Telltale Stories from Central America: Cultural Heritage, Political Systems, and Resistance in Developing Countries

By Stewart, Stephen O. | Western Folklore, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Telltale Stories from Central America: Cultural Heritage, Political Systems, and Resistance in Developing Countries


Stewart, Stephen O., Western Folklore


Telltale Stories from Central America: Cultural Heritage, Political Systems, and Resistance in Developing Countries. By Samuel Z. Stone. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001. Pp. xvi + 264, preface, introduction, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $29.95 cloth)

In this book, the author, a respected senior political scientist, wishes to contribute to our understanding of the five countries of Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica) by analyzing indigenous stories and folktales for evidence of Indian and mestizo attitudes toward whites. The five countries, despite their proximity to one another, have had notably different histories from the time of the Conquistadors owing to such starting differences as subsistence patterns, population densities, and relative numbers of deaths that occurred as a result of European contact. The author's claim is that each country's ethnic situation contributed to the attitudes of today's descendants of the conquered, and that stories handed down from one generation to the next will characterize attitudinal differences among the five nations today. My approach to this book will be that of a linguist-anthropologist with twenty-five years' residence in Guatemala and development project consultancies in all five countries of Central America. I am not a specialist in folktales.

According to Stone, indigenous people (by this term he means both Indians and mestizos) harbor resentment from the amply documented discrimination and oppression that they have experienced over centuries. This resentment will find an outlet in the stories they tell their children; the stories are passed down from one generation to the next, some dying out while new ones are told, and constitute the raw material for Stone's book. However, he makes curious claims about his raw material. One of his sources is a booklet from Costa Rica called Descubrimiento y conquista para ninos [Discovery and Conquest for Children] (Escoto and Escoto 1986), which graphically depicts evil Spaniards causing the destruction of indigenous peoples through murder, violence, hunger, disease, and suicide and which takes liberties with text from the Popol Vuh and the Annals of the Cakchiquels. Evidently dazzled by the pamphlet's title, Stone writes, "Because such children's stories play a significant role in the formation of values, it is no surprise that young Indians developed a lasting mistrust and fear of their conquerors" (20). These are not children's stories; the booklet published in Costa Rica uses materials from Guatemala (muddying the claim about differences among the Central American nations), and the authors, Julio and Gypsy Escoto, are almost certainly neither indigenous nor Guatemalan. …

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