Popular culture as Folk Culture

Posted by: | February 2, 2009 | Comments Off on Popular culture as Folk Culture

The authors of this week’s readings were apparently both committed to Indian social protest and resistance. On the one hand we have Miguel Angel Asturias (1899-1974) who is described everywhere as a giant of Guatemalan Literature. He even won the Nobel Prize. He was very interested in Pre Colombian cultures, an interest that was celebrated when he died because he had been buried under a Mayan Totem. His writings were very tightly related to politics and impregnated of his opinions. Indeed he claimed openly his opposition to the dictatorial regime of Jorge Ubico and lived on exile for many years. He was also a fervent defender of the Indian cause and identity threatened by imperialism. On the other hand, we have Jose Maria Arguedas (1911-1966) who was a Peruvian novelist, poet, and anthropologist. He was originally Mestizo and learned Quechua before learning Spanish. The topic which seems to have obsessed him all his life was the clash between white “civilization” and the indigenous, “traditional” way of life. In this he was part of the Indigenista movement in South American literature and tried to show in his writings the violence of race relations in rural Peru. Being very pessimistic at the end of his career, he has been criticized by new generation for his romanticism when portraying the situation of indians.

Knowing a little bit more about these two writers really helped me to get the aim of their writings. I have to acknowledge that not being native English speaker did not help me to go through Asturias legends, although the Pongo’s dream was far easier to understand.

With their own way, both these writers tried to protect Indigenous and Ancient Native cultures of their Latin American countries. Asturias rewrote Mayan mythological stories and his legends are very marked by indigenous beliefs. Arguedas wrote a large part of his novels in Quechua, the Peruvian Indian language. Moreover they both oriented their writings towards social and political contestation. Doing so they also tried to make their fiction looks like a possible and hopeful future. Arguedas’ writings are however far more realistic and explicit than Asturias’ prose impregnated of magic and complex undercurrents. Arguedas clearly hope for the day when Justice would come and destroy the feudal order, punishing the oppressor. By the way I really laughed when reading the fate of the tyrannical Master! Asturias makes allusions to exile, modernity and technological peril, religious fanaticism. We could also assume that the condemnation of Utuquel for his heretic speech or the immensity of the sacrifice done by the nun Clara of the Indians were examples of the Indians’ oppression. I will prevent myself to make any more assumptions about Asturias’s prose because I really need some explanation before being able to fully understand its deep meaning.

However, my final idea is that these readings answer to this week’s title – Popular Culture as Folk Culture – in the sense that they emphasize the importance of ancient, traditional and native cultures undermined by colonizers. We get one more time this idea that indigenous cultures are being threatened and that this is the whole identity of a people which is in danger and might disappear. Here again, popular culture is defined as the culture of an oppressed and authentic people, as it was similarly suggested in our former readings.


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