Home 603 Mesoamerica Cultures

Book List

Week 1-2 Carmack

Week 3 Whisnat

Week 4 Whisnat

Week 5 Whisnat

Week 6 Nash

Week 6 Essay 1 Question

Week 6 Essay

Week 7 Nash

Week 8 Manz

Week 9 Manz

Week 10 Binford

Week 11 Binford

Week 12 Oppenheimer

Week 12 Quinnones

Week 12 Essay 2 Question

Week 12 Essay 2

Week 13 Oppenheimer

Week 13 Quinnones

Week 14 Dow

Week 15 Dow

Final Paper


Victoria Kline
Anthropology 582: Mesoamerican Cultures
October 6, 2004
Dr. Ramona Perez

Essay 1: Nicaragua

The Classic period in Mesoamerica marks the rise of civilizations in Teotihuacan, Tikal, Palenque, Copan, Classic Maya and other familiar place names as the first cities. Societies became obviously stratified, and the long count calendar was devised in this period. The Postclassic period, from the fall of the Classic to Spanish contact is the time of the rise of the city-states that display large variations is size, population density, geography, city planning, arrangement of housing etc. What was more uniform and uniting between the city-states were art forms and the move away from religion and towards commerce as the dominant motivating force behind culture (Carmack 71, 79). The Aztec empire rose to become the most powerful of the city-states at this time. According to Carmack et al, the rise of the Aztec empire “can be correlated to their destruction of the ancient books” and to the reinvention of the deities by Aztec wise men who covered all the bases in creating the new religious message to fit within the new ideology they wished to promote. The Aztecs retained some of aspects of the ancient gods added other attributes to make them more “modern,” to fit the paradigm of the perfect hierarchical society they could foresee. The Aztec wise men created a whole mythology, which was recorded in books, in carving, in painting, and presented in teachings. (Carmack 114-119)

There is a similarity between the way the ancient Aztec wise men created the new religious ideology that allowed the Aztecs to rise to power and the way in which culture is manipulated and transferred through the use of symbols based on altered cultural icons. Our interest in this context is in the regimes of the Somoza government that used the works of Ruben Dario in attempting to create a vision for Nicaragua, and the Sandanista government that gained its ideology from the life of Augusto C. Sandino, and also used the works of Ruben Dario to promote their vision of a national identity.

For our discussion we will start with the Somoza Dictatorship, which lasted from 1936 to 1979. Anastasio Somoza Garcia, the father, came into power first followed by sons Luis Somoza Debayle, and Anastasio Somoza Debayle. Father Somoza was educated in the USA and loved the trappings of the west. The Somoza regime, rife with agendas, used political manipulation constantly to achieve their own goals, and was characterized by neglect and repression of the people. But there was still the need within the dictatorship to find a common strand among the people as a unifying force. As an enemy of the government, General Sandino (after his assassination in 1933) was written of disparagingly by Somoza the elder in an attempt to sway public opinion.

Another public figure was used by the Somoza regime to create a bond of national unity and that was of the writer Ruben Dario.  However, Ruben Dario was used also as a cultural icon by the Sandanistas, (a faction opposing the Somoza dictatorship), from early in their development through their election to the government of Nicaragua. It is an interesting parallel that this man, Ruben Dario’s, work could be used as promotion for both sides of the political coin.

Ruben Dario was a famous poet who was born in Nicaragua and lived his early life in poverty. At a young age Dario left Nicaragua to make his way in the world. He essentially made himself into a new person by studying the manners and customs of the wealthy class, and then becoming the image of a successful person. His writings eventually brought him fame and the recognition he desired and also the ability to afford some of the finer things. Even though most of his life and writing career was spent in other countries, the Nicaraguan people came to embrace him as one of their core cultural figures, as a hero of the people. The writings of Ruben Dario were used to strengthen both sides of opposing political views in the eyes of the people. For the Somozas, Dario was written and spoken of as a progressive liberal and anti-revolutionary. From the Sandinistas, Dario was projected as “Nicaragua’s national poet,” who embodied the ideals of the cultural identity of the Nicaraguan people. He stood for liberation from oppression of western influence and occupation, and was considered essentially a socialist. Both personalities were derived from his writings, which were ambiguous enough to allow disparate interpretations. In truth Dario wanted to distance himself from his roots, and did not wish to be representative of it.

He wanted fame and fortune and prestige, and did not want to be aligned with poverty, classlessness, or indigenousness. His legend is a cultural construct. Ruben Dario as a cultural icon was used to shape national identity: by the Somoza regime and also by the Sandanistas.
The Somoza regime had opposition before the creation of the Sandanista movement: “mainly the liberals and university students” (Whisnant 151). The five main areas of resistance were: the “vanguardia” movement; the Generation of 1940”; “student cultural movements from the “mid-1940s onwards” especially the 1960s and 1970s; opposition embedded in literature and music (mainly 1960s and onward); and, “the insurgency of the indigenous barrios in the mid-1970s.”
One of the resistance movements: Vanguardistas – during the 1930s, a group of mostly young, educated, non-conformist, anti-interventionist, writers and poets with a flare for the theatrical.

They published and presented revolutionary essays and poems that were influenced by autochthonous “rediscovery”. They especially disliked anything “Yankee.” In opposing US intervention, they were supporting Sandino in his fight against the Somoza regime. Augusto Sandino and his personage and ideology real or inflated, was the foundation of Sandanista convictions.

Augusto Ceasar Sandino, lead of a small rebel army that fought with US Marines early in the Somoza regime. He was eventually captured and assassinated in 1934, an established hero to the people and eventually a legend. Unlike Dario, Sandino was the real thing. He actually did love his country and fought for its freedom from the tyranny of the Somoza regime and US military control. His was the ideology behind the later revolutionary group, the Sandinistas. The legend encompassing Sandino is thoroughly embedded in Nicaraguan culture, through stories, songs, and poetry.

Sandino was the product of a Spanish father and an Indian mother. He experienced the poverty of living first with his Indian mother, then later went to live with his Spanish father. He remained proud of his Indian blood although he married an almost pure Spaniard. Early denouncing of Spanish colonialism led to later admiration of the Spanish influence. 
After the death of Sandino, Somoza elder wrote a book in order to discredit him and the army he led. In response to the Sandino bashing, the vanguardistas were writing stories and songs to honor him, and these became circulated among the people. Continuing into the 1960s “Anti-Somoza poets, singers, journalists” kept the heroic version of Sandino alive (Whisnant 358). In the 1960s and 1970s Carlos Fonseca led the Anti-Somoza student movement using Sandino as its cultural icon.

The Generation of 1940, was the group of writers that took over opposition to the Somoza regime where la vanguardia (the vanguardistas) left off.  In this movement Sandino as a culture hero and icon of the people was wrought. Student cultural movements from the 1940s to the 1970s took the form of sympathy to the Sandino crusade that manifested in political opposition writing and poetry in such offerings as the magazine “Ventana.”

After the 1960s, music in the form of “new song” became a way to further the message of opposition to the Somoza dictatorship. The main resistance to the political oppression of the Somoza regime was in the form of written and performed literary contributions by students and other educated intellectuals of the time. They had the wherewithal to know that great injustices were being done. They had the ability to put that knowledge to words and to try to disseminate their ideas to others. They had the sageness to use the image of Sandino to imprint their message in the people’s minds. 

The Sandanistas came into power after the Somoza regime ended. The Sandanistas were followers of the philosophies of Sandino, a leader in the early rebellion against the Somoza regime. The new Sandinista government was made up of socialist thinking liberal intellectuals, mainly from privileged backgrounds, but with the best of intentions towards the people, the workers, and the indigenes. They had a clear (to them) goal and they used what was available to them in the personages of General Sandino, and the nationally renowned Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario, to forge a national identity using cultural icons as transmitters.

Efforts to get museum and library systems going before the Sandinistas came into power fell far short. The importance of the museum becomes clear with the emphasis of the Sandinista government, which included focus on creating a sense of pride in culture, ancient and present day, and also adding to the culture in the way of education. These goals were best approached through the establishment or restoration, and maintenance of museums and libraries, and then programs that evolved from them. The Ministry of Culture was one of the important institutions formed by the Sandanistas. Project centers were formed for learning about popular culture and to give poetry workshops. To get away from the commercial influence of the United States media, the Sandinistas sought to gain back control of film and television programming realizing the potency of this popular form of communication. Lack of funds was the greatest obstacle to reaching the idealistic goals proposed by the Sandinista Culture Project.  

As well intentioned as the Sandanista government was, there was of course opposition to the new programs being put into place. There were conflicts and power struggles between some of the new government organizations such as that between the Sandinista Association of Cultural Workers and the Ministy of Culture. There was the gap of understanding between the government and the governed as they were from totally different backgrounds. The Sandanistas, although sympathetic to the impoverished people they tried to help, did not have a thorough understanding of their needs.

The culture project seemed to be yet another program that was being placed over the people. There was the increased tension between the east and west coast. The geographical separation of the east coast created an essentially different country. The culture was different, the way of life different, the food different, the borrowings and adaptations different. The Somoza government had siphoned off whatever they could from the east coast in the form of lands for the Somoza family, and as many of the natural resources that it could, and introduced cattle to the region that supplanted many of the natives from their traditional slash and burn agricultural lands. To the people of the east coast of Nicaragua, the Sandinista government and its culture project was yet another interference into their lives. The Somoza government and the Sandanistas both used and inflated the popular cultural icons of General Sandino and poet Ruben Dario in establishing national identity. Were they successful? The Somozas were not able to create a national identity for the Nicaraguan people as they were too far removed from the people, and had only their own interests in mind. The Sandanistas succeeded briefly in creating a national identity using the cultural icons of Augusto Sandino and Ruben Dario, but failed in the long run as their ideals did not address the real needs of the people. The ideals were constructs of the Sandanistos. And, even with the best of intentions, the uniting of the peoples of Nicaragua may not be possible because of the disparity among groups. In comparing the social connectivity of Nicaragua to that of the Aztecs at contact, the Aztec hierarchy was firmly in place, the “new” religion devised by the wise men succeeded only until power struggles as the result of contact became the motive for other powerful city states to make a grab for the power. It is likely that the “new” Aztec religion would have survived, had the Aztecs not been encroached upon by such powerful enemies as the Spaniards. Because of the distance of Nicaragua from the Aztec core zone at the time of contact, Nicaragua was little affected by the events of conquest. 

From the time of Spanish conquest, the peoples of Nicaragua were not organized or united, but separated by language and ethnicity into smaller groupings each governing its own territory. The area that is now Nicaragua has been described as a periphery zone, to the more influential and “advanced” cultures of Mesoamerica. At Spanish contact we have documentary sources for the European view of the state of Mesoamerica at the time. There were large towns and dependent rural communities. Carmack et al describe the Mesoamerican World System of core, semi-perifery, periphery, and frontier zones in order of greatest influence and power in the Mesoamerican world. They give a description of each zone with core zones being the areas that are able to extract goods and services from the periphery zones and the semi-perifery zones acting as “middle men”. (Carmack 119-121) The influence of the Mesoamerican core zones had little effect on most of Nicaragua by the fact that most of its area was considered frontier zone. The west coast had a narrow strip of occupation zone that was considered periphery. If Mesoamerica truly was a world system at the time of contact, Nicaragua being so far removed from the centers or semi-periferies of trade and extraction, would leave it outside of the Mesoamerican World System.



Sources Cited

Carmack, Robert M., Janine Gasco, and Gary H. Gossen
1996    The Legacy of Mesoamerica: History and Culture of a Native American
. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Whisnant, David E.
1995    Rascally Signs in Sacred Places: The Politics of Culture in Nicaragua.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press.

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