Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Every Stone in its Place": Marvin Barahona

Why does cultural policy and historical knowledge matter in a place like Honduras?

Honduran historian Marvin Barahona, author of a number of books about Honduran identity and 20th century history, provides some answers in a long presentation of Dario Euraque's recently published book El golpe de Estado del 28 de junio de 2009, el Patrimonio Cultural y la Identidad Nacional ("The coup d'Etat of the 28th of June of 2009, Cultural Patrimony, and National Identity").

Barahona's essay is too long to translate in its entirety here. But it is worth citing how Euraque's important work is being received in Honduran intellectual circles, and why it is, more than a commentary on the coup, a critical work in Honduran historiography.

Barahona starts by saying he is resisting the temptation to either begin with the Honduran Congress discussing the Ruins of Copan at the beginning of the 20th century, or with words drawn from a magazine commenting on "the visit to the Copan Archaeological Park in January 2010 by the president of the de facto government, Roberto Micheletti Bain, invited by the Asociación Copán to show him the bounties of the site."

He then goes on:
The underworld of the tunnels designed by generations of archaeologists seem to have been waiting, in the last three decades, for a retinue like this, that emerged from the underworld of politics, as knowledgeable experts of the most ancient caverns of politics and as architects of the latest coup d'Etat that shocked the national conscience by its historical anachronism, and left a trail of instability and chaos in the governability of the country.

What links these two subjects-- archaeology and the de facto regime? Read on:
For that, if it were possible, I would want to extend an historic bridge between the most distant past and the most recent past, to link deeds that at first glance don't seem related, such as the use of official culture to make the collective consciousness forget its past and the abuse of the State to favor the interests of a minority to whom culture and the past has been of interest only as merchandise for tourists, as a business in which they could enrich themselves.

Barahona, following the lead of Euraque, identifies the commodification of national culture as yet one more regrettable product of the reactionary politics of contemporary Honduras.

The trajectory is complicated, but it includes the elevation of one part of the precolumbian Honduran past-- that of the Maya of western Honduras-- to stand for the entire nation, a process Euraque called "mayanization". In this process, Euraque's book shows that all political parties in Honduras and academics, both national and foreign, have played a part. The result is a failure to connect most contemporary Hondurans with a deep past of their own:
And when we recognize this incredible disproportion between the many books written about the Ruins of Copan and the few studies about the peoples and cultures that are still alive, such as the Tolupan or the Pech, the Tawahkas and the Miskitos, the Lenca and the Garifuna, then it is required to think that the cultural policies of the State are as unjust as the form in which national income is distributed, dedicated in the last two centuries to benefit a few wealthy families, to the detriment of thousands of meztizo, Indian and black families that don't fit in the official culture and still less in the economy and the national budget.

As Barahona notes, Euraque's book argues that the antidote to this poison lies in
a new cultural policy of the State, concretized in projects to rescue the cultural diversity of the peoples that give it flesh, to rescue national history in local archives, to give to archaeology its rightful place, to reconstruct the characteristic features of popular culture and provide communities with people qualified to recover local historical memory and that of the population marginalized by official culture.

Barahona argues that
the goal of giving to Honduras a democratic, inclusive, participatory cultural policy capable of responding to the challenges of the world today, continues to be a valid effort and an inescapable responsibility of the State and society...

Therefore it won't suffice, in the present day, to insist on mayanizing Honduras to sell to foreign tourists the bounties of our past, nor less will it do to continue privileging the value of the stones of the distant past...

And even putting each stone in its place, there remains no doubt that Honduras needs this new cultural policy to avoid letting the study of its archaeology continue in the hands of the same foreign institutions as at the beginning of the 20th century..

The alignment of archaeology, especially foreign archaeology, with conservative politics, in other words, may not be new but it is not to be supported in the future.

Knowledge of history, Barahona concludes, is indispensable, and democratization of history continues to be critical for Honduras:
every effort to reconstruct the national identity, including all its protagonists without exclusions of any kind, implies a large scale effort to re-elaborate national thought, to put it into action and place it at the level of the requirements of our time.

But the final words should go to Darío Euraque, whose summary account of his motivation in writing a memoir of his experiences during the coup d'Etat has also been published now:
Today there exists a new government in Honduras: nonetheless, the authorities imposed on the management of the Institute of Anthropology and History by means of the coup d'Etat, lacking in experience or intellectual vision of our culture, continue in their offices. I suspect that they continue violating the cultural policy that I promoted since 2006 in coordination with the Secretariat of Culture. Not only the Cultural Patrimony of Honduras suffered, but also our National Identity, the fragile institutionality of the State, and ironically even the support given to cultural tourism promoted by the Institute of Tourism and Chamber of Tourism of Honduras decreases.

“Alta es la noche y Morazán vigila.”

No comments: