museum displays of
indigenous materiality. But the manner in which these historical conceptions and
identities converge and diverge with those enacted in other communities across the
nation-state borders remains an unanswered and central question.
In the preceding chapter and this section I have discussed the possible impact of
political rhetoric on local performance of the imperialist war in Iraq, and the manner in
which this figures into a deep historical narrative of exclusion embodied by icons such as
Santiago. Here I offer a final and powerful resonance between a conception of Santiago
as the defender of Good and community, and a distinct enactment of progress through
destruction of a radical other. In further interpretation and discussion, I would like to
question how these conceptions fit within a broader framework of western progressivism.
But now I want to refract1 the lyrics of a song about Nahulingo's Santiago and excerpts
from the Associated Press article about the Cuscatlan Battalion that I mentioned above.
A short monograph celebrating the town includes a chapter that valorizes a few
significant residents of the last century. The section commemorating a man named
Rogelio Cabrera Rivera includes a song that he wrote about the community. I offer a
translation of the second half:
In July we celebrate the titular festival of the image that we have of a valiant
soldier. Santiago is this valiant one, the leader of this town, and with his blessed
sword he protects us all. All come together to celebrate his festival, the authorities,
SI employ the notion of "refraction" as used by Sarah Arturoklin (1997) in her study of assisted conception,
which resonates with Shanks' (I'i 14) and Pearson and Shanks (2001) textual formatting or style based on
the trope catachresis (or "katachresis"). The technique involves the juxtaposition of previously isolated
domains or ideas in order to expose the way in each of them are brought into being and naturalized.
Placing distinct ideas or conceptions of the world into (syntagmatic) textual contiguity exposes differences
and similarities in their ontological formulation. Here, I am specifically concerned with the commonality
of formulations of social exclusion and radical otherness.
professors, and the rest of the town. And with this I leave you and end my song. I
invite all to come venerate little Santiago. I invite all to come venerate little
Santiago. (Fajardo 1993:158-159)
The May 4, 2004 Associated Press article glamorizes the valiance of the battalion unit
leader, who, much like Santiago Caballero, drew his knife (depicted in bloody form in
the corollary photograph), and courageously defeated the radical Muslim alterity:
One of his friends was dead, 12 others lay wounded and the four soldiers still left
standing were surrounded and out of ammunition. So Salvadoran Cpl. Samuel
Toloza said a prayer, whipped out his knife and charged the Iraqi gunmen.
In one of the only known instances of hand-to-hand combat in the Iraq conflict,
Cpl. Toloza stabbed several attackers swarming around a comrade. The stunned
assailants backed away momentarily, just as a relief column came to the unit's
"We never considered surrender. I was trained to fight until the end," said the 25-
year-old corporal... (Gray 2004)
Just as Santiago manages to be within and without the parade, he manages to be an
aggressor and a peace keeper. As demonstrated through the AP article, these Salvadoran
soldiers accommodate a similar contradiction. Like those depicting them in Nahulingo,
members of the Cuscatlan Battalion are characterized by such multiplicity. Denis Gray,
the article's author, balances the gruesome scene of Toloza's aggression with emphasis
that they are out to keep the peace. Both the article and the soldiers must satisfy multiple
audiences. Gray (2004) states that,
The Salvadorans are eager to stress their role as peacekeepers rather than warriors,
perhaps with an eye toward public opinion back home. Masked protesters last week
seized the cathedral in the capital, San Salvador, demanding that President-elect
Tony Saca pull the troops out of Iraq.
I am left wondering what these masks reveal and what they conceal.
Indigeneity and Toponymy
Lauria-Santiago (2004) and Henrik Ronsbo (2004) have each addressed the
historical and contemporary fluidity of indigenous identity in El Salvador. In examining
indigenous "ethnodiscourse," Ronsbo (2004) concludes that contemporary self-
identification as Indio in El Salvador more actively invokes forms of rural labor than a
deep historical imagining of continuity or sense of essential identity. He asserts that
Salvadoran Indios are the "deportees of the ethnodiscourse" because they do not
effectively assert a sense of national identity or articulate into transnational
Mesoamerican indigenous movements (Ronsbo 2004:225). While it may be reasonable
to generalize about the absence of a coherently imagined nation of Salvadoran Indios, I
maintain that it is also useful to examine how social actors represent themselves and their
ancestors as selectively or partially indigenous, maintaining a social memory of
significant practices. Here I provide evidence from the domain of historical narrative.
Narrative representations of Santiago, like that offered by Ernesto Diaz, articulated
the saint as a critical figure and symbol used to combine Precolumbian and Spanish belief
systems. Diaz expressed that the indigenous residents of Nahulingo and Tacuzcalco
accepted the saint and thus the religious practices of the Spaniards due to the material
unification of the horse and the human. Diaz maintained that the use of animals as
central idols for the Pipil and Maya led to the colonized subaltern's acceptance of the
new saints. Bricker (1981:5) describes the appropriation of Catholic symbols and their
reinterpretation in terms that make sense to Mayans as one predominant means of Maya
revitalization movements. Through the social mobilization of saint, indigenous and
Catholic religiosities converged and re-formed. Diaz's narrative expressed that indigenes
were drawn to Catholic religiosity through these animals, such as the horse upon which
Santiago is mounted.
One can imagine that the Santiago horse conceals another "hidden transcript" of
indigenous resistance to Catholic proselytism embedded deeply within. This significant
creation of historical memory and narrative comes into being in a Salvadoran nation
where the populace is grasping for a unified national identity after the end of the civil
war. Such mobilization and conflict over the significance of this patron saint reflects a
common trend to utilize such saints in struggles to express ethnic, national, and racial
identities in nation-states where Catholicism is the prevalent religion (e.g. Bricker 1981;
Johnson 1997; Rey 2002; Westerfelhaus and Singhal 2001; Watanabe 1992). Diaz
suggests that the continued use of Santiago Caballero rather than the local Santiago
Ap6stel in the procession reflects such continued influence of indigenous religiosity. By
mobilizing the central religious icon as an embodiment of resistance and a signifier of
indigenous beliefs, Diaz and others imagine a complex past which can be celebrated in
the present to refigure a nationalism opposing state domination.
In this section, I offer resonant examples of how conceptions of indigeneity are
mobilized through historical memory and narrative in Nahulingo. The memories of town
residents draw prominently on the theme of indigeneity. I focus on the representation of
sexual regulation as a common historical memory which idealizes the historical
community endogamy, implicitly critiquing the present as degraded. I proceed to suggest
how toponymy plays a role in figuring historical conceptions of indigeneity. Maps and
toponymy have played significant roles in cultural negotiations and redefinitions of
places (e.g. Orlove 1991). These examples complementarily demonstrate how the
memories and imaginings of an indigenous past base desires for a different contemporary
Through interviews and social discussions, I regularly inquired about the local
meanings of indigeneity, and opinions on contemporary or recent historical indigenous
practices. Nahulingo is one of few Salvadoran towns where residents and advocates
claim a deep indigenous history, reinforced by material remains and historical
documents. This becomes evident through even a brief perusal of the new local
museum.2 However, nobody that I met proactively identified themselves as indigenous.
In fact, it was common for Nahulingo residents to actively point out the "indigenous"
character of neighboring towns, especially Izalco and Nahuizalco.
During discussions with community elders one significant characterization of
historical indigenous identity emerged strongly: the regulation of sexuality and
reproduction. Of the many practices loosely associated with indigeneity, such as outdoor
markets and "traditional" clothing, several interviewees commented on one early
twentieth century practice, the regulation of sexual intercourse by community leaders and
household elders. The story tellers, often in a rather hushed tone, related how these
leaders and elders either walked through the streets or announced within the household
once or twice a month that it was proper for young fertile couples to copulate. Gould and
Lauria-Santiago (2004) situate this practice within a discussion of indigenous village
endogamy and patriarchy. They maintain that such patriarchical endogamy fostered
women's desires to have relations with ladino men, which aided the erosion of
2 The museum also distances the indigenous past through the use of typological time (sensu Fabian 1983)
like that employed in many Latin American (and other) museum exhibits.
indigenous ethnic separatism. This perceived miscegenation augmented the pervasive
and strong class tension, contributing to the 1932 peasant uprising.
Gould and Lauria-Santiago (2004332-333) draw their discussion of this sexual
regulation from the work of Alejandro Marroquin (1959), whose informants remembered
a practice strikingly similar to what elderly Nahulinguenses related to me during summer,
In Panchimalco (an indigenous community south of San Salvador), the elderly
informants of anthropologist Alejandro Marroquin recounted that in the early
twentieth century, the community shared a belief that the 11th day following the
start of a new moon was propitious for procreating health, strong bodies and that an
earlier date in the lunar cycle would produce 'cowardly men.' Thus, according to
Marroquin's informants, on "once luna," around nine o'clock, municipal
authorities would walk the streets beating a drum and at intervals shouting: "Now is
the time to conceive, gentlemen." From houses people would then responded [sic],
"We're working on it." For the next eight days, sexual relations were encouraged.
After the eighth night, municipal authorities prohibited relations (an enforceable
regulation since the thatched roofs shook during the act). (Marroquin 1959:194-
Both male and female Nahulingo informants related to me a likewise structured
practice of sexual regulation. Retrospectively formulated within the contemporary
sociopolitical context, these memories today figure into a broader conceived narrative of
miscegenation. Nahulinguienses revealed their beliefs that such "mixing" caused social
and corporeal degradation. This became clear during an interview with park-keeper
MW: Were there indigenes here when you moved to Nahulingo?
EM: No, no, they had already left. The actual ancestors, as I said, had died. There
remained others, the ones who lived in the round houses, but only five of the
original ancient ones remained. These remaining little people were so humble ...
and well, this little people didn't understand their own capabilities. They were very
timid, not like us now, the way that we chat all the time. Them, no, they were only
social within themselves.
MW: And how do you know this?
EM: Because my mother tells me. My mother told me that her parents died very
old and she died of one hundred ... one hundred ... five years. Her, imagine that!
And, so the other little old people a ways back lived a ton of years. People used to
live longer. They lived to one hundred fifteen, one hundred twenty years of age.
EC: Well, they took better care of themselves, in all sorts of ways. I'll even tell
you this. To have sex .. they only .. with this area's moon every fifteen
days...they had sex with their wives. The kids were quite ... strong. Right? Now,
no. Before, in the early morning ... they passed by ... the day that people could
have sex someone with a drum passed by at four in the morning, or three in the
morning. They passed by playing the drum saying "now it's time to conceive.
Now it's time to conceive." It was the time to have sex. That was the custom.
MW: Do you remember that?
EM: Well, yes, I was very young when that happened, but yes I remember. That
was their custom. So that the children came out stronger.
The narrative of purity and strength draws proactively on the colonial trope of
blood. Similarly, "blood" as a signifier came to the fore in a discussion that I had with
two elderly women, Isabela Marquez Palos and Rosa Allende Espinosa. After Isabela
Marquez Palos used the metaphor of mixing paint to describe the process of
miscegenation, the two women began to discuss "strong" and "weak" blood:
RE: If your blood is stronger, your children will come out looking like you. But if
your blood is weak, they will come out looking like the mother.
MW: So you can have strong or weak blood?
MW: And how do you know if your blood is weak or strong?
RE: You know how? Our blood is not equal. There are strong bloods. And there
IP: Sometimes there are people who are 100 years old but they look really young.
MW: They are old but look young.
IP: Yes, it's because their blood is quite strong, right?
MW: So could you say that the indigenes didn't age as quickly because they had
RE: Look, before, people lived on and on for years and didn't get old. Now people
live fifty or sixty years and they are old. Why? Because their blood is weaker.
Because of that the man needs to choose his pair so that his children come out well
... It's like this. If the man is going to sow his corn or beans he has to search for
the right seed and the right plot so that the crop comes out well. I was going to tell
you about how conception used to happen. Husbands used to ... [laughing] ...
well, this happened between the indigenes. Look, when they were going to
conceive, they pounded a drum in each house. People came out saying
"conception, conception." Everyone got up happily because they were going to be
able to see their wives ....
MW: So someone in every household played the drum. And how frequently did
RE: They determined when to do it based on the moon.
IP: It didn't happen every day, more like every month.
RE: Nobody touched their wives without hearing the playing of drums and the
announcement that it was the day for conceiving. Nobody touched their wives
without the moon being right, and the children came out well and lived a long time.
Here the trope of blood is used in combination with references to cyclical
regulation of sexuality based on lunar cycles and facilitated by the public use of drums.
Though I cannot draw conclusive results from my initial interviews, references to the use
of drums and lunar cycles may resemble Maya social practices and conceptions of space
and time. Simultaneously, their telling on the story may allude to the historical transition
to wage or peasant labor on encomiendas. The colonial encomienda owners who took
control of land in the beginning of the twentieth century forced rural, often indigenous,
workers into an oppressive labor relation. No longer could they plant the seed of their
corn and bean crops based on their beliefs about agriculture. Ladino encomenderos
began to regulate the agricultural cycle. At this same time, indigenous women may have
attempted to improve their social positioning by marrying or procreating with members
of the ruling class. Gould and Lauria-Santiago (2004) relate the desire of indigenous
women to "whiten" through miscegenation with ladinos. They claim that this
strengthened the revolutionary sentiment of the peasant workers. Movement away from
endogamy weakened the social and corporeal health of the community and its members.
Thus, I tentatively understand the analogue between crop's and children's health as
reiterating and reinforcing a challenge to the dominant labor conditions of the twentieth
century, which disrupted community structures, and, apparently, caused bodily
Likewise, toponymic designations permit contemporary populations to construct
imaginings of and links to past communities (e.g. Orlove 1991). A name figures the
identity of a place, fixes something into the landscape and social memory, allowing
people to have a point of reference and produce mutual understandings. Presumably, the
contemporary population of "Nahulingo" resembles in some ways the past populations,
residing at the place with the same name. The name provides a basis for kinship and
community. In Nahulingo, it reinforces a sense of history invoked through the recovery
ofPrecolumbian archaeological materials. Simultaneously it signifies certain pathways
and commonalities with other indigenous communities, principally "The Four Izalcos:"
Nahuizalco, Caluco, Izalco, and Nahulingo. Some Salvadorans recognize that the suffix
"-co" or "-go" was Nahuat for "place." They connect long indigenous histories to town
names with such suffixes. Names force the Salvadoran and the visitor to consider or
create differences between these communities and, for example, the Spanish Catholic
settlement and name "Sonsonate."
Place names are simultaneously reinforced by aspects of local dialect, slang
known as "Caliche" (Fajardo 1993). In response to a question about the existence of
regionalisms rooted in Nahuat, Don Fernando inexplicitly drew out the connection
between local slang and place-names, anecdotally evidencing their common source:
Yes, there are words from Nahuat. Once a man named Enrique Palma told me that
he had visited the house of a woman that he knew and a singing hen entered the
room. The child said "Mommy, the nemotila laid a siste. So he asked the woman
what the child was saying. She said "He was saying that the hen laid an egg."
Nemotila, hen. Siste, egg. For that we understand that the town of Texistepeque
means the place of the egg hill. Peque is hill and siste is egg. Texistepeque. There
is the town of Quetzaltepeque. That means the hill of the birds of paradise. And
listen to the name of Cuatepeque. Cuatepeque means Cuat, serpent, and peque,
hill. Hill of the serpent. We have the name Apaneka. Apan says river, neka, wind.
The place of the river of wind.
As I would find out through continued dialogue, Don Fernando had taught himself
translations of the Nahuat place-names through a toponymic atlas that he owned. As
evidenced by the anecdote presented above, Don Fernando used the knowledge that he
had acquired through personal experience and the knowledge acquired through book-
learning to reinforce and account for each other. The combination of sources provides
Don Fernando with greater representative credibility and authority. Just as effortlessly,
Don Fernando might have made a connection between the Nahuat word for snake, Cuat,
present in the place-name Cuatepeque, with an artifact he owns and has loaned to the
local museum. The artifact, a small bowl, has an elaborate rim, which Don Fernando and
Arturo represent as a snake, symboling Quetzacoatl, the Aztec deity who is represented
as a feathered serpent
Don Fernando de Jesus Garcia's description of indigenous place-names and words
emerged during our first recorded interview, the morning of June 16, 2004. That
afternoon he returned to the Casa de la Cultura with the toponymic atlas. He sat down
across from me and began to read place-names and describe their meanings. I took the
prerogative and asked about the importance of understanding toponymy:
MW: For you, why is this important?
FJG: This toponymy?
FJG: For us it is important to be familiar with how the republic of El Salvador was
formed, and how it was divided into zones of haciendas. In each hacienda there are
hills and other features. So it is important to know the names of places in the
ancient language of those places. And now they have other names; but the names
haven't really changed, it's the populations that have. For this reason we think this
issue is important. So that we know what they were called anciently and what they
are called now. Because the Spanish changed various words. We have the word
guacal. Guacal is a container made of wood or other material. So, they called it
Pohal. The Spanish translated it to Guacal. It'spohal. We have the word shuco.
Now nobody says "shuco" but they say "chuco" with "ch," chuco, and it's written
"chuco." This means sour. So they make a form of atol that is called sour atol.3
So, for this, they changed it to chuco. It's not shuco, it's chuco. For these reasons
it is important for us to know what the language of our ancestors was, what we are
the descendents of. Though we are almost entirely crossed because with have
another's blood, right? We are what you could call hybrid. We are no longer a
pure race, of pure blood.
MW: And do you know where your ancestors came from? You say that you have
some ancestors from Spain and others from here, like Pipiles.
FJG: Yes, we have Pipil blood. There was an exodus of Pipil that left Mexico
towards here; first they entered Guatemala. They populated the whole department
of Escuintla [Guatemala] and they populated Sonsonate, Santa Ana, Ahuachapan
and part of the center of the country up to the Lempa River, and from there they
went toward Nicaragua. They crossed the gulf and arrived at Nicaragua. The Pipil
race. But when the Spanish arrived here they became enamored with the indigenes,
as no women came from Spain during the Conquista, just men. So, by necessity as
they did not have anyone else, they had to accept the local women. And that's how
the race began to mix. They named the new mixing race mestiza to indicate that it
was a mix [mezcla]. That's the predominant reason that I tell you we are hybrid,
because we are the mix of a white race with well, blacks, a mestiza black. It's
mestizo because it's a cross of black and white. And so, the race that came kept
mixing and mixing. They produced whites, and morenos, you see. And the whites
3 Atol is a drink made out of cornmeal, which is frequently sold by street vendors.
were called ladino. So the mix of ladino with the indigene produced what they call
Toponymy offers Don Fernando insight into the prehispanic history of El Salvador.
Indigenous place-names provide the same sort of knowledge that he creates through
collecting material artifacts. As I initially suggested in my opening anecdote about the
mayor's use of "Tacuzcalco," local actors mobilize indigenous place-names to create
narratives of history. Place-names, for Salvadorans concerned with history like Don
Fernando, are not a singular lens for understanding the prehispanic past and are often
understood in connection to other types of symbolic resources like material artifacts and
local slang. As demonstrated by the text of the interview that I have provided above,
toponymy provides one type of insight into a conception the past that is intimately
connected to other artifacts and conceptions. Additionally, Don Fernando's gives texture
to such presentations of the past, and understands the relationship between the Spanish
and the indigenous Pipiles with the common metaphors of mixing and blood.
I have begun to describe the context of the above interaction, but I need to qualify
my interpretation of Don Fernando's history before continuing. Don Fernando, a
community elder and primary benefactor of the Casa de la Cultura, approached me with a
concern about the past. He knew, more or less, why I was wandering about that
Salvadoran community and he seemed to want to provide me with a limited
understanding. His words came at the beginning of my fieldwork and, as such, figured
much of the way that I would come to terms with my being in the community. That day,
Don Fernando demonstrated a clear concern with teaching me, tutoring me about
Nahulingo and Salvadoran history. It makes sense that he used toponymy as an inroad
into addressing my historical concerns. I had, after all, appeared one day in a community
with an indigenous name and a landscape littered with ceramics and lithics and told
people that I was there to inquire into conceptions of history.
In my question about Don Fernando's ancestors, which led to his description of
national mixedness, I intended to prompt him to address his personal ancestry and their
identities. My own semantic ambiguity led him to prioritize a discussion of general
ancestry and racial identity. This reflects a tendency of Don Fernando to speak for
Nahulingo, or El Salvador, often articulating himself as a sort of spokesperson. He more
often speaks in the first person plural than the first person singular. And I think he
honestly cares for his society; the "we" is important to him. At this point in the
discussion I was even more curious about how he figured himself and his ancestors into
this historical schema of social and racial relations. I clarified my question:
MW: And yourself: Do you know where your ancestors were from, like your
grandparents and great grandparents?
FJG: Yes, we say that my grandfather was of Chapin origin, in Guatemala. My
grandmother no, she was from here, El Salvador. She was from a town called
Tenancingo. But she was already of the white race, my grandmother.
MW: Had her parents or recent ancestors come from Spain?
FJG: No, when she was alive this place had already been conquered three hundred
or more like four hundred years. And there was a lot of the white race. So she
belonged to the white but little race.
MW: "But little," what does that mean?
FJG: White with yellow eyes. Because the ancestors of the Pipil race around here
had yellow eyes but not light blue ones, nor were there blue or green eyes. The
races kept on mixing and those colors began to appear. That's like my family. My
grandfather was of indigenous race and my grandmother was ladina.
MW: Was he Pipil?
FJG: Yes, Pipil. "Pipil" means small, little, yes.
By presenting his own genealogy, Don Fernando managed to also summarize and
exemplify significant patterns of historical relations among racial groups in El Salvador.
As alluded to by the inclusive "we" he employed in the previous description of
Salvadoran history, Don Fernando incorporates all the identified conjunctures that
dominate representations of Salvadoran racial history into his personal narrative account.
His grandmother was white and ladina; but he also uses a different category of racial-
thinking, qualifying her whiteness by maintaining that she was also "little." The
evidence for her being "little" was a light eye-color, something idiosyncratic to indigenes,
according to Don Fernando. The excerpt of an interview conducted with Estevan
Canivales Mendoza that I included above also employs uses the trope of "little" to
describe past indigenes. This is a translation of"Pipil" which resonates with the common
diminutive indito (little indian).
RHETORIC AND MATERIALITY
The Ceiba and Metonymy
In Nahulingo, no buildings stand taller than the Catholic church. The plaza and the
religious structure set on higher ground. Ernesto and other community members claim
that the Spanish built the original church on a raised mound where the indigenous temple
previously stood. Simultaneously, the construction of colonial architecture into the
indigenous landscape and the reallocation of architectural features may have permitted
the maintenance of aspects of indigenous identities. As I mentioned above, Ernesto
mobilizes Santiago as a syncretic icon, created through the reformation of Catholic
religious practice to include indigenous imagery. Unlike the Nahulingo buildings, the
ceiba tree towers above the contiguous church and likewise embodies multiple histories
and images (Figure 11). The ceiba gives form to histories, and its conception brings to
mind a range of memories and conflicts for Nahulingiuenses.
I conceptualize the ceiba (and associated aspects of the landscape) as a
sociomaterial axis that individuals use to link contemporary social practice to aspects of
the conceived past. Trees like the ceiba figure prominently in postcolonial
Mesoamerican, especially Mayan, symbolism. In postcolonial Mayan cosmology, for
example, the Sun/Christ is slain and nailed to a tree, rather than a cross, before he travels
to each of the quadrants of the universe, a cosmogenic movement that establishes the
contemporary categories of time, space, and cosmic order (e.g. Gossen 1986:229).
Through discussions with Nahulingo residents, I learned various associations
Figure 10. The Nahulingo ceiba. The photograph is taken from the central plaza. The
structures between the park and the plaza are temporary businesses in town for
the patron saint festival.
between the tree and historical events. One informant associated the tree with historical
markets which took place in western El Salvador on weekends in the nineteenth century.
Markets currently occur around such trees in northern El Salvador and Guatemala (see
Anderson 2004). Don Fernando presented the tree as an indigenous meeting place.
Additionally, Don Fernando claimed that indigenous Nahulingo residents used the tree as
a sort of location device and that there were four other ceibas on the town periphery,
marking the cardinal directions. This conception of spatial order and the centrality of the
ceiba therein resembles the Maya system of cosmological and spatial order. Don
Fernando himself identified the trees as significant indigenous markers, describing how
he found an indigenous jade pendant buried next to one of the peripheral ceibas.
These histories articulate the ceiba as a central material feature revealing the
historic and contemporary indigenous elements of Nahulingo. Analogous to the mayor's
comments that I quoted in the introduction, memories attached to the tree links the
practices of the precolonial Pipil residents of Tacuzcalco and Nahulingo with the
practices of early twentieth century indigenes and communists. They met in the "same
place." This metonymic connection and the symbolic power of the ceiba did not go
unnoticed by the neo-colonial government death squads who aimed to wipe out the
indigenous Nahuat speakers and the communist insurgents (or, just anyone carrying a
machete) in one fell swoop. Multiple subjects claimed that the massacre of local
indigenes and communists took place at the base of the tree in 1932. One friend and
informant occasionally commented that the ceiba "had lead in it." Gould and Lauria-
Santiago (2004) corroborate this claim, quoting an informant who states that the ceiba
tree in the neighboring (and closely associated) town of Nahuizalco was a meeting place
for the communist insurgents before the massacre. Just as their colonialist predecessors
may have "killed" the local religious structure and metonymically resurrected a Catholic
church, the death squads lined up and assassinated local rebels and indigenes under the
massive symbol, co-opting its power and associating it with the repressive state rather
than the indigenous peasant.
Progressivism and Nationalism
Recognizing with Anderson that the nation is an imagined thing, I also recognize
the critical reciprocal of his insight, that it is the imagination that will have to carry
us beyond the nation. (Appadurai 2003:337)
In the final interpretive section of this work, I draw on multiple sources to discuss
and interpret concepts of progress and presentations of objects in Nahulingo. As I began
to elaborate in the section on performance and the parade, ontologies that frame Western
politics circulate through and affect the community of Nahulingo. Both the political
rhetoric enacted and reformulated during the parade and Don Fernando de Jesus Garcia's
use of a toponymic atlas to envision a national and historical landscape constitute
examples of the circulation of translocal texts and objects, like that described by
Anderson (1991) and Appadurai (1986). Beyond political rhetoric propagated by
transnational news programs and the international circulation of texts that reify
conceptions of toponymy, here I briefly expound on the mobilization of concepts of
development and progress. I discuss the museum and its organization of historical
materiality within the framework of such political and historical conceptions.
Since the end of the civil war in the early 1990s, branches of the national
government in El Salvador have incorporated ideas formulated through academic
discourses, including those of anthropology, into a wide range of development strategies.
Despite a general lack of national anthropologists, the government has drawn on such
discussions to define and commemorate places, materials and practices as culturally
significant. These definitions and ideas, borrowed largely from UNESCO, directly shape
the face of social relations throughout the nation-state, impacting everything from local
development projects to community and religious festivals. The government sector
primarily responsible for the implementation of development strategies and
anthropological ideas, CONCULTURA (Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y el Arte),
delineates specific national and institutional objectives (which can be found at its
website, http://www.concultura.gob.sv). The organization also maintains a material and
human presence throughout the state, in the form of multipurpose local offices, Casas de
Through its website, CONCULTURA explicitly presents its mission and vision, in
addition to national and institutional objectives, which imply a sense of evolutionist
development. The expressed mission is to "articulate and position Cultural Politics in
the process of national development." The expressed vision is broader, appealing to a
universal humanity: "to contribute to the development of Salvadoran human potential
through an integrative Cultural Politics." In the "national objectives," CONCULTURA
provides a rewording of its vision, emphasizing the positioning and articulation of
"culture" as a key element for development and human potential. Other national
objectives listed on the website, which seem secondary, include promoting creativity,
strengthening identity and historical memory, broadening knowledge and
conscientiousness, stimulating cultural dialogue and reweaving the social fabric.
CONCULTURA's programs proactively benefit many communities. In Nahulingo
I worked closely with community members, including Diaz, director of the Casa de la
Cultura. This Casa de la Cultura provides necessary resources-both material and
ideational-to the community. Among other projects, Diaz and the Casa de la Cultura, in
coordination with the local mayor's office and a Spanish non-governmental organization,
have designed and opened a small local museum. In addition to historical photographs
and community paintings, the museum predominantly displays precolonial artifacts found
through the luck and curiosity of the town residents. The museum's layout, and its
material and textual content mimic the Salvadoran national museum and draw strongly on
evolutionist typologies. I offer a description of the museum and my discussions with
Salvadorans about this institution as an example of the impact of such knowledge on the
conception and representation of local history.
Before further describing the content of the Nahulingo museum, here I relay a story
told to me about the acquisition of the building that recently was inaugurated as a
museum. This suggests how the museum, like the lived spaces described by Herzfeld
(1991), has become a locus of contestation and negotiation of local history. My
interlocutor was Ricardo Fox, a budding student of anthropology and employee of the
Centro de Capitaci6n y Promoci6n de la Democracia (CECADE), a Salvadoran NGO that
generously helped arrange and facilitate my work in Nahulingo. According to Fox, after
the 1980s war the state branch responsible for the development of museums, which
would later transform into CONCULTURA, was also in charge of developing prisons.
For Fox, the irony of coupling the institution that existed to shun members of society, to
isolate them through incarceration, with the institution that aimed to elucidate and
(sometimes) celebrate the past did not go unnoticed. So, the building that Nahulingo
inherited as a potential future museum had been a state prison during the war. He spoke
of how he and others did not want to remove the prisoners' graffiti that adorned the walls
before converting the building into the museum: in Fox's view, that graffiti was history,
and created the appropriate ambient for a local museum, a testament to local history. Fox
and others had attempted to negotiate this with the Nahulingo mayor. But the mayor
refused to grant their request, citing that a "place of culture" should not have walls
decorated with vulgar expressions. Fox and I joked about how some future
archaeological excavation of the building might uncover a more dismal history hidden
beneath the thin veneer of repainted walls.
Should museums and other representative fora recall forms of explicit discipline,
such brutal production of docile bodies? Salvadorans of the early 2000s have a strong
historical memory of recent oppression and conflict. Even in Nahulingo, where the civil
war had little effect, the political parties that materialized through the conflict remain
critical social factions. The gazing eye of the state lurks about, peering through the glass
panes of the mayor's office, spatially contiguous to the museum. The mayor's sentiment
reflects that he thought the "museum" a celebration of an idealized past. Perhaps he also
feared that the re-appropriation and transformation of the "jail" might engender an
inverted gaze, opening a critical window into what Foucault called "that darkest region in
the apparatus of justice ." (1979:256).
Through this description of a rift between distinct potentials for historical
representation in the museum, we can understand the latent conflict between a sense of
deep-time history and a recent historical memory. The choice to mobilize photographs
and artifacts from historical religious processions and Precolumbian artifacts reflects the
formulation of a specific historical narrative. This example makes it increasingly evident
that the creation of such narratives and their public expression always requires the
exclusion of other meaningful narratives of historical conception. Instead of creating an
explicitly and unavoidably political museum exhibit, the museum's directors have
mobilized a style of cultural history. This reflects the higher-level adoption and re-
situation of similar rhetoric by CONCULTURA. As suggested above, I argue that this
mode of representation has political implications. In a politically tumultuous and divided
state, the use of a generalized evolutionist framework provides a safe conceptual distance.
Perhaps even in Nahulingo, where the civil war had few evident lasting effects, a textured
local history remains distinctly off limits. This seems clear in the local museum. But
simultaneously, the museum is a site of negotiation and expression of multiple local
histories and identities, which emerge differentially for distinct visitors.
Having passed through the museum lobby, the visitor enters the ethnographic room
and encounters photographs and a few artifacts, including a mask (Figure 7) and a
ceramic cacao pod-shaped vessel. The photographs predominately depict historical
religious imagery of processions and Catholic icons. During the museum inauguration,
Arturo pointed out his grandmother in one of the black and white photographs. She
stands as a child, in school uniform, a white blouse and dark skirt, surrounded by other
girls her age. With their shoulders they casually support platforms upon which three
Catholic figures stand. For Arturo, and his grandfather Don Fernando, this photograph
had a personal texture. Their experience of the photograph and the room must differ
significantly from other visitors.
After leaving the ethnographic room, the visitor steps into the world of the early
prehispanic past. The first archaeological room consists of a handful of glass boxes
containing ground stone and obsidian artifacts, aesthetically arranged. A hanging poster
describes the early use of stone tools, identifying the artifacts with a pre-ceramic era.
The third room boasts another few cases of artifacts; this time with ceramics. The cases
display predominately Postclassic ceramics, including vessels, stamps, a drum, and
whistles. Don Fernando has glazed some of the pots to help preserve them. The hanging
poster describes how the development of ceramic vessels bettered the lives of the "first
populations" of El Salvador, and that they expressed their own styles in these vessels.
The final room is a space for temporary exhibits. It currently holds local community
artwork, paintings by Diaz among others. Diaz wrote the text that guides the visitor
through the museum and commented to me that the structure of the accompanying
explanatory materials mimics that of the National Museum and other museums in El
The personal involvement that some residents of Nahulingo have had in developing
and providing materials for the museum evidences how the space is differentially
experienced. Recent scholarship has emphasized how such spaces are imbued with
distinct meanings by groups and individuals with different sociopolitical interests in
specific modes of historicity. Barbara Bender (2002) and Kevin Hetherington (2000)
have discussed Stonehenge as such a negotiated place. The officially endowed historicity
of Stonehenge masks conservative class interests and marginalizes the unrepresented
nomads known as the New Age Travellers, who lay claim to the site as a significant
cosmological place (Hetherington 2000). Using Margaret Rodman's (2003) complement
to the anthropological term and strategy of multivocality, both Stonehenge and the
Nahulingo museum are experienced multilocally. The dissonance between the local
mayor's imagining of the museum and that of CECADE demonstrates how this
multilocal place emerges as a site of social contestation.
I met Arturo in the Nahulingo museum. Within an hour of arriving in Nahulingo I
found myself in this place of representation and remembrance offering my hands to help
affix the posters that offered some clarification of what these exotic pieces of stone and
clay reflect. Later in my fieldwork, Arturo and I began to discuss the need to
contextualize the pieces, and he informed me of some of his archaeological speculations
and ambitions. The prominence of symbols on the pieces implied to him that literacy
and, thus, education, was fairly prominent. Arturo also talked about "his dream," as he
put it: to find an archaeological piece with the iconographic representation of
"Nahulingo" and to use this iconography in place of the town shield, as (he said) is
frequently done in Mexico.
Arturo's enthusiasm for using a piece of unfound prehistoric iconography in place
of the contemporary town shield reveals the nationalist implications of his involvement in
archaeology. Unlike his politically and religiously conservative grandfather, Arturo
seems to articulate his understanding of prehistoric society and his created connections
with the past in order to legitimate a specific political agenda. A central aspiration of this
agenda is to replace the colonial "shield" bearing symbols inherited from a Spanish
tradition with the precolonial symbol for "Nahulingo."
In concert with this sentiment, Arturo offered a novel interpretation of the
meaning of "Nahulingo." The typical etymological reading of the Nahuat name is as
follows (Fajardo 1993):
Nahuilingo: The place of four movements.
In a basic monograph produced by the patrimony group which became
CONCULTURA (Patronato Pro-Patrimonio Cultural), Juan Jose Fajardo relates the
following local interpretation of the town's name: "The locals, in relation to the
vernacular name, propose a solution to the issue, stating that it is derived from the fact
that from the town of Nahulingo split four roads: one to Guatemala, another to Acajutla,
another toward Izalco and one to Caluco" (Fajardo 1993). Fajardo was apparently not
directly informed of this by local community members. Rather he cites a historical
source (Clara de Guevara n.d.). Arturo thinks that the name is better translated as "the
place of Four Movement" (rather than "the place of four movements"), which refers to an
Aztec sun god, or a ritual/day celebrating the sun god, documented in the Aztec
"codices." Arturo's argument was born out of his having read Reyes y Reinos de la
Mixteca by Alfonso Caso (1977).
As Arturo explained this to me, his grandfather sat quietly cleaning the ceramic
vase, only speaking occasionally, for example, to note the design in red paint that was
appearing as he cleaned the dirt off of the ceramic vessel. Arturo's hypothesis about the
meaning of"Nahulingo" did raise his grandfather's eyebrow, so to speak. He turned and
corrected his grandson.
"No, 'Nahulingo' means four movements, which refers to a dance, and to the fact
that four roads split from here: to Guatemala, to Acajutla, to Izalco, and to Caluco," Don
Fernando stated gruffly, nearly quoting the Nahulingo monograph, clearly frustrated with
his grandson's dissonant interpretation. While he is not cited as a source for the
etymology of the town name, Don Fernando did participate in an interview which is
partly reprinted in the book (Fajardo 1993). In fact, the first day that I spoke extensively
with him, he picked the book off of the desk in the Casa de la Cultura office and flipped
through it to find and show me his name.
With his grandfather sitting to the left and me directly in front of them, forming a
triangle, Arturo winked at me with his right eye, and continue talking. This suggests that
the place and objects of the Nahulingo museum are differentially experienced even by
members of the same family: generation and political orientation mark a social faction
here, rather than kinship. While the photograph that depicts Don Fernando's wife or
Arturo's grandmother may represent a site of familial unification, the multiple meanings
of the name "Nahulingo" marks a social conflict.
At the beginning of the patron saint parade, Arturo expressed to me a similar
sentiment, once again drawing on an idealized conception of indigeneity to base a
critique of contemporary society. He relayed a story that he had "read in a book about
Abraham Lincoln." I offer a translation of the story, entitled "to show that the Indians
Abraham Lincoln told a story about an Evangelist missionary who went to work
with an American Indian tribe. The Evangelist arrived and called a meeting with
the chief. He asked that the chief call together all the tribe's members, because he
had an obligation to teach them the Christian faith. The chief obliged to the request
of the missionary, and gathered everyone from the tribe to hear the Christian words.
As the crowd settled, the missionary began to forcefully preach about the
righteousness of the Christian faith. For three whole days without rest, the
missionary explained the meaning and Truth of the Bible in detailed prose. The
chief, and the rest of the tribe, surrounding the missionary sat patiently and listened
carefully as the Evangelist elaborated his faith.
After three days of preaching, the missionary brought his sermon to an end. The
chief thanked him for sharing his beliefs, and asked that, in turn, the Evangelist
listen to the chief as a spokesperson for the tribe and its beliefs. The missionary
agreed and began to listen. During the first two hours of the chief s sermon, the
evangelist listened carefully, with the tribe still surrounding him. As the chief
continued into the third hour the Evangelist began to tire and grow hungry. By the
fourth hour he had stopped paying attention and in the fifth hour he asked that the
chief stop so that he could go rest and recuperate. The chief looked squarely at the
missionary, and asked why he should accept the beliefs of someone who preached
for three days but refused to allow his audience equal time to share their own faith.
Arturo presents this story to counter the unstated rhetorical misrepresentation of all
indigenes, or inditos, as "backwards." Taken contextually, this rather eloquently
expressed tale reflects Arturo's sense of (indigenous) nationalism. This may be an
example of how pan-Mayanist and similar movements have entered the Salvadoran
By telling a story about the proselytizer's impatience, highlighting the tolerance
and intelligence of the indigenous chief, Arturo incorporates and extends a subaltern
rhetoric of unity. Arturo seeks to find alternatives to contemporary national and
international political structures by positing an indigenous past as opposed and superior
to a neoliberal present. Such historical play, which I have noted throughout this text,
brings the past into conceptual contiguity with the present and future. It is an act of
imagination and invention, the use of a conceived history to envision a more egalitarian
future. This imaging, imagining, and desire reveals a trace of frustration, but also traces
of hope and optimism. In the synthetic comments on my preliminary fieldwork I focus
on these latter sentiments, and I pose new questions about how Nahulingfienses, like
many others at the beginning of the 2000s, have begun to imagine themselves beyond the
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
In the preceding chapters I have offered a range of interpretive positions on social
action and representation in Nahulingo, El Salvador. I intend for the sections and
chapters in this work to provide groundwork and questions for multiple types of future
research. I structured this work with a definite set of themes and arguments which
integrated the various conceptual and spatial sites of my preliminary fieldwork. In this
final chapter, I briefly elucidate the predominant threads that tie together my perspectives
in order to create a foundation for future research questions. I summarize how Nahulingo
actors engaged memories, histories, and actions that implicitly or explicitly critiqued
contemporary social conditions and offered revitalized visions of the future. I
specifically propose questions about the ways in which Nahulingo actors mobilize objects
and notions of indigeneity, a central process of historical discourse.
Historical articulations through public events, narratives, and museums, for
example, always have a quality ofbricolage. I treat oxcarts, memories, masks, and
ceramics alike, as symbolic resources used by social actors to invent the past, define the
contemporary community, and envision the future. My experiences with these symbolic
resources occurred within the social landscape of Nahulingo, in specific meaning-laden
places. Substantial bodies of historical conceptions, or stories with distinct scopes and
themes, inhabit Nahulingo landscapes and consciousnesses. I have argued that much of
this historical discourse can be understood with the aid of conceptual tools such as
interpellation, emergent qualities, and bricolage.
I bring this work to a close by drawing attention to the optimistic and inspired
imaginations in Nahulingo that, perhaps, structurally oppose and complement a pervasive
frustration with the present. Alberto Fernandez expressed to me his frustration with the
contemporary patron saint festival; everything cost money. But he had in mind an
alternative, an idealization of the past that could be mobilized to create effects in the
present. Ernesto Diaz is one actor who has mobilized such imaginings of the past to
create effects, and beneficial change in the Nahulingo community. His work with others
to use the local Casa de la Cultura and the new museum as community and educational
centers stands, like the ceiba, as one of the constructive central aspects of the
contemporary community. He has even mobilized an imagining of cacao production to
create community events, solidarity, and economic profit through the narrativized
commodity of cacao. In this context, such acts give strength and a sense of communal
self to Nahulingo. This history of cacao production, like the history of other local
materialities, such as masks and Santiago (which circulate through distinct contexts) or
the ceiba (around which Nahulinguenses circulate), constitute narratives and places of
contemporary historical discourse. By deeming the active agents in Nahulingo historical
discourse 'bricoleurs,' I emphasize that they are not cogs in a machine, forced to think
about the world in specific well-bounded channels. Instead, they reformulate their
consciousness through a combination of historical memory and contemporary materiality.
Compelling research has recently emerged out of actor-network approaches in
science and technology studies that trace artifacts and signifiers (often deemed "tropes")
through multiple geographical and conceptual sites, documenting the shifts in meanings
attached to them (e.g. Adams 2001, Franklin 1997). Multisited approaches in
ethnography offer the same appeal, an opportunity to trace how artifacts and tropes
travel, giving form and substance to communities (Marcus and Fischer 1986, Marcus
1995). Through the internal mobilization of things in Nahulingo such as masks, Santiago
Caballero, and ceramic pots, historical narratives emerge. Ceramics, lithics, and
indigenous place names serve as critical nodes in a social landscape that enable locals to
articulate Nahulingo into narratives of Precolumbian history produced predominately
through the circulated texts of anthropologists such as Caso (1977) and Fowler (1989).
Arturo's interpretation of the meaning of "Nahulingo" and desire to replace the colonial
shield with precolonial place-name iconography evidences such articulation of academic
and local knowledge or narratives. The parade act and Arturo's historical stories both
demonstrate the types of creation that constantly occur in places where people have
vested interests in history and access to resources such as those provided by the Casa de
la Cultura (in, Arturo's case, the Caso volumes).
As I began to explain in my historical overview, Salvadorans and others frequently
contrast the nation-state with Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, claiming that El
Salvador no longer has indigenes. I hope to strengthen the perspectives advocated by
Lauria-Santiago and Binford (2004), emphasizing that indigenous self-identity in El
Salvador remains a critical aspect of historical discourse. In fact, by the mid-2000s, a
decade after the end of the civil war, it seems that a range of people are comfortable
publicly articulating the indigenous components of their kinships, histories, and selves.
Ilda Margarita Vecinos de Perres, Rosaura Elisa Espinosa, and Estevan Canizales
Mendoza even recalled their own family's and community's recent historical
reproductive practices within narratives of indigeneity. Simultaneously, social actors
who have prominent roles in the construction of local discourses of history and
indigeneity such as Arturo, Don Fernando, and Ernesto have begun to proactively acquire
academic knowledge by reading literary scholarship, a relatively new aspect of the social
landscape. CECADE has used anthropological ideas and rhetoric to structure a political
agenda. This situates Nahulingo as one critical place where anthropologists can continue
to develop cooperative and multivocal projects, including archaeology, material culture
studies, and ethnography.
The creation of dynamic anthropological approaches to studying Nahulingo
requires the integration of material culture studies, ethnographies, and historical and
archaeological studies, conducted by teams of researchers and community members.
This objective extends the contemporary trend of cross-fertilization between material
culture studies and ethnography (e.g. Geismar and Horst 2004, Low 1996, Robin and
Rothschild 2002). Like Setha Low and others, I have started to explore latent meanings
in public places and acts, constantly transforming through the material productions and
social constructions of places. I have begun to discuss and draw linkages among events
such as the patron saint festival, the disco m6vil, the parade, and the procession.
These events involve the transformation of history, memory, indigeneity, the ceiba,
and the museum artifacts. How have contemporary objects and structures emerged?
How are these emergences and transformations contested and negotiated? In a discussion
of such ethnographic emergences, Michael M.J. Fischer (2005:60) has recently incited
anthropologists to action: "we need to go beyond slogans of multisitedness. We need to
push into distributed infrastructures. We must look for enunciatory communities, rules of
play, and sites of contestation." This involves the innovation of new comparative
methods, scanning for multiple voices and knowledge, such as the project posed in
Watanabe and Fischer's (2004) Pluralizing Ethnography.
I propose to further explore the materiality and history of local religious figures
such as Santiago Caballero, in addition to their contemporary social meanings, and
mobilizations through public festivals. This involves examining the manner in which
social actors create historical discourses, imbuing objects and places with historicity. The
museum represents such a dynamic place where members of the community articulate
and negotiate historical identities. How do such objects circulate within and through the
social and spatial fields ofNahulingo? How do objects transmute, moving into and out of
historical discourse? Ultimately, how are local aspects of the landscape such as the
museum and the ceiba contested and experienced multilocally?
Answering such questions necessitates a deeper, longitudinal research project.
Discussing the patron saint parade in a more textured style, for example, would require
that I probe social fields that exist behind the surface veneer of the performance. While I
describe the performers and some of the historical and social contexts, the limitations of
my fieldwork experience prohibited a deeper description of the production of the parade.
A network of social actors exists behind this veneer, including affiliates of the local
government and school system whom I do not discuss in this preliminary work. How do
these social actors define the message and style of the patron saint parade? What are the
sources of their ideas and how are they circulated through the students acting on the
streets? Are the messages of the parade contested in reference to conflicting historical
and religious conceptions? Are there differences between the messages of the social
actors setting the agenda for the parade and the students enacting it? Approaching these
questions requires an understanding of how social actors are produced in historical and
cultural contexts. This necessitates a longer fieldwork project and possibly archival
I could ask a similar set of questions of the other domains of historical discourse
and social action that I have described in this work. Selective access to the disco m6vil
and distinct historical narratives associated with the ceiba may both constitute
materializations of longer-standing social factions and contestations. Returning to
Fischer's (2005:60) comment that I quote above, if these are significant sites of
contestation, who comprise the contesting enunciatory communities, and what are the
rules of play? As I have alluded throughout this work, such communities may transcend
the local and articulate with rhetoric and objects produced by national and international
social actors and institutions such as CONCULTURA. The second stage of my research
will use these questions to frame a study of historical conception and negotiation around
objects and sites with distinct and conflicting historicities.
Through this work I have begun discussing historical discourse in Nahulingo, as
manifest in three distinct social domains. I have offered a limited reading of community
ontologies and conceptions of history and identity. The work ultimately serves as a
starting point, a foundation for engaging other scholars and community members in the
production and contestation of knowledge in and about the history of Nahulingo and El
Salvador within the broader scope of Mesoamerican studies.
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